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OPINION

One Last Message From My Dad

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Courtesy of Derek Hunter

As I type this, it is the day before my birthday, and I'm prepping for a rite of passage, an uncomfortable medical exam. It's also a few days after Father's Day, and, as you read this, it is my birthday. My first birthday without my father, who passed away suddenly in March. It is my first birthday without my parents, having lost my mom a few years earlier. But sitting on my desk is one last message – a birthday card – from my father, which sounds a bit odd but let me explain.

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My parents taught me a lot of lessons, pretty much all of them that really matter. We somehow managed to live as a family in a 1050 square foot house, all seven of us (five kids and two parents) with one bathroom until I was about 10 when my Dad made a half bath in the unfinished basement, and I never remember waiting to pee. It was all we could afford, as I learned later, but we never knew it. We didn't have luxuries, but we didn't go without either. We just took time. Preparation matters.

The last to get cable, the last to get an older video game system, etc. We never didn't get something, we just got it later than everyone else, when it could be afforded, oftentimes after something newer came out and the price dropped. 

But we weren't jealous or felt left out, at least I didn't. I am the youngest, so everyone else likely had different, more adult interests at the time. There was always food, always electricity, and Dad always worked. 

He drove a forklift for Fisher Body five days per week, then worked the concession stand at the local township softball fields Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the summers and drove the Zamboni at the ice rink on the weekends. It was just normal to me. 

My mom was disabled, having lost her right leg to the circulatory issues that would plague her throughout her life, but it never slowed her down. It wasn't rare to come home from school to find her standing on a tall chair wiping something off the kitchen ceiling. What it was or how it got there was never really an issue, it was always shocking how she got up there. 

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She got up there because she needed to be up there to do what must be done, just like my father worked so much because that's what needed to be done to keep us fed and in our house. There wasn't complaining, it was all we knew. And they made it to all our games – everyone played baseball or softball, and my brother and I played hockey, too. OK, my mom didn't watch my brother's hockey games – he was 10 years older than me and really, really good; they were also able to check, and the league had its share of fights, none of which my mom could bring herself to watch her son do. I was too young for checking, making my games tame by comparison. 

It was a great life, but a life where we didn't have a lot. We also didn't know we didn't have a lot – reality TV, seemingly designed to create jealousy and envy, had not been invented, no one had heard of, let alone was keeping up with, a Kardashian – and we were happy. 

My mom could stretch a buck – the queen of double coupons! As the youngest, I'd always shop with her on Fridays, and there were many times I had to buy whatever the maximum number of cans of tuna the store allowed in that week's sale after she'd just done the same in the line in front of me. She'd hand the cash back to me, engaging in a skirting of the spirit of the rules but not breaking them because the limit was per person. 

And my Dad missed his calling as an accountant. Neither graduated high school, though he did get his GED to get the Fisher Body job, but he loved balancing his checkbook and keeping on top of bills. I will forever remember him sitting at his desk in the living room going through every transaction to make sure he was correct, down to the penny. And he was. When you don't have a lot, you track every bit of it.

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They were both planners – mom would buy that year's birthday cards and put them in her drawer until needed. Since she passed, Dad would do the same, but he'd fill them out and address the envelopes, only needing to add a $10 check no one would cash because we wanted him to have his money (he was on a pension and needed it more than us). He'd always call a month after, asking if I'd cashed the check – still balancing accounts manually in the digital age. "No, I didn't," I'd say, solving the mystery of why he wasn't balanced. 

Well, at the beginning of this year, he'd told me he set up all the birthday cards for the year. They were sitting atop his desk, only in need of stamps at the appropriate time (the dates were written in the return address spot, ready to be concealed by the return address sticker). After he passed, one of my sisters took them and has been sending them out. 

My oldest daughter got one last month, and I froze when I got the mail. I knew that handwriting. I took a couple of days to open it, fantasizing about the message in it. It was what it always was – "Love, Grandpa" – but I held out hope it was something more, like he'd known and wanted to convey some secret nugget of knowledge before he went to heaven. 

I had forgotten, or at least stopped remembering about the card when, a month later, mine showed up. Sealed in a blue Hallmark envelope, my Dad's printed handwriting on the front. Inside is the last message I'll get from him on this Earth, and I don't want to open it. I know what it says, or what it will say – "Love, Dad" – but once I read it, it'll be over. 

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I cry as I write this, knowing full well how stupid it is, but it is real. My parents are gone, but they're together again – 57 years of marriage and eternity after that. I just miss them. If I open this envelope, there won't be any more notes or messages. If I don't, I miss the last "I love you." Sealed, the card can contain any message imaginable, opened it will be exactly as my Dad wrote it, and he always wrote the same thing: "Love, Dad."

Not that he didn't mean or have in him the pearls of wisdom, he'd just tell you them. Birthday cards were birthday cards, not diary entries. He wasn't healthy, having cancer he chose to no longer treat, but he didn't know he was going to die when he did. His heart gave out; the cancer didn't get him. So, there is no reason to suspect there's an extra note in the card – that's just not how things worked. 

We told each other we loved each other every time we spoke, and we spoke often, so there was no ambiguity about that. I know those were the last words I said to both of my parents, and I'm happy about that. Still, this card has me stuck because that's it – once I open it, there won't be any more messages; his handwriting is gone. Sure, there will be two more cards – for my wife and my other daughter – but this one is for me. And I'm not ready to receive it yet because I'm not ready for that to end, for that last goodbye…and I don't know if I'll ever be. I will open it one day, maybe soon, just not today. I can't today. Thanks for the card, Dad, but even though I wouldn't cash it anyway, and I know there isn't one in there this time because you didn't write them early, I'm going to keep your checkbook out of balance a little longer if you don't mind. I love and miss you. Tell Mom the same, and kiss her for me. 

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Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!) and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses, and host of the weekly "Week in F*cking Review" podcast where the news is spoken about the way it deserves to be. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.

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