I surprised him. My Dad was not expecting to see anyone so late in the evening.
All seven of my siblings with ages ranging from 3 months to 17 years old, and our maternal grandmother, were sound asleep in their beds.
My dad was sitting alone at our small kitchen table in our home in southeast Bakersfield. With his back to me, I saw a cardboard box sitting on one of our mismatched dinette chairs. The box was filled with black and white pictures of our then young family. Many of the pictures were sprawled out on the table. I do not remember the exact date, but I am guessing it was about a month after our Mom’s funeral. Our mother died from leukemia. That night was 58 years ago. I was 11.
As I walked into our kitchen, my dad was holding a picture in one hand. Although I never saw his face, with his other hand he quickly wiped what appeared to be his eyes. I know he saw me, but uncharacteristically, he did not say a word. He did not turn around to acknowledge me. I went straight to the sink, drank my water, and went back to my room with twin beds I shared with my four brothers.
At 11 years young, I was incapable of understanding the emotional weight my Dad was about to bear raising eight children without Mom.
The Marine Corps did its job toughing up my Dad. He never spoke of fighting in the Battle of Iowa Jima or the Korean War. I later learned history spoke for my dad and other veterans who fought in those battles. Most historians agree these battles established markers for the extraordinary courage and sacrifices of the U.S. Marine Corps and all other veterans.
Later in life and as I started my own family, I wondered if one of God’s many purposes in having my Dad fight in such brutal and vicious wars was his way of preparing him for the incredible hardships of being a single dad with eight of us to raise. I will never know because my Dad never spoke of either.
A recent Christmas gift from my daughter Nikki and son-in-law Carlos took me back to that late evening in the kitchen with my dad 58 years ago.
The gift was a WiFi digital picture frame for photos. I was so intimidated by the nature of the Christmas gift I left the box in my bedroom for five months. I finally opened it last week and my tech savvy daughter Brenna showed me how it all worked.
In old man terms, the treasured pictures you have on your cell phone and computer you rarely see, can be digitally transferred by WiFi to your digital picture screen. Instead of one picture in a frame, you can have multiple pictures. The screen changes every few seconds and displays thousands of photos that can now be enjoyed by all visitors to your home.
Until they read this column, my children have never heard the story of me walking in on my Dad in his very private moment. Why am I sharing it now?
Sitting at my desk alone at home last week, going through hundreds of pictures of when my now-adult children were young, Wavehog trips, weddings, and just-because family gatherings brought back a flood of memories, including that night alone in the kitchen with my Dad.
Most of the photos I was going through this past week included pictures with their Mom, Susie, who we lost to cancer almost seven years ago. Today, May 11, would have been our 46th wedding anniversary. A spouseless wedding anniversary is a difficult place for me to visit once a year. You never get over it. You just get through it.
I don’t pretend to understand what my Dad was going through that night in our kitchen or the following years when he raised us. Being a father makes me appreciate my father so much more. I now know why he was wiping tears from his eyes late that night. I’m not embarrassed to say I was doing the same while going through my own family pictures, 58 years later.