It's been 20 years since you left us, and I miss you more as the years go by.
Having kids has opened windows into my childhood, Dad. Sometimes now, when I correct my two boys, I hear the powerful timbre of your voice inside my head. Kids need dads who can both kiss them on the forehead and occasionally quicken their pulse with a finger snap. You knew that.
Sometimes I forget how different our lives were. My childhood was Brady Bunch soft. You grew up in the Great Depression. I was a shy, lonely young adult. You manned-up and led young men into battle in Korea. I've been relatively healthy, your body was crippled with arthritis and your lungs were coated with the chemical muck of a mid-20th century war.
Maybe that's why it always felt strained and unnatural when we talked -- like a marshmallow trying to impress a grenade.
When you died I was 35, but still childlike, naive. I had no family, no legacy outside of a few newspaper clippings in a shoebox.
After you left, things started to change. I felt strangely liberated -- out of your shadow maybe. I got married, rediscovered faith, found strength and resolve in fatherhood.
The world got harder, too. After a generation of relative peace, young Americans died again in open-ended wars. Lately, hard economic times have crashed onto our shores again like riptides from the 1930s. Still, the lows weren't as low as the Great Depression, which was good, because we had no cultural callouses.
Instead of bringing us together, politics is driving us apart. The media -- stuck in the conflict model of newsgathering -- occasionally illuminates us, but more often merely accelerates the wildfires of public opinion.
But other things would have made you smile. I could have replaced your magazine piles, stacks of library books and three daily newspapers with a hand-held device no bigger than a pack of smokes -- a window into the accumulated knowledge of the world.
Oh, and Dad, the cars. Car talk was always our comfort zone, right? You wouldn't believe the cars I'm driving now. You'd think you were in a spaceship. I have one car with an electric motor and another with a navigation computer powered by satellites. Cars have heated seats now; you'd have loved that for your aching back.
If I could bring you back for one hour, Dad, I would leave you in a room with the two grandsons that you never met.
My older son, 11, shares your heart. He is, by turns, tender and fierce. You'd like his company -- his fascination with paint guns and all things sports. My younger son, 6, would remind you of Mom -- self-effacing, hard-working and addicted to the Three Stooges.
You would be proud of them both, I think.
And, by association, maybe even me.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...