This was originally written in August 2005
My sons almost died yesterday.
On a routine drive through the Taos canyon to our home, Grandma missed a turn and totaled our car. If not for a barbed wire fence, they would have flipped over and rolled down a bank. The gas tank was ruptured and only because the engine quit, there was no explosion. Lots of shattered glass, twisted metal, and bruised boys. Seat belts and the grace of God saved my kids.
I was called to the site. I collected the boys and calmed their fears. I was Dad and I fixed everything, like Dad is supposed to do.
Last night at midnight, I lost all vestiges of self control. As I stared into the darkness, my over-active imagination kicked in. In my mind, I buried my young sons over and over, just as I had in reality buried my own father two months before. All the details were gone over, down to the clothing they were buried in. Jake wore his precious soccer shoes. Josh had his science books. Cameron couldn’t sleep for eternity without his stuffed Froggy.
Sleep was impossible. I went downstairs and watched my sons sleeping. I sat on their beds and talked to each one, stroking his head and telling him how much he meant to me. I could see them all in my mind’s eye. Jake, with his delightfully crooked smile and flashing black eyes. Mister Work Ethic, struggling through fifth grade with tutors and late night homework. I remembered the pride in his face when he brought home his final report card: four A’s and four B’s.
Josh, the scientist who aced second grade and was reading at the fifth grade level. I remembered having to drag him to ski team practice two years ago. This past season, Josh and I raced head-to-head in a timed race in front of the entire team and spectators. He beat me by a gate and a half.
Cameron. Irrepressible Cameron, the happiest person I have ever known. Three times state snowboard champion, nationally ranked. The kid who called me at the office every afternoon during the summer to ask if I could pleeease take him golfing. The boy who still thinks his dad is a hero.
I talked to them all. I wondered if my father had come into my room and sat on my bed after one of my near-death experiences. After the time I fell out of our moving car. Or the time we were night fishing when I fell off the dock and he had to dive in to save me. Or the time I climbed out of a pickup truck, caught my sleeve in the tailgate and was dragged blocks before my shirt ripped. Or the time at Niagara Falls when I climbed up the fence and fell over on the Falls’ side. Now I can never talk with him again.
I cried. I cried a lot. About what could have been, what I almost lost.
I’m a strict father, determined to raise responsible, capable boys to adulthood. Sometimes strictness runs into over-seriousness. Not enough jokes, not enough hugs.
In the words of the famous American philosopher, James Taylor, “Shower the ones that you love with love. Show them the way that you care.” Now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now. I will not be too serious, I will smile more. I will be silly. I will love them out loud, not just in my heart.
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in Tyler Hayden’s wonderful anthology “Father’s Message in a Bottle,” which you can find on his website at www.tylerhayden.com