— Jim Valvano
Nicknamed “Jimmy V”
U.S. college basketball coach
Still a little new to this business of sending letters to heaven, I went ahead and stamped the envelope “Air Mail” in hopes it would speed the process with the United States Postal Service. I didn’t receive Mom’s letter back from Mother’s Day last month marked “Return To Sender” so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that’s a good omen for this one.
Hopefully, Mom allowed you to read hers last month, but I did ask her to reassure you that another would be coming for Father’s Day.
And today is Father’s Day, both down here and up there. But then again, I kind of figure up on your cloud every day is Father’s Day.
For the record, and to alleviate your fears, I’m not enclosing a necktie nor socks nor fancy handkerchiefs with this letter in celebration of your special day. Besides, the way I hear it they probably don’t use those in heaven — especially the ties. If that’s really the case, sign me up. And have Peter send a one-way ticket ... undated.
Just a little afterlife humor there, Dad. Speaking of which, my guess is by fate alone neckties land pretty far south of your location. That’s something you and I always had in common — a mutual disdain for those colorful chokers.
So how’s Mom treating you? By my count, you two lovebirds were separated 13 years between heaven and earth after you checked out in ’91. It was a tough blow to the family when you each caught the last train out, but we all knew it was for the better.
Your health those last couple of years was inhumane, but you tried not to show it. And Mom’s last few months with cancer was an injustice. Like you, she was a trooper until the end. She lived through a lot of pain and we knew it. Our hearts ached in helplessness. All we could do was make her comfortable, but that just wasn’t enough.
Getting you two back together was probably all the medicine she needed. I hope that didn’t overcrowd the cloud.
Here’s a shocker for you, Dad. Every morning I look into the bathroom mirror, I now see you. Yes, it has finally happened. Folks are noticing it. The other day I ran across a quote from a Colombian novelist named Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He wrote, “A man knows he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.”
So which of us is supposed to be mad?
No offense Dad, but I was hoping against your skinny legs. But they’re here.
And your long-lost hairline? I found it ... several years ago, in fact. Trina laughs about it. The other night she caught me combing the survivors. I explained I had muffled them pulling on my T-shirt. She asked, “Which ones?” I answered, “Nos. 59 and 60.”
My hairline has become the Michael Stivic of Archie Bunker’s place. We’re talking absolutely no respect.
And Dad, about that waistline of yours that I never wanted ... really?
Oh well, that’s part of life. Trina’s looking more and more like her Mom so I guess we’re two peas in the same pod grown by faulty genetics. It’s funny about genes. Seems like they always go south.
So Dad, do they stock your Prince Albert in a can in heaven or is tobacco a no-no? Frankly, I’m having a hard time picturing you without that pipe. Tobacco’s no saint, but I know in your good years you loved the stuff. And yes, I still remember your defense, “I don’t inhale with a pipe. That’s just cigars and cigarettes.”
Right, you and Bill Clinton.
I’m sure it had nothing to do with your emphysema. But I’m not judging, Dad. You had already drawn a short stick in life. We had World War II to thank for that. You and I never talked about it in my younger years. You didn’t open up much about that war until ... well, until close to the end. I finally showed an interest, and that’s when you shared. I was a thoughtless son for waiting that long, but then ... fathers and sons don’t always work off the same script.
I know it’s too late to wish these things Dad, but I wish I had learned more of your carpentry skills in your living years. It would have come in handy today.
I wish I would have had your knowledge of car mechanics ... boy, do I ever.
I wish I would have listened to you more and talked a little less.
I wish I would have hung out with you more on the weekends instead of watch TV in my room.
I wish I would have asked you more questions about life and people and everything else that I didn’t always understand.
I wish I would have not just listened to what you were saying over the supper table, but actually heard your message.
I wish I would have looked you in the eyes every day and read your pain.
I wish I had been at your bedside in that cold hospital room the afternoon you died.
Dad, I wish for a lot of things these days when it comes to us.
But this I wish most of all. I wish, and I pray, you have found peace. I wish that your demons of battlefields past and wars gone by have surrendered to a serenity known only to those who walk forever in a quiet land of unspoken dreams.
May today be your finest Father’s Day ever. You’ve earned it in ways you will never know.
I love you, Dad.
Say hi to Mom.