Updated: Jan 30, 2021
This is a cautionary column about missed opportunities and second chances, of fathers and friends. Don't miss your chance to reach out and thank someone, even strangers, when they touch your heart in some way. You never know what it will mean to them. And never miss your chance to tell your people you love them.
Father’s Day was bittersweet. It was my third holiday with no father of my own to celebrate. Grief is such a curious thing, just when you think you are feeling a little stronger, a memory or song or Hallmark ad slips in to remind you that a piece of you is still missing. You will spend the weekend going through old photos and yearning for just one more phone call.
That night, I was sitting alone in my office, tinkering with the Father’s Day column I wrote for my husband two years ago. He is a wonderful father, and I love to brag on him. I decided to repost it on my personal blog. I was going through the mechanics of adding and saving it when I noticed I had a new comment on my site. It was from a reader named Grady Harris, and he had written to tell me how much he enjoyed that Father’s Day column.
“To Mrs. Nicholas … I am writing just to say thank you. For this Father’s Day editorial and all the others that make me smile … and tear up too. I filled out the MRT Readers survey thing and made sure I marked down you were my favorite. You have filled the big shoes left by (former columnist) Gary Ott well young lady. You should be proud.”
He also told me a little about his own family and let me glimpse into a small corner of his life. Grady was invested in me, in my family. He asked me not to stop writing about them.
“You brought us into your life. You can’t just close the book on us without letting us know how it all plays out.”
It’s funny, my own father never said one word about anything I had written. I even got him an online subscription, but I don’t know if he ever read a single column. I never asked him about it. Afraid to know if he had, even more afraid to know if he hadn’t. He was a man of few words, even fewer compliments.
But now, I wish that I had. I wish that I had asked him about a lot of things. But mostly, I wish that I had gotten to say goodbye. I wonder if I would feel more peaceful instead of feeling angry and sad. My emotional baggage is getting heavy.
I know he didn’t mean to make me cry, but Grady’s letter just overwhelmed me. That kind of connection with someone I haven’t met face-to-face feels magical to me. And that he would reach out to lift me up on a day when I felt so low, well, it was the sweetest gift.
I immediately started to write him back, first to apologize profusely for taking so long. I hoped he would forgive me. Second, to thank him for his kindness. I wanted to tell him that I missed my dad but his words made me feel a little better. I wanted him to know that my kids and husband were just perfect. I couldn’t wait to ask him about his own children, ask him about his Father’s Day. Grady told me he didn’t use Facebook, so I decided to Google him. It’s always nice to get a feel for people before you talk to them.
I expected to find him listed on his company’s website or maybe even in a news article or a photo from his church newsletter. I was crushed when I found his obituary instead. Grady died exactly a year after writing me, on Father’s Day eve in 2018.
Looking at his kind face in that black and white photo, I was devastated. I felt robbed all over again. Here was another father I missed.
I just couldn’t let this chance to say goodbye go, though. I found his wife, Kathy, online and wrote to her. I told her that I would give just about anything to hear from my dad again, and I didn’t want to miss a chance to tell her and their daughter, Tina, about this chance encounter with Grady.
Kathy was so kind to me, I was afraid that bringing his memory up would be painful for her and their family. But instead, she loved telling me about him. Grady was from Big Spring, Texas, studied engineering at Texas Tech, and spent his entire career working as an estimator and project manager for steel manufacturers.
Kathy told me that Grady was a tough man, but fair, and while his competitors disliked him, “his customers loved him!”
Kathy and Grady met in July of 1992 “on a date that neither of us wanted,” and she fell in love with him instantly. She said Grady was a devout Christian, a quiet, gentle man. He was tall and even-tempered and he adored their daughter and grandchildren.
Though Kathy and Grady divorced shortly before his death, Kathy said they still loved each other. Grady, she said, was her soul mate. He died suddenly, unexpectedly. But fortunately, Kathy and their family were with him in the hospital and got to say goodbye.
“We all miss him so much,” Kathy told me. “I talk to him a lot … asking him for advice. My daughter and grandkids are convinced that he comes and visits them. They talk to him as well.”
Well, Kathy, I think your daughter is right, he visited us all this Father’s Day. And Grady, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your openness, generosity of spirit and kindness. I am sorry I didn’t get to say this to you two years ago. Thank you for making my grief a little easier to bear this year.
Father’s Day was bittersweet. It was my third holiday with no father of my own to celebrate. Grief is such a curious thing, just when you think you are feeling a little stronger, a memory or song or Hallmark ad slips in to remind you that a piece of you is still missing.