I went to bed at 18 with hair down to the middle of my back and a goatee that tickled the middle of my chest when I laughed. I woke up at 29 with no hair, two pierced ears and that beautiful bounty of facial hair standing its ground in the face of maturity and societal norms.
The morning of Nov. 22, 2003 was cold, foggy. My Dad was a machinist for a sugar mill. It was the annual sugarcane harvest season, which those in the sugar industry refer to as “grinding.” At around 5:45 a.m. Dad crossed the street in front of the sugar mill from the employee parking area on his way to clock in. A distracted driver in a pickup truck struck him. Dad, who was just steps away from safety, suffered a major stroke and brain stem injury on impact.
When I arrived at the hospital, the E.R. doctor told me, “Your father’s dead. I’m sending him to Lafayette for a neurologist to confirm it.” Just that cold. Just that emotionless.
My head turned, I saw the man that was my safety, my strength, my mentor, my confessor and my friend lying motionless on a gurney, the floor splattered with his blood, his shirt cut open, wires and machines protruding from his face and chest. My head turned a little more. My mother and sister huddled together just feet away looked to me for safety, for strength.
Dad wasn’t dead. Instead, the belligerent, rebellious, irreverent and headstrong man I had become died that morning. He died with those words from that doctor’s mouth, with those stares from my mother and sister.
A couple of weeks later, on Dec. 9, I went to sleep in a hospital chair next to Dad, holding his hand. I woke up the next morning, my 30th birthday. It wasn’t all just a nightmare. My birthday wish didn’t come true. No amount of blowing on lit candles, no string of prayers or rosary beads counted would take it all away.
Flash forward one decade. In the ensuing years, the earrings and long goatee faded away. A beautiful woman entered my life and said, “I do.” Two Little Men entered the world and changed my life forever. Jesus called Dad home, freeing him from the broken body and damaged mind that trapped him for six long years.
And, here I sit again. Tonight is Dec. 9. I’m going to bed at 39, married, a father, a more mature man chiseled into wisdom by life. I will wake up to another decade of trying to get it right, wondering as I start my journey how will I keep it all together, how will I make sense of whatever the world throws at me without the man who guided me for so many years here to lead me.
I stand on the horizon of a life milestone without Dad. And, I wonder, how will I be the dad my boys need me to be, how will I be the husband my wife deserves? I have a great roadmap to follow. Dad left me that in the life he lived, in the values, traditions and faith he left behind.
I stand here more confused than ever. And, I hope I get it right. Not for me. For my wife and for my Little Men, who deserve to have a dad they can count on to be their safety, strength, mentor, confessor and friend.
Trevis at his wedding with his father, mother and sister.
Trevis, 2, helping his dad. As he turns 40 the writer knows the