Three years ago on Father’s Day, I was confronted with the painful reality that time had finally overwhelmed my last emotional connection to his memory – his voice. Thirty-five years after his passing the last point of reference I had to his physical presence had faded like the few pictures I have of him. It was an awful realization as I struggled to hear his voice that morning. The harder I tried the more faint it became, as if to make his death final after so many years.
It was the moment that I realized I had to move beyond the pain of losing my father. Even so, that is easier said than done. Like many young boys, I looked up to my dad and his death when I was twelve, and he was just 48, affected me greatly. Upon his passing, I had made a commitment to him that I would never forget him. Now, almost four decades later, on Father’s Day, I felt like I had somehow betrayed that pledge by not remembering the sound of his voice. It was a difficult morning as I struggled to find meaning in the moment.
What I came to realize was that my father was letting go of me, not the other way around. He was acknowledging that I had come of age, and needed to embrace all that I had become without the memory of his presence overwhelming me. It was his way of letting me know that I need to walk the rest of this journey on my own. He understood that so long as I tried to hear his voice, I could not hear my own. So, in my sorrow, through prayer and reflection, by the end of the day I had a different perspective on what I had initially taken as a personal failure. Dad was co-signing my life. It was the greatest Father’s Day gift I could receive.
Having that experience three years ago, I go into this Father’s Day thankful for the eleven years I had with my father. For such a short period of time, the quality of our time together has served me well in so many ways. I now hear him in me. No longer do I struggle to recall every moment that I had with my father. Nor am I grief stricken when my thoughts turn toward him. I see us in the relationship I have with my daughter. While in those moments of quiet reflection, I can close my eyes and still feel his presence. It is a gift that enriches every day of my life.
I always had the expectation as a young boy that my dad and I would be hanging out together at this stage of our lives. In many ways we are, just not physically. Losing him was a powerful reminder of how fragile life can be. I learned never to take anything or anyone for granted, as our lives are time stamped with expiration date unknown to us but surely to come. I know now that while the length of our life is foremost in our thoughts, it is the breadth of life that defines who we are. For those few years that I shared with my father, the lessons he taught, example he set and love he showed provided more fulfillment than years alone ever could.
My walk through life is now mine to determine. I am thankful this day for my father – Walter L. Fields, Sr. – and more complete because of the gift he has given me. When my journey is complete, and the sun has set on my life, I look forward to our reunion and hearing his voice once again. Until then, I will speak as a father to my daughter, and encourage her and provide her the strength so that on that day when my voice has been silenced in her ears, she too will be able to walk alone.