Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"My father was a good man"

"My father died when I was forty
And I couldn't find a way to cry
Not because I didn't love him
Not because he didn't try
I'd cried for every lesser thing
Whiskey, pain and beauty
But he deserved a better tear
And I was not quite ready."

--Guy Clark, "Randall Knife"

My father died on October 19. For me, the tears came readily enough. It was the words that wouldn't come.

At some point during those surreally busy days after his death, as my mother and sister and brother and I made the arrangements, my sister Kathy mentioned to me that she was writing a letter to place in our Dad's casket and suggested I might want to also. My brother Brian wrote one too, I think, and he also wrote a beautiful eulogy that he delivered at Dad's funeral Mass. On the morning of the funeral, I saw my Mom sitting at their kitchen table, writing a letter to Dad through her tears.

But I wrote nothing.

To paraphrase the lyric above, I'd written for every lesser thing, but he deserved a better word and I was not quite ready.

In the three weeks since the funeral, I've wanted to write and been unable to find those better words. I've posted on Facebook many photos of my Dad--maybe unconsciously thinking of the old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Last week, I found myself thinking of this Guy Clark song. I think it had been waiting quietly in the shadows of my mind ever since Dad's passing. I've always loved it. It brought tears to my eyes long before I ever really feared feeling the loss that it captures so beautifully. But I didn't want to hear it now, didn't want to think of it. I didn't think I could bear it.

But when it stepped cautiously into the semi-light, the line from the song that came to mind was a simple one:

"My father was a good man."

I realized then that those were the words that came to me first. When Dad died, I wanted to let people know quickly, and so posted this on Facebook:

"Thomas Joseph Byrnes, January 22, 1926-October 19, 2012. A good man. A good life."

Those words don't seem nearly adequate. They can't capture 86 years of life, 65 years of marriage, five children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren (with another one the way), his Navy experience in World War II, his business career, his devotion to his church.

But for now, they are the only words I have. My father was a good man.

I'll never be the man he was, but hoping that someone might think the same of me when my time comes is aspiration enough for me.

Maybe there are no better words than that.

My father was a good man.

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