One year ago today, I kissed my Dad on the cheek as I bent over, hugged his neck and said “I love you.” I gave him one last squeeze and said good-bye. Little did I know, this was the last time I would ever see him alive. The last words I would ever speak to him. The last moment my hands would ever touch his warm body.
Oh, if I had just known….I would have spent more time visiting. I would have stayed longer, hugged harder, made sure he knew how much he meant to me. And didn’t I notice he looked a little tired? His face a little gaunt? His color just a bit off? Didn’t I know? Shouldn’t I have known?
I didn’t and, just like that, he was gone. He died the Thursday after I saw him. He had a massive clot in his heart – as hard as they tried, the paramedics, and the hospital ER staff could not save him.
As shocking as it was to happen so suddenly, in the end, can’t I honestly say, “WOW” . Look what God did. He let me say good-bye to the one man in the world that I absolutely trusted and loved with all my heart. The ONE man I could go to for support of any kind – financial, emotional, developmental. He was it for me. My Rock. My Dad.
One year later my heart and soul still mourn for him. I still miss him. I still ache. I still nurse that void in my soul. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish he were here.
However, that man was not my blood-related father. He was my step dad. God hates divorce, but he sure can use his mighty power and turn the tatters of divorce into a lifelong blessing to a child. That is what he did for me.
He gifted me the love of a man that did not create me. A man that did not have the pleasure of watching me grow in my mom’s belly, nor hold me in his arms when I was born, nor see my first real food meal, or even my first baby steps.
No, this man missed all that, because he didn’t come into my life until I was 4-years-old. But I never knew I wasn’t his. I never knew he missed anything. He never held his love back. He never worried that he wasn’t my biological Dad. He loved me because that is what his heart told him to do and he did it for all he was worth.
Carl had a hard life. He contracted Polio when he was young boy. It was right at the beginning of the vaccinations. I am not sure why, but he wasn’t vaccinated, and he contracted the crippling polio at age six. No longer could he run or jump like a normal boy. His left leg lost all mobility. In the first twenty years of his life, he would have over fifty surgeries, but they couldn’t correct his atrophied leg. He was crippled for life.
He had crutches and a full-length metal brace. He lived most of his life on crutches, until his later years, when his shoulders gave out, then was confined to a wheelchair. You wouldn’t have known it from how he lived. He was very smart. He never let his disablement get him down. He graduated college with a computer science degree, then went on to get his Masters. He had a special knack for technology – he was way ahead of his time.
Computer science wasn’t offered at the local college in the late 1970’s. He convinced them to put it in their program. He pioneered the entire Office Technology Department. What an achievement – to be struck down so young, but persevere and change so many young lives.
A new computer lab was dedicated in his honor several months after he died. A scholarship was established in his name. His works, still, moves through the heart of the Business Education. Today, his legacy is alive in the scholars he taught and his graduates succeeding in their own workplace.
When Carl met my mom, he was teaching at the college, as he did his entire lifetime. She was a student and a beauty. He was a handicapped computer geek. She saw, not his legs or brains, but his heart. He saw her soul, not the looker with a lot of baggage (two divorces and four children). They accepted each other as they were. They loved what, and who, they were with no intent to ever change the other.
I still don’t understand how a single, supremely intelligent man could decide to take on my mother and the chaos (and expense) of four children, but he did. I still marvel at that – every day – what a brave, brave man.
I remember meeting him and going to his apartment for the first time. It was fun. I do not remember wondering why he was on crutches or what was wrong with him. As a child you don’t wonder those things. Later, I would see him meet many children and not one ever wondered why he had crutches, was in a wheelchair, had a big sliver brace on his leg, or couldn’t walk or run. Not one.
It was curious, but that was all. His disability taught me to accept people as they are. No matter their flaws or disadvantages. We are all the same. I truly believe that is why I want to serve others. It’s because of his service and acceptance.
As a young child, I would sit in his lap and play for hours. We would also watch TV. I became a Star Trek fan watching old episodes with him. As I became an obnoxious teenager, of course, I rebelled. “You’re not my DAD. I don’t have to do what you say!”, but I did. He made me obey. He made me do the right things. He made me adhere to my groundings, not talk back to my mother, and do my chores.
That mean, mean man. He taught me respect. He raised me to be attentive and mindful. Only now do I know how impossibly hard that must have been for him. How it must have hurt him that he wasn’t my dad, as I so bluntly pointed out. He taught me to be a good person and to be selfless because he was so selfless himself.
When I got married in Las Vegas he was there. He couldn’t walk me down the aisle because of his crutches (he could have but I didn’t want to put him in that spot), he was my husband’s best man. *thank you Sonny, I can look back on that and KNOW how much that meant to him*
At the end of the ceremony, he had tears streaming down his face. I looked at him and the love he had for me radiated from deep in his heart outward. His baby had grown up and gotten married. That was so very precious to me.
Carl became “Poppy” when my baby Sydney was born. He rode with my mom for six hours to come to Texas, the day after she was born, so that he could hold her. He couldn’t wait even though it was hard riding in the car for that long with defective legs.
As my daughter grew, she would sit in his lap, like I did as child, and play and play and play. A crippled man couldn’t run, wrestle, or play hide and seek, but somehow all children were completely content and comfortable sitting in his lap playing dominoes. Amazing. Sydney made up for what he missed with me as a baby. She was so very special to him – all his grandchildren were.
Then I rebelled again, but this time not with him, but against life itself. He never said a negative word to me during my divorce and subsequent “out of my mind” years. He quietly stood beside me in support- no matter what mistakes I made. He suffered my pain one-hundred percent, held me up, regardless of how disappointed he must have been. He was there every fall. He pulled me out when I hit rock bottom. He listened. He cared. He changed my life by being so unchanging himself.
When I finally got my life back on track, he was in a wheelchair full-time. I ran my first half marathon. I drove to his house immediately after, and proudly, I displayed my medal to him. He took it all in with such pride. His eyes lit up and his happiness overflowed. My success was his success. It was like he ran that half marathon himself. He did. He really did.
I am overwhelmed by the love this man had for my mother and her children. I am overwhelmed that he spent his life caring for us and tending to our every wound, cry, and need – when he didn’t really have to. It wasn’t easy. It was never easy, not for a normal healthy man, and certainly not for a disabled man. But he did it. He never complained. Not once. Oh, how he taught me humbleness and utter sacrifice of self.
Dear Poppy Carl, in heaven, I thank God for putting you in my life. For turning an ugly thing such as divorce into the beauty of love – lifelong, undying, unforgettable love. My heart swells three times it’s size for having known you. May your legs be strong and healthy. May your heart be unblemished and whole. May all the rewards, you so richly deserve, be granted to you in heaven.
May you know the love you had for us a hundred times more. God knows we needed you. I guess you needed us too. Thank you for your never failing courage and strength. Thank you for showing us, no limitation can hinder, nothing can stop us from soaring. Thank you for being the best step dad a girl could ever dream of. A Father, I could love.
Rest in peace my dear sweet Dad. Rest in Peace.
May 14, 1944-Aug 1, 2008