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  • We just never seemed to hit it off, Dad and I. He was never good enough in my eyes - I wanted John Wayne, and got Gregory Peck. I wanted someone to play catch with, to take me fishing and come watch me play sports. He never seemed to have time for that kind of stuff, and as far as I knew, he wasn't into it, or me.

    He was always talking about things, a story-teller, but I had no patience for that, or him. He just always seemed like he was mad, and I always thought he was mad at me. This was reinforced by the running dialogue he'd throw my way whenever I did happen into his orbit. "That's your problem Pete, you don't think!", and "Your problem, Pete, is you think too damn much!" It's no wander I never knew what to think, or say, around him. "You're a promising young man, Pete - always making promises!" And, there was my "favorite" - "Pete, you're no damn good!" I must have heard that one 100 times if I heard it 10.

    I'm not sure what these declarations were supposed to do, but they basically served to make me feel pretty worthless, in my father's eyes. I didn't like feeling that way, so I just avoided the man as much as I could. I didn't like him - he wasn't very nice to me, most of the time. I wouldn't admit it, but it did hurt.

    It wasn't as bad as all that, though. I had 4 older brothers, who served variously as my alternative "Dads" through most of my childhood. Indeed, my very worst times with Dad came after the "chain of command" had all gone off to college and work, and I suddenly had to deal with him directly. That's when it became quite evident to me that we just really did not like one another. That last year living at home was by far the worst of times between us. It was me and Dad at our absolute worst. It's a wander we didn't kill each other.

    Throughout my relatively brief Navy career (4 years), I always sensed that he was just waiting for me to fail. Once, I showed up for a surprise visit, having caught a ride with my brother Brian when I had a long weekend pass. Instead of the welcome surprise I'd envisioned, he met me with a horrified exclamation, "What are you doing home? Are you AWOL?" Nice vote of confidence there, Dad!

    I was sure that I would dislike this man my entire life. I could never measure up to his standards, would never be good enough, although sometimes I would still expect his approval of some accomplishment, like making it through Nuclear Power School. It never came. The sense I always got from him was, "fine, fine, just don't screw it up!"

    Much as I tried to kid myself that it didn't matter, and found myself hating anything in myself that reminded me of him, it really hurt me in the depths of my being that my Dad didn't think much of me. What made it even worse was, he seemed to love so many other people, and so many people thought he was really something. This just underscored my own sense of self-worthlessness.

    Then, it all changed. He changed. In the Autumn of his life, once he was no longer fighting the rat-race to survive, to feed his large family, and finally found some time to reflect and figure out who he wanted to be for the rest of his life, he began to treat me differently. The timing couldn't have been better, for me. This happened just as I was at my worst, struggling to escape my own addiction, and completely clueless as to how to get out of it. He'd welcomed me back into his house. I became a ghost there, a shell, just trying to hide away from life, buy some time until I figured out how to live again, and then I just completely lost the desire to live for a time.

    Through all of this, he was there. He would just talk to me. Only, he no longer seemed to be mad at me. He genuinely seemed to care. I'd never gotten this from him before. I didn't realize it, but it helped to sustain me through my "hell times". Nurtured me. He would talk about so many things. He really did have something to say, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to hear it.

    Later, as I began to get well, I learned the value of honesty, sometimes brutal honesty, and we had a moment where I admitted to him that I had really hated him most of my life. He just smiled and said, "I think that's the first honest thing you've ever said to me!" I wasn't too thrilled with that comment, but the emotion behind it was genuine, and we hugged, and as I kept struggling to recover, we both struggled to make our relationship work. We had a kind of a detente for awhile. I still didn't completely trust him, or think he really thought a whole lot of me.

    It took a number of years, but genuine healing finally came. Things like the letters he sent to me about the coffee pot parts (see the seed to this story) just blew me away. God, I'd long since forgotten those incidents that still haunted him, but the fact that these things still bothered him so, meant that he really had loved me all along - he just hadn't been able to tell me, or show me. Now, he was, and he did - in spades! Forgiveness poured out of my heart and soul, and I became more whole than I'd ever been.

    Then, the unthinkable miracle occurred. We actually, somehow, became best friends - truly. Neither one of us saw this coming. It was such an unbelievable blessing for me. We discovered that we both had way more in common than we'd ever realized, and we both dropped whatever charges we might have had from the "bad, bad years", as he referred to them.

    For the next year and a half, he taught me all of the things that I could never learn from him growing up, and he actually listened and learned a few things from me. While it was kind of devestating to then lose my best friend when he died, he proceeded to teach me how to die right, and the greatest gift of all. Watching this beautiful man make an amazing transition, I have never feared death since I witnessed his transition.
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