I was just 7 years old. I woke up on what should have been a typical Sunday morning. When I came down the stairs, I could see my uncle Steve – my dad’s brother – sitting on the sofa. Even at 7 I knew the implications of my uncle sitting in my mom’s house. My parents divorced when I was three, and my father’s entire family rarely ever made the 6 hour trip up from Virginia to see me. Now, without notice, he was in New Jersey and sitting in my mother’s living room?
Without hesitation, I walked over to the sofa across from my uncle and asked “what happened to dad?” I wish I could say that a dark or sad feeling came over me – but by all accounts I seemed… I seemed…prepared. I remember the clear tension between my uncle and my mom over who and how they wanted to tell me. I told them, “It’s ok… just tell me what’s wrong, Dad’s not ok is he?” They just looked at me. Partially out of sadness for me, and partially, I believe, out of shock that I knew something was wrong.
2 nights prior, on Feb 3rd 1989 – my father got in his car, turned the ignition, and let the engine run as the carbon monoxide filled the garage and ultimately his lungs.
I didn’t cry that morning when they told me that he died, or a week later at his funeral; or even when I got a little bit older and my mom explained to me what suicide really was – still not a tear. I’m not trying to say how tough I was – because I wasn’t. Nor am I claiming that I’ve never cried in my life – because I have. However, it haunts me to this day that as a 7 year old boy – I did not feel the emotion necessary to cry at my father’s death. In fact – if I’m really honest I could tell you the few times I’ve ever cried in relation to my father have always been a forced attempt to illicit a sympathy or simply because I felt like I was supposed to. But when I think back on it – I couldn’t cry, because I just wasn’t surprised by it. At 7, I wasn’t surprised by him leaving.
I’ve only seen my uncle once since my father’s funeral. A few years later my step father turned abusive and was gone as well. A lot of the people in my life have packed up, given up, or moved on. If you know me well – then you know the list. As these people started dropping off over the years since my father died – it’s made me start to wonder – is loyalty dead as well?
Look at the people around you, read the newspapers, turn on the TV, we are inundated with stories of uncommitted and disloyal people. It’s just so easy, or maybe worse it’s almost accepted to: cheat on relationships, sneak around behind the backs of friends and family, or to just walk out on people all together. It just seems as though we all act on behalf of ourselves more often than on behalf of the people we supposedly care about.
Yesterday was national signing day in college football and across the country, college coaches sat in living rooms across from parents, grandparents, and kids. They sat across from all these people and asked a 17 year old kid to pledge their loyalty to them and their school. And yet, at a moments notice, that same coach will turn their back on that kid for a better job, bigger program or more lucrative offer. Where’s the loyalty in that?
I’m not trying to say there are no good coaches, nor am I claiming that I have not had good and loyal people around me – I’ve been fortunate to have a small and close family and a few good friends who have stood by me through all the ups and downs. I am just saying that there is a certain level of acceptance in dishonor and disloyalty that amazes me. Which is why I’ve become slightly numb to the idea of people turning their back; it just doesn’t surprise me – and maybe it never will.
I’ve not always been the best son, grandson, or friend. As is evident by this blog – I have a big mouth and sometimes I can be a flat out pain in the ass. But I’ve always prided myself on one thing – loyalty. I’ll stick by those people around me no matter what – try and do right by them. Likewise, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted in return. It’s, in my opinion, the most important quality you can find in people you keep around you.
It’s been 23 years to the day since my father died. But I’m not mad – I made my peace with it almost instantly. It’s cliché to say that it’s made me stronger or better… but you know what? It has. I’m not mad at any of the people who’ve turned their backs. It’s made me realize the value of loyalty – and made me commit myself to never giving up on anyone or anything. Call it a flaw, call it a weakness – but I’m unable to turn my back on the people/things I care about. I’ll never cut ties and run.
So Dad, if you’re looking down on me just know this: your most disloyal and cowardly act made me a loyal and brave man. So I guess you could say there’s a silver lining in every situation – as long as you’re willing to look for it.