It was 1 a.m. when I groggily sat up in bed. Was that my phone ringing? It was.
At that moment I somehow knew exactly what the message was.
It was my sister. “Dad just passed away,” she said.
I suddenly felt very much alone. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night as my mind raced, flooded with memories of the man who had always been there, but was suddenly gone.
That was nearly five years ago. I get a bittersweet feeling every year as Father’s Day nears. Good memories mixed with feelings of loss.
To a kid, a father is super human. He can never die. But fathers do leave us, and everybody has to go through it.
Dad had just moved to Terraceview in Shell Lake and really enjoyed it. He liked playing cribbage and bingo with the other residents when he wasn’t watching sports in the lounge or in his room.
What I wouldn’t give to have just one more Sunday afternoon watching a Packer game with him, as we had done ever since the Lombardi days. Or a Brewer game, or the Wisconsin Badgers. Just one more.
I recall he’d wanted to get out to watch the Spooner Cardinals play a game. He loved baseball. Five times I tried to take him, but it never worked out, as he simply wasn’t feeling up to it. He wasn’t the same old Dad by then. He was wearing out a bit.
Truth was, he began his decline years earlier with my mom’s passing. I watched him age tremendously fast. He had missed her for a long time. I now take comfort knowing they are together once again.
A Navy man, Dad was always proud of his service years during the Korean War era. To the day he died he loved the military and his country, bleeding red, white and blue. Today he rests in the Northern Wisconsin State Veterans Cemetery alongside my mother.
Dad was an avid hunter, a life member of the North American Hunting Club. Not surprisingly, some of my fondest memories are of our days hunting together. I remember climbing out of bed on a snowy morning during deer season. I looked out of my window and saw my father dragging a big buck out of the woods, his old-style red and black coat the only color against the new snow … it was my first hunting memory, and I can see it as clearly today as back then.
As I got old enough to tag along, he’d take me out into the woods. He was a master at knowing where deer would be. No matter how slim the pickings were during the season, Dad came home with a buck.
When I first approached him with the idea of a tree stand, he thought I was insane. He was old school and hunted on the ground, finding a deer track and following it. Of course that was back in the days before the big woods were carved up and everybody put up “No Hunting” signs. There were a lot less people and a lot more land when I was a kid.
But he helped me build that first tree stand, despite thinking it was a silly idea. The tree it was built in has long since fallen down, but the memories return every time I walk past that spot.
As years passed he often speculated that it would be his final year hunting. He said he just wasn’t up to it anymore. Superman was human.
Each year I miss hunting with him. We might not have seen each other all day, but just knowing he was “out there” was a comfort.
These days I hear the long-ago echoes of my childhood. I can picture a little boy wrapped up in an old tattered jacket tagging along behind the father he worshipped as they tromped through knee-deep snow, picked up fresh tracks and crossed frozen swamps.
Thanks, Dad. Thanks for helping me find the spot in the woods where I took my first button buck. There have been many since, but none as special.
Thanks for always being there, in good times and bad. Thanks for never missing a high school football game or wrestling match, for the encouragement that carried beyond sports into life.
Please tell Mom I love her and pet Scamp, my old dog. I know he’s there, along with the rest of the family. If you get the chance, look in on Winona and me now and then.
Yes, we all go through it. Our fathers and mothers can’t last forever. To the fathers no longer with us, from the children you raised, please know that you are missed and will never be forgotten. And to all those dads still here, Happy Father’s Day!
Thornley is Spooner Advocate sports editor.