The Last Thing My Dad Ever Taught Me

Dad didn’t mean to teach me this last lesson. In my experience, some of the best, most important, most meaningful lessons are unintentional. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember this one.

My father died earlier today. He was 94, in relatively good health for almost all of that time, went into the hospital with a case of pneumonia five weeks ago, and now he’s gone. He owned and operated an accounting business in Maryville for many years, building his professional reputation on honesty and competence, and worked his farm when he wasn’t behind his desk. He was a Mason, a Navy veteran, and, later in his life, a recreational pilot. He spent almost all of his 94 years on the family farm in Loudon County, on land that has been in the family for generations. That farm now belongs to me and my sister Jane, and is among the many things we’ll have to deal with and make decisions about in the coming weeks.

Fathers and sons. Much has been written about that extremely complex relationship, and I have nothing original to add, so I won’t go into ours other than to say it was as multifaceted and convoluted, and went through as many changes, as most father-son relationships.  We were on good terms for much of our time together, including here at the end, and I’m glad about that.

About two and a half weeks ago I was visiting Dad in the rehab center where he was transferred after being stabilized in the hospital. I was almost ready to leave when he looked at me and said, “There are some things that need to be said.” 

I sat back down. “I’m right here, Dad. I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”

He shook his head. “Not today. Let me get my thoughts together.”

I said okay and left. Over the next several visits his decline grew more rapid, and we never finished that conversation. He never told me what he thought needed to be said. I will never know what he felt was so important.

What he taught me, there at the very end, was this: If there are things you need to say, to your family or those close to you, don’t wait. Don’t put it off. If it’s important, it’s important right now.