Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dads and Lads, Fathers and Sons, Pop and Punk

There are some stories that simply defy words; by that I mean that I have seen things that I have wanted to share with others but simply couldn't find the words to tell the story, I know that by telling what I saw will pale in comparison to what I saw. Fail as I may, there's a story that I want to share, actually the story is based on a couple of things that I've seen lately, heart rending moments for me though for many they were just every day life going on about it's business.

A few weeks before Christmas I stopped in a local cafeteria for a bite of supper, my feet were killing me and the very thought of trying to toss even a tray in the microwave at home made me think that I would probably not eat if I had to cook it for myself. I hobbled through the serving line and picked a simple meal, survival food, nothing fancy, a couple of veggies and a piece of meat. I carried the tray to a table and unloaded it and sat down, not really paying much attention to what was going on around me, my mind focused on aching feet and weariness. I think I see things going on around me better when I'm like this, when I don't have to focus on tasks and can simply sit down, it may be the mind has jumped into self preservation mode and is trying to draw me away from the fact that I want to cut my feet off and leave them under the table.

I put my plates in order and looked up, at the next table facing me was one of the most endearing sights that I have seen in ages. A young man, maybe just 30, a cute fellow, dressed rather, “hip,” if you will. He sat with a mini version of himself, the miniature model was in a high chair, dressed equally as trendy they were obviously father and son. Xerox doesn't make copies like the ones sitting before me. While daddy's hair was dark brown, buzzed as close to his scalp as possible and he had intricately tailored sideburns, his young dinner companion had lighter hair, a little longer, but it was obvious that grooming was an art form for this family. Dad had a bright smile and beautiful pearly white teeth, Lad had the makings of an equally beautiful smile in training, those tiny pearls strung in perfect alignment across the bottom and top of his grin just below bright twinkly eyes.

It was a delight to watch the two of them share dinner. Dad had a bowl of green beans, a bowl of fruit, some mashed potatoes and a bowl of macaroni and cheese and several slices of roast beef on a plate. In front of Lad there were some green beans, macaroni and cheese and every so often Dad tore small pieces of the roast beef from his plate and put it on Lad's. Dad didn't opt for the mac and cheese for himself, he meted it and the green beans out a few pieces at a time onto Lad's plate who ate them without prodding and with a very contagious smile. Dad would take the napkin from his lap and wipe his mouth and when he did Lad would turn to his father and wait patiently for the same thing to be done to him. When Dad would be tending to his own dinner and Lad's plate ran dry, he made no noise, no ruckus, he simply folded his hands on the table, not in his lap where he would have been able to smear cheese sauce on his hip black Levis.

When the main courses were cleared away, hands wiped clean Lad was ready for the the fruit course and his smile made me melt as Dad sliced large grapes and put them on a small clean saucer on Lad's tray. Dad enjoyed the pineapple and gave a very small piece to Lad whose face drew up in that international symbol for sour, then it relaxed into a smile and he held out his hand for another piece. Dad smiled as he cut another piece of pineapple and shared it with his lad.

It did my heart good to watch these two share a meal and to do it without fussing, no prodding to, “eat your green beans,” no admonishments to use a napkin, not a pant leg. There were smiles between them and now I realize that while watching them, my feet didn't seem to hurt as much as they did when I sat down.

The two young men had kept me in such wonderful amusement that I hadn't even taken time to look around the dining room to see if there were any seated there that I knew or who might be on America's most wanted. The two of them made me want to be a part of their evening meal, dinner with a bright and happy family.

When I did take the time to look around the dining room I noticed the table directly behind Dad and Lad and noticed that there was another interesting dynamic going on at that table. Because the men at that table were seated across from one another it was a little harder to see it as clearly, but it was obvious that it was another father and son combination, only this time, Father was bent with age and most likely very near 80, his son in his early 60's sat facing me. Father worked at dinner methodically and slowly, watching him was heart warming as well; old world table manners, napkin in his lap, every bite manipulated by a knife and fork from his plate. Nodding as he listened to his son make conversation. I was too far away to be privy to the topic, but it was obviously polite and it held Father's attention as he listened and occasionally responded, usually after a sip of coffee. Son, ate faster than Father and had finished his meal and was nursing a glass of iced tea and looking at the piece of pie piled high with meringue that was in front of him.

