Fifteen years ago, I decided I would travel to see my father. His moving had kept us apart, and I seldom got to see him.

Our relationship had fractured over the years, and we had never had a warm relationship like some fathers and sons. He was a stoic man.

I remember all the stories my father had told about his youth, living in abject poverty with nine brothers and sisters. When he was 9, his father died of a mysterious illness. It was the Depression, so he quit school in the ninth grade to help support his family.

At 16 he lied about his age and joined the Navy. The military taught him discipline and respect. He loved being in the Navy because he had received three meals a day and shoes that fit.

It somehow was insignificant to him that he was a gunner on a ship and left the service with legs scarred from gunshot battle. He was honorably discharged and began to live the good life (so he thought) with my mother in the 1950s.

I thought we were poor growing up. By today’s standards we would be considered very poor, but I did not feel so poor because we always had a house with heat, albeit a little cold at times. And we always had food on the table, but seldom did we have meat as a main course. We usually sat down to beans and cornbread; sometimes, if we were lucky, we would have hot dogs. When we did, we were so thrilled we called them “tube steaks.” Today tube steaks are still my favorite treat even though I no longer eat meat.

Little did I know, this visit would be the last time I would see my father alive. The few days that I did have with him, I enjoyed the man for the very first time. He had seemed different to me – or maybe I had changed over the years.

A year before his death, he had a knee replaced through elective surgery. The surgery did not go well and he suddenly found himself diagnosed with diabetes and a number of other physical ailments that he acquired at the age of 69. He had lost a lot of blood through his bowels and almost died. He found that he now regretted opting for the operation. When I looked at him, I saw a sick old man, where previously I had always seen a healthy and vital one. He had changed.

He said to me, “Don’t ever let them do elective surgery on you.” I then told him he should retire and enjoy his life. He told me that he did not have anything to retire to.

He then looked at me and said, “It is time to say our final goodbyes.” When I looked in his eyes I somehow knew I would never see him again. I was heartbroken I hadn’t gotten to know him better.

Six months later, I got a call in the night from my brother telling me that our father had died in his sleep.

— Special to the Telegram