My wife's father passed away last week. It was sudden but not entirely unexpected, which I guess you can say when anyone dies. It's always too soon, even though you know it will come some day.
This was the first time something like this happened to either my wife or me. If I didn't feel like an adult at 35 before this occurred, I certainly would now. (Fortunately, I did and I do.)
The first time I met my wife's father she warned me that he might not like me. Apparently, it took him a while to warm up to her previous boyfriends. And since I was about to move in with his daughter, she didn't think it was the right prescription for a great first impression.
I was surprised, then, when he seemed to like me a lot. He was gregarious and warm, not intimidating in the least bit. My wife was happy, as well, giving me credit for my obvious charm and wit.
I was thinking about that first meeting this week -- as I was also thinking about every other subsequent meeting -- and I realized now what I should've realized then: The reason he was so nice to me in the beginning was probably not because he sensed some sort of decency and great potential, but because I was so utterly harmless.
I was a scrawny 22-year-old kid he could've taken apart with one hand. He also had a lot of guns. I knew him for 13 years, and I don't think I did anything too stupid, because he would've let me know, which I always appreciated.
Her father was smaller than me, thinner (which is amazing), older, but he was not someone I would've ever disrespected. He was John Wayne. He was Johnny Cash. He was Ted Williams.
He was masculine, without trying; confident, without ego. He didn't wear sunscreen. He didn't drink appletinis. He never saw "Star Wars." He wore boots.
He was a man, in the best sense of the word.
He was also old-school South, where people waved to their neighbors and worked real hard and were kind to children and always had a spare bed if you needed a place to sleep. He always shook my hand, always asked me to be careful, always treated me with decency and warmth. I was lucky to have been accepted into his family.
His last few weeks were mainly spent in a hospital bed, wasting away in the fashion that always seems to happen to the strongest of us.
When I last saw him, he was watching the Casey Anthony trial on TV, confessing he had become addicted to the national circus.
It was humanity at its worst, with our 24-hour news cycles that create legal orgies out of pathetic trials featuring pathetic people accused of pathetic things while pathetic newscasters lather at the mouth, excited by both the potential ratings and the smell of audience desperation.
I wish we could've all been better in his last few days. I wish we could all try harder to not keep making the same mistakes over and over. Good people leave us every day, but we rarely notice, because we're too busy ogling all the creeps and jerks in the world. (And, yes, I'm talking about Anthony, but also all the dopey talking heads who draw paychecks for shining the spotlight on car wrecks.)
I will choose to forget those last few days and instead hang on to better memories: The first Christmas I spent with my then-girlfriend, her father hugged me before I left his house. My own father and I hug, on occasion, but it's not something we're particularly comfortable with, but Tommy was.
He was tough, and he worked too hard, but he knew how to love and wasn't afraid to express it. There seems to be an increasingly smaller amount of men like that left in this world. And this week, there's one less.