I was glad that all of this was playing out in front of me live, not on television, it would have been on two different stations had it been on television, this way it was virtually picture in a picture. Two tables held four generations, had I included myself I could have easily made a fifth.

At the table with Dad and Lad there was no conversation of words, but actions, Dad seeing to it that his young lad's needs were met in the meting out of green beans and grapes, smiles shared between them, but no words and yet they were speaking volumes to one another through their eyes, their smiles and their actions. It was hard to decide which table to watch the closest. All the while I pushed a piece of chicken and some baked squash around my plate. Father and Son sat, ate, talked as if there were no hurries or concerns in the world, nothing to dash off to do, no particular time to be home, Dad and Lad sat, ate and in their own way held conversation and yet, they too did so as if they had the rest of their lives to spend together at the dinner table.

Both tables were portraits of a dynamic that warmed my heart, loving fathers and loving sons together. It was obvious to me that at both of these tables it wasn't just a matter of being together it was also about four people who needed one another. Lad couldn't cut his meat or slice his grapes, I later learned that Father couldn't have driven himself to dinner, he needed Son to help him with that. (I learned this later when I was putting on my coat as I left, I heard Father thank Son for taking him Christmas shopping and for having dinner with him, “I just wouldn't have driven up here,” he said.”)

The scene at the restaurant of the fathers and sons made me think of the last time that I spent with my father. It wasn't as pretty as the picture that I saw at MCL, it was in a hospital room, my father's back keeping him in agony because he wasn't allowed to sit up, he was granted a reprieve for a while and he sat on the side of the bed and I slid a chair up to him so that we sat knee to knee. I remember Pop was wracked with pain, deep crevices carved in his face from pain and worry. Yet, in a tangle of IV lines Pop sat with me and talked, I know now that in many ways he was purging his soul, he asked me questions and told me about things that were eating at him. He told me of his concern for our family, his worry about relationships, his desires for my life, his prayers for me. This was the first time that I had ever heard my father say that he prayed and yet I wasn't surprised. It was our wonderful time together to think and talk, to share and yet it didn't happen in a cozy lit cafeteria on the south side. We spent time together that evening quietly, nothing being said in words and yet volumes being spoken.

Just a few hours later after my two hours knee to knee with my father he passed away. I'm not surprised really, our last couple of hours was his preparation for departure and I'm proud that he decided that I was the one that he wanted to share that time with. Since then, one of my father's prayers for me was answered, for a while. Who knows really, maybe several of them have been and I just don't know it. Pop had lots of secrets from Punk, (his pet name for me,) who knows what his prayers were for not just me, but for others.

Driving home from dinner all I could see was the tables of fathers and sons. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how nice it would have been to have sat across the table from my father that evening and been a part of this gathering of Dads and Lads. I prayed as well, just like my father did, only I prayed that both of those sons remain ever vigilant to their father's needs, that they listen to their wisdom, that they help as much as they can and yet grant their fathers independence for as long as they can. I prayed that the sons would recognize that their father's dignity is all important and that they should honor that.
I prayed as well that the fathers would be ever mindful of their son's needs and that they would pray for them and watch over them, that they would help them understand the mysteries of life as much as they could help them to do so. What's more I hoped that each of these four men would have a respect for every person, man or woman, that they would teach one another and find joy in being together. After all, we really don't know how long we will have one another.

Before I left the cafeteria Dad was giving Lad the last wipe down before putting his coat on him. Dad said the first words I had heard him utter during dinner, he said, “good dinner.” Lad threw his arms around Dad's neck and answered, “uh huh.” It was said with enthusiasm, like it truly was the best meal that he had ever eaten, I hope it was because of the company.


Blogger Carl said...

Wonderful story Don. I'm sure your dad would love to sit down with you and have dinner and listen to all your wonderful blogs. I'm betting someday you will sit down with him again at the Lords table and what a feast that will be. UNK

8:24 PM  
Blogger Don Bryant said...

I'll joyfully dine at that table any time. Don

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don. How I miss my dad. carving the turkey. having our coffee together. And his wise words and advice.

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