My Father's Hand

One of my earliest childhood memories is of me sitting in a chair beside my father while he tells me about what he thought and how he felt on the day I was born. I remember this story so well because I asked him to tell me about it again and again. I can still recall looking up at his weathered face, all full of lines and crags. But what struck me most were his eyes. When he told me the story, his eyes were once again full of life and youth.

The one thing that really sticks with me is what he told me he did the first time he approached me in the hospital room. He said I was so little and fragile that he thought I might break if he touched me too hard. Very slowly, he extended his worn and calloused finger to me, and immediately I grasped it in my tiny hand. It was one of the few times in my life that my father ever admitted to anyone that he had actually cried.

As I grew older and my relationship with my father changed, again and again I would recall that image of my hand around his finger, and no matter what was going on, it suddenly didn’t seem all that important.

Throughout my life, I was always struck by my dad’s hands. They had great character. They were strong and muscled from all the years he worked so hard to support his family. It didn’t matter if he was sick or hurt; my father always went to work because he said he had a sacred responsibility to provide for his family. He also believed that if you worked for a man, you gave him an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. People who heard him say this called him old fashioned. To me, however, he was just telling the truth, as he had always done as my father. And he taught and expected me to do the same.

As I grew older, I also grew out of the kissing-my-father stage and chose instead to shake his hand, which was to me was more manly (How silly was I?). Gradually, as time passed, I also noticed a marked change in his hands – the same ones that had lifted me up when I needed it and disciplined me when I deserved it. They had become less firm and less defined as the years went by. Then they began to shake a little, and for the first time in his life, my father began to complain about the aches and pain in them. But he still never went to see the doctors, whom he never trusted.

As we grew older, and I began to realize that my father was not invincible, I saw him begin to grow weak and feeble, and I couldn’t understand what was happening to us. Toward the end, he no longer talked of me but of himself and my mom. Then the day came when he saw that I had become a man worthy of his deepest trust. He told me what he wanted me to do at the end of his life.

I didn’t want to hear these words because deep down I believed that to speak them would somehow make them come true. I was foolish enough to believe that if we were silent about the matter it would never happen. But eventually, I realized I had to hear his words and obey his wishes. He made me the executor of his will because he knew I would always have the courage to carry out his wishes, no matter how painful they were to me. Finally, that dreaded day arrived. It was a bright Wednesday, and I thought how different that completion of the day didn’t match the completion of what I was feeling. Thankfully, God was merciful, and my father slipped into a gentle coma after only one day. I knew it wouldn’t last long.

When I realized that the end was near, my mom and I moved to his bedside – she on his left, me on his right. For all of my education, military experience, and life wisdom, I still felt awkward because I didn’t know what the right thing to do was.

What happened next is why I LOVE God so much.

As I bent down to talk to my father, touch his cheek, and tell him it was okay to die, unconsciously, I put my finger in the palm of his hand. And with what little strength he had left, my father squeezed my finger.

A flood of memories washed over me, but the one that I focused on was my father’s story about the day I was born. Overwhelmed with love and grace, I suddenly realized we had come full circle. My dad was there when I was born into this human life, and now I was there as he was being born into his eternal LIFE, his eternal GLORY, and his eternal LOVE. It was then that I began to weep – not because of what I was about to lose, but because, for one of the first times in my life, I could pray a pure prayer of gratitude to my God for making me understand that in loving Him what I could never lose. I was never more grateful to God for allowing me to be a Christian.

As my father’s breathing grew shallow, and as he began to slip away, I again became aware of a profound change in the features of his face. Suddenly, he relaxed, and the years began to melt away. The toil and strain were leaving. As he became less and less of what I had always known him to be, I suddenly realized what Christ meant when He said: When you do it to the least, you also do it to me.

My heart was hurting and bursting with love at the same time. I felt both joy and sorrow, and I would not have traded that moment for any amount of riches on this Earth. My father was becoming what was promised to all of us who believe in God: He was becoming one with Christ.

Then his heart stopped, and he let out his final breath. What I thought would come in an explosion of pain, came in a whisper of joy and love.

It would be a lie if I said I didn’t miss my father. I wish he was still here to tell me, once again, about the day I was born. Funny, but that sensation only lasts but a moment, and then I remember, at the end, his finger in my hand, his rebirth into Paradise, and I can only smile and cry just a little. This is how we all wish to end – with the one’s we love going to those that love us most.

Just a little end note: By the way, Dad, I just wanted you to know that I am taking good care of Mom. Don’t worry: We will all be together again. I love and miss you, Dad.

Your son,

Richard