Sometime during the month of December, late 1971, my father accompanied me outside for a well planned and highly anticipated “stroll through the snow”. It just so happened to be my first time exploring the crystallized vapor as a newly walking human being; I was barely one year old.
According to family legend, I wasn’t that excited about snow escapades. Using my limited vocabulary at the time, I did my best to talk Papa out of this adventure.
“No, Papa! I no wanna!”
“It will be alright, pal. I will be with you every step of the way.”, he attempted to reassure me.
Helplessly, I looked to Mama for an intervention. Due to an odd familial political system, however, Mama’s hands were tied. Papa worked long hours during the week and he – mostly – used his time at home to eat and sleep. The weekends were his to do with as he saw fit concerning children, chores and obligations.
I was going outside in the snow and that was all there was to it.
My father served in the United States Air Force Reserves as an Operating Room Technician for six years. He enlisted, according to him, to avoid being drafted into the more rigorous branches of the Army or Marine Corps. He viewed his time in uniform as somewhat of an embarrassment; he spent most of his contractual years of military service at the bar in Chicago’s O’hare Airport.
In contrast, I enlisted in the United States Army, for five years, as an Airborne Combat Medic. I spent my contractual years of military service on active duty, deploying to combat and trudging the ranks of a rapid deployment infantry brigade.
Our relationship was strained for most of our time together during this life. Papa’s father abandoned him and his mother when he was an infant. As a result, he was raised by an angry Catholic grandfather who referred to him as “bastard”. The Catholic Church, itself, abandoned Papa, as well. Children with no fathers – or more specifically – children of divorced parents weren’t accepted into the “Church” during Papa’s time as a child.
This left Papa with a defiant stance toward organized religion and a unique view of parenting children.
I came home from my time in uniform, at twenty-three years old, a defiant – yet deeply tortured – drug addict struggling with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The complexity of our individual worldly experiences and the way we each internalized those experiences, were magnified when we dealt with each other.
He simply couldn’t understand why I had chose the life that I followed.
I couldn’t understand why he didn’t accept my choice.
Mama bundled me up for my walk in the snow so well that I could barely move, I was told later on. She kissed me goodbye and told me to have fun. Papa didn’t appreciate all the fuss and verbalized his disgust out loud for us to hear.
“Stop babying the child, woman. He’s only going outside for a few minutes.”, he grunted.
He carried me down the stairs from our third floor apartment and released me to do as I wished once we were outside. As the story goes, all I wished was to go back inside. So, Papa picked me back up and ventured a little farther away from the building. Then, he gently placed me back on my feet again.
“Go, pal. I will be right here beside you – everything will be ok.”
A few steps later, I fell face first into an embankment of icy slush. According to Papa, the blood curdling screams that were birthed from my throat ended our tour through the wintry wonderland immediately. He carried me back up the three flights of stairs, straight away.
Over the next forty-five years of my life, no matter how many times I fell face first, Papa never left my side. However, in early 2016, when the frustration of being his son became too great for me to bear, I threatened his life and pushed him away. I didn’t speak to him for almost two years. Then, when Mama called and let me know that he was sick, I decided to go visit him again. At the time, I had been living in a homeless shelter for six months. And, I was now drawing close to Abba, or “Daddy”, our Father in Heaven, through reading His living Word.
I decided to tell Papa about Daddy. I brought Meldie, my then girlfriend, with me. Meldie knows Daddy real well, you see. I needed her faith as reassurance. Papa spent my youth chasing the Catholic Priests away from our home. “Keep it moving, Padre! There’s nothing here for you!”, he would bark as they roamed our neighborhood of Chicago’s south side. To say I was anxious about talking faith with Papa would be a gross understatement.
I spoke to Papa about the bleeding woman, from scripture, who sneaked through the crowd just to touch the cloth of Jesus’ clothes. Her faith awarded her healing and Jesus was in awe of her. I also told Papa about Jesus’ view of the Pharisees; the religious leaders of His day.
Papa looked to Meldie for acknowledgement.
“It’s true!”, she exclaimed. “He is the Healer, the Way to the Father and the Sacrificed Lamb of God!”
I wasn’t sure of his response, right away, to being saved through belief on Jesus. All he kept saying was how impressed he was with Meldie.
“She seems to really like you! Like, for real, she seems to really like you! You don’t find that odd, son?”
“No Papa. Daddy sent her to me. He sent me here to show you.”
For the rest of his life, Papa called himself a “Jesus freak”. It was the oddest thing I had ever heard him say. But, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior that very day. He told Meldie and me as much before we left. In other words, Papa confessed his belief through his own mouth.
We went back to visit him, a few times, after our initial visit. He always spoke about Jesus and he never missed an opportunity to kiss Meldie on the lips.
In late December, 2017, I held Papa’s hand as he left this life and returned Home to Daddy. “Go Papa. I will be right here beside you – everything will be ok.”
Meldie, Mama, my sister and one of Papa’s granddaughters were there, too.