Dad, I still can’t say goodbye

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

This coming Sunday, Father’s Day, is a special time for me.

Bob Haley, my father, was 38 years of age on the day of my birth, and 77 years old on the day of his death. The 39 years we spent together began during the onset of his middle-age years.

I was always a bit envious of my older siblings Rita, Jim and Jack, and the fact that my Dad was a much younger man during their formative years. As I grew up, I remember Dad as a mature man who awakened every morning at 4:30 a.m. to travel from to work from Port William to NCR in Dayton, a trip he made for 40 years without complaint.

My dad believed in rules. He made us turn off the television and go to bed every night at 8:30 p.m. because he had to get up early. Come to think of it, I realize throughout my teenage years I never saw Bonanza, or the Andy Griffith Show or any show that started after 8:30 p.m.

I recall his side profession as a barber, and how he manipulated our heads until we were in just the position he wanted to give my younger brother, Kevin, and me “burr” haircuts. He had a “razor strap” he threatened to use when the need arose, although he waved it around more often than putting it to use.

One of my favorite memories of Dad was one of the times he and I went fishing together near the bend on Sabina Road just outside of Port. We fished for several hours before deciding to walk toward the bright orange stakes we saw in the ground a few hundred feet away.

“This is the location of the new interstate highway. I think they’re going to call it I-71,” Dad said. We crossed a short field and walked down the bulldozed area where we inspected the large earth movers and other heavy equipment changing our landscape and our town.

After our fishing expedition and highway exploration, I remember it becoming a favorite pastime of mine from then on, to look out my bedroom window on the second floor of our home, and watch the equipment building the new highway.

Dad was Irish-Catholic, having a strong belief and faith in God that he displayed in many gentle ways. I remember him walking away from a group of men when someone began to tell an off-color joke. During my entire life, I never heard my dad utter one cuss word, nor ever take the name of our Lord in vain. Maybe it was because every night of his life he turned down his bed, knelt on his knees beside it, and said his prayers.

I visited Dad and Mom often after they retired to their home on Spring Street. Dad became Mom’s caregiver, and after her death, he became lonely and forlorn. It wasn’t long before his health began to fail.

In the middle of a cold, January night the telephone rang. The nurse at CMH told us Dad was weakening and we should get to the hospital. When we arrived, he was lying on his back and his breathing was labored. I spoke to him and lightly squeezed his hand.

I sat down quietly in the chair beside him, watching his every breath. His breathing continued to slow until it became shallow and weak. Finally, a nurse came into the room, and gently said, “It is over. Your father is at peace.”

I was 29 years old at the time my father died. I am now 68 years old. As I look back to the fishing trips, our walks, and our time spent together, and even to our final shared moments in the hospital, I appreciate how my father taught me about living. And in the end, about dying.

Still, after all these years, I haven’t felt the need to say goodbye to my dad. His physical presence is gone, of course, but my memories of him are still strong and comforting.

Recently, as Brenda and I traveled on the same interstate my Dad and I had visited so many years before, I glanced over to see the old Haley homeplace in Port William, and the faint figures of a boy and his dad standing on the front porch.

Just as our old home came into view, we heard a Chet Atkins song come on the radio.

When I was young

My dad would say

“C’mon son, let’s go out and play”

I walked by a Salvation Army store

Saw a hat like my daddy wore

Tried it on when I walked in

Still trying to be like him

No matter, how hard I try

No matter, how many years go by

No matter, how many tears I cry

I still can’t say goodbye

Coincidence? I don’t know. But the timing could not have been better.

Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist