Gator: Missing My Dad

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First, just know that this post is a long one. I tend to try not to write long ones…but this one will be a long one.

My Dad has been gone 10 years and I really wanted to write something for Father’s Day. Instead, I got to spend the day with my two favorite people…my kids. We hung at the park, laughed A LOT, ate way too big a breakfast, bought a few books. It was a pretty perfect day.  I actually ended up showing them pictures of my Dad holding each of them. They were the pictures from the last time he would see either of them, the only time he would see my son. Neither of them can possibly remember him, they were too young. I am including those pictures here, as well as one more that sends home who he was. He was so surprised to see his grandkids, but I remember my Dad telling me that day with my son, “Holding him was the first time I realized I was going to die. That I wouldn’t see him grow up.”

I actually ended up showing them pictures of my Dad holding each of them. They were the pictures from the last time he would see either of them, the only time he would see my son. Neither of them can possibly remember him, they were too young. I am including those pictures here, as well as one more that sent home who he was. But I remember my Dad telling me that day with my son, “Holding him was the first time I realized I was going to die. That I wouldn’t see him grow up.”

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He passed away around a month later. We got closer than we had ever been during that time, calling each other early in the morning to watch reruns of Coach together for an hour. I will forever be grateful for that time.

My Dad was a spider-fearing nuisance alligator trapper for the state of Florida. Between that and the Marine Corps, I grew up in maybe the most exciting was possible. Can’t be bored like that! He was not defined my any illness but by the mark he left on his family, friends, and people he came in contact with. He ws a man that worked with an animal he respected and loved. If he is defined by anything, it is simply by his love and respect for this world.

My Dad fought lung cancer for a long time. From April of 2006 until it got the best of him on July 2, 2007. He was 54, but he did well.  He was originally given 3 to 6 months, tops. He fought hard and I know he is up there enjoying being reunited again with my Mom, who died of cancer at 38. To be honest, he never really recovered from that.

The day of his funeral, I was not able to attend. My son was at the children’s hospital for tests. At that time, they were thinking it was a blockage and that we would surely be looking at surgery. I was heartbroken to not be at my father’s funeral but knew he would understand the gravity of the situation if he were still with us.

To that end, I wrote a eulogy that a friend delivered at the funeral for me. For Father’s Day, I thought I would simply share that eulogy.

Also know that, from the beginning, my Dad would send out updates on his condition. He was originally diagnosed with small cell carcinoma. Treatable, but aggressive. At 6 months, he was declared cancer-free. Unfortunately, it made a comeback and would not be defeated again. This was the email he wrote about that (I left the typos. He never had typos. I think that it is important to leave them here):

Well, I’ll make this short and to the point.

I ent to the hospital the past couple of days for some tests. Seems the little devils are ddoing their thing despite all the poison we have thrown at them. The docs and us have decided there really isn’t anything else to do and at the pace the cancer is going I have maybe 2-4 weeks. Maybe less.

So, we are preparing for my journey and I am doing fine.

I want all of tyou to know how much I love you all and amm truly a blessed man for all the wonderful family and friends God has seen fit to put in my life.

I have a request for you all. Do not grieve me. I have lived a life very few have the opportunity to live. I have been able to come and go at will and do whatever I wanted at the drop of a hat. I have 6 wonderful grandchildren, 3 terrific children and A wife sent directly to me from God himself. An incredible number of wonderful friends who love. Can you think of anything I’m missing? I can’t.

So I say to you all once more, I love you more than you’ll ever know and am eternally grateful for all your support and prayers sent to me and my family. Please don’t stop the prayers for the comfort of my family and friends who I must in this world. They will need it now most of all.

Tony

So when I found I could not make it, I wrote the eulogy. I attach it here.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We miss you, bud.

Note: “Sexing” an alligator simply means checking the sex of it, which involves placing a finger in their “vent”. Generally, not pleasant for the checker. And as you read, you will see why I am explaining this.

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First off, I deeply regret not being able to attend today. After all, this is probably the largest group of people who have been tricked into sexing an alligator in history! Unfortunately, our 7-week-old son has been diagnosed with a type of blockage and will be going to All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete for treatment and surgery. But I know Dad would rather I be with my wife and son in this situation. Just one of the things that makes him him.

My Dad was a hard as nails, tough old buzzard. Not that you’d know it. Cause that man would give you the shirt right off his back even if it was his last one. Wouldn’t matter, not if you needed it. And there’s no saying “No” to that either.

In one of our last conversations, we were talking about trust. And one trait we share is that we trust people immediately. When someone tells you something, it never even occurs to you that they may be lying. Their word is golden unless they prove otherwise. Just who he was.

He was also straightforward and honest. If he told you he’d be there, he would be there. –He’d be a ½ hour to an hour late, but he’d be there…– And that’s the thing about Dad. He is definitely here. And there. And at your home, work, boat, truck, stand, or secret fishing hole. Truth is, he is everywhere. In every story you tell about the time he scared you to death gator hunting. Every time you go into the outdoors. Every time you think about how he made your life a little better cause he was so willing to share his. That’s where he is. With all of us. On Lake Miccosukee, Talquin, Seminole, Jackson. Back in the Everglades where those orchids grow and monsters bellow. The Wacissa River and every single body of water that holds a snook. He will live on.

Because he gave us so much of who he is that we are part of him, and that means every person we share a memory with is part of him too. My Dad may not have been the greatest man in history, but he’s damn sure the greatest man I have ever known. And I would not be the man I am if not for his being the man he is. There are alligators all over my house. Pictures, books – including a book called Meet Gator that Dad gave my daughter, stories, memories, and fishing gear. Heck, I couldn’t get him out of my house if I wanted to. I pray that I can be half the man he was.

Dad, I know you asked us not to cry for you. I understand. But allow each of us to cry, instead, for our poor sorry selves. Cause we were all selfish enough to hope to keep you forever. No doubt you are much better off than the rest of us. And already hunting and fishing with Mom, Uncle Greg, and Grandaddy…among others. But man, we sure do miss you down here. And of that, you should be proud. Cause there is not a single one of us that won’t feel a little elation mixed with sorrow every time we hunt, fish, or see an alligator. I can tell you that he already reminded me.

July 3rd, we went down to see my in-laws and I spent the whole evening doing the only thing I could think to do to beat back my pain. I cast and cast off their dock. I had never caught a fish there. I was casting a jig and…BUMP…a bite! And the fight! But it felt odd…I got a light down and looked, and it was a 7-foot alligator. On a jig fished on the bottom. In brackish water. I smiled and cried, thanking him for allowing me that moment. An alligator biting a jig. And then he let go. But not before letting me know he was there. Oh, and for the record, the next day I caught 4 snook in that fishless canal. Thanks, Dad.

And although I know I have been long-winded, I would like very much to read something. Dad was sent an email by a friend of his that he immediately connected with. It was a poem called “The Dash”. And I’d like to read that to you now.

The Dash
by Linda Ellis
Copyright 1996

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years. (1953 -2007)

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile..
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

Hopefully, all our dashes can be even half as full as his. I love you, Dad. We all do.

Be seein’ you…

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