A Father's Job
Where Do You Want to Go?
Rituals underline the importance we place on right behavior. Our values, if we hold them sacred enough to share them with others, eventually become our rituals. It’s how we practice what we believe.
On January 31, 2005, my Dad, Eddie Taylor, passed through the trappings of this world for the mysteries of the next. My mother and I were with him as he took his last breath, saw his face crease in pain and then relax into perfect repose. He was no longer there. The vitality that animated his features for my entire life had left the shell that was his body.
Over the next several days, months and years, I worked to make things stable that had become unstable in his passing. I tended to my family, creating a safe space for the free exercise and practice of their grief. I took up the challenge of his business so that others could go forward with their pursuits and goals. I kept his commitments and promises, for the sole reason that he had always kept them to me.
I had no wife, no children, no one who would claim me as their own, but I had a niece and nephew and a fear. I feared that the memory of this man, the lessons he taught, the joy that he brought, the palpable safety you felt being around would disappear from this world unless I did something to stop that from happening. So I did the only thing that felt sensible to me. I remember him out loud, for others to hear and to hold the sweetness and strength of my father.
My Dad never told me “no.” It wasn’t that he was indulgent, he just trusted me to make the right choices, own up to my the consequences of my actions, and viewed his job as a helper along the way that I plotted for myself. When I chose my first college, I chose poorly, it wasn’t an intellectually challenging place for me, and I chose it for the wrong reasons (we won’t mention her name here). I had loads of scholarship money and the cost wasn’t much for the family to bear.
Eventually, I grew restless and wanted to move on. I told my Dad that I wanted to go overseas and it would cost money. He said “I’ll match every penny you put into this.” I sold my car and was off to Oxford into the time in life that formed me more as a person than any other. When I was broke and ready to come home, I made one call and was soon on the way to Atlanta where he picked me up in a soul-crushing hug that made me know I was loved, valued and missed.
I transferred to Emory University unaware of the fact that the college in Georgia with the biggest private endowment didn’t scholarship transfer students. The result was a $25,000 bill ($47,000 in today’s spendable cash). We didn’t have that kind of money lying around but my Dad got it and I got my degree from a top 20 University. He didn’t agree with my choice, but he didn’t tell me that. He just did what I asked.
And there was always that mystery between us. We didn’t understand each other very well. He liked things I didn’t like, then. Football, Golf, standing around the grill with friends, and all kinds of social activities that I felt were beneath me and not intellectually appealing in any way. And my interests perplexed him, too, I know. We regarded each other with love, but distance. I don’t regret that because it gave me freedom to be me, and he had the courage as a father to give me leave to do just that.
On January 31 of each year, I push pause on the world. I take those who will journey with me on a trip, and while we are away, I share the memories and the lessons of a father’s love. We point the car in a single direction and go until it seem right that we should turn, because the destination isn’t the goal, it’s the journey that drives us.
And all along the way, I sing the song of my father. I share the stories. I relive the moments in as vivid a way as I can, so that those who never knew him feel as if he’s only just walked out of the room and is coming back soon. What I value, I turn into ritual and my ritual this day is to celebrate a not-perfect-but-oh-so-good man.
And it is bittersweet. Because the better job I do, the more I miss the man in whose image I was made, into whose care I was placed, into whose life I was gifted, and who taught me the only things worth knowing.
Today I have children, and knowing now what my Dad knew then is a mystery I’d love to explore with him. I am intentional with their lives, explicit in their teaching, dutiful in their loving, and irrational in my hatred of things that would take from them.
And I learned it all from a man who departed this world too early and who graces the halls of heaven today as a blessing to all he encounters there.
I love you, Dad.