WOSTER: Dad's impact never fades
In spite of the number of times in my career I've written personal columns about my dad, 45 years after his death, I still feel compelled to talk about him on Father's Day.
The first column I wrote about Henry Woster was full of raw emotion but perhaps short on well-written sentences and paragraphs. I wrote it several years after he died in 1968, and some of the feeling of loss should have passed by then. Obviously, it hadn't, I see as I read the thing again. It was probably the first time I ever opened up about my dad and what his life and death meant to his family. Like a first breakthrough with a good counselor, that column had emotion pouring out of it. I had apparently stuffed some strong feelings for a long while.
The column talked mostly about how strong my dad seemed, how invincible to any sort of force, human or natural. Then it described how quickly he died that one summer, receiving a diagnosis of cancer in late June and passing in the middle of August.
The thing was, I was 24 back in 1968. I knew so little about life I'm lucky to have made it this far. I knew of cancer only that it was a terrifying thing, a killing thing. The word itself was spoken only in whispers, even around the cancer patient. We watched my dad waste away, going from a lifelong farmer with arms and shoulders that had muscles on muscles, to a shell of a human being. All the while, we -- and almost every other friend, neighbor or casual acquaintance who stopped to bring him cheer -- would tell him how fine he looked, how it seemed he was getting stronger every day, how it wouldn't be long before he'd be back on the tractor planting another season of wheat.
I refused to accept that he was going downhill. I didn't visit home often that summer, avoiding the reality of the sickness and visible mortality of one of the two most important people in my growing-up life. I couldn't bear to see him as a weakened, frightened man. It didn't fit with my need to have my father be strong and fearless and wise. In the years after he died, especially in the years after I received a cancer diagnosis of my own and learned a lot more about the disease, I wished I had talked with him.
Maybe he would have turned away, rejecting the offer to get down to how he was really feeling and not how everyone -- me, especially, more than I would have admitted -- wanted him to be feeling. If he had made the decision not to talk, at least I'd have tried. And, who knows? Maybe he was waiting for someone to sit down in the lawn chair next to his under the shade tree in the front yard and listen to thoughts and feelings and reflections of a man facing death and knowing it.
I'll never know, and I can live with that these days.
A person who lives with nothing but regrets really doesn't live.
I've stopped thinking my dad was the strongest man in the world. I've met some strong folks in my nearly 70 years. There were few, though, in our corner of Lyman County who could match my dad for sheer physical power.
I've stopped thinking of him as the most fearless man in the world. I've met some utterly fearless men and women. My dad, though, stood up to blizzards and rank steers and hailstorms that flattened every hope for paying down part of the bank note that year.
I've even stopped thinking of him as the wisest man in the world. I've met some really smart folks in my years.
My dad, though, was extremely well read, took a lively interest in world affairs, politics and baseball and could hold his own in any impromptu debate at a Sunday picnic or the Saturday evening waiting line at the barbershop.
I've stopped thinking those things. I haven't stopped thinking of my dad, and nearly half a century of Father's Days after he died, that makes me smile.