*There is an audio version below*
My parents went through a divorce when I was 4 years old. The earliest memories I have of my father are not positive. My parents constantly fought — the final nail in the coffin being my father cutting open my little brother’s lip when he hit him.
I grew up hating my father.
He hurt my mother, brother, and several family members. He hurt me by not being a father I could look up to, and learn how to be a man from. As I became an adult, my hatred for him grew.
There was a point where that hatred decreased. I left my parents home at 17 and was homeless. I dropped out of high school and got three jobs to survive. I didn’t have time to think about him.
When I got myself established, he tried to reach out. His voicemail said he just wanted to say HI. I broke the answering machine.
I met the woman who would become my wife, got my G.E.D., and we started our life together. I got steady work, a place, and we started a family. My father continued to reach out.
I ignored him.
We had our first son a year later. My father heard about him from my grandfather — who I had an amazing relationship with. My grandfather was always there for my brother and me.
It had been years and my hatred for my father had faded. I told him he could see his grandson. From then on, I would talk to him every few months. He would come over to see his grandchildren, and he would keep apologizing. We kept this kind of relationship until April of 2012.
I can remember every second of the call. I can feel every emotion that ran through my body during that call. My grandfather called to tell me my father died in his sleep. He was 54 years old.
I got off the phone and didn’t know how to react; there were so many conflicting emotions. I simply hung up and went to bed. The next few days were a blur. I did all the normal life stuff, but in the back of my mind was a pinging. His funeral was a week later.
The funeral was torture. People came to express their condolences, but I was clueless as to what to do or how to react — this was my first death experience, and we weren’t close.
During the funeral, I found out some things I didn’t know about my father. He was a paramedic and had saved some lives. He volunteered for the Salvation Army and helped a lot of people. The biggest shock being how his mother died.
My grandmother had died before I was born, and it was a topic that wasn’t discussed in our family. She died when my father was young, and her death affected him in ways that no one realized. He battled a lot of demons after her death.
I got home from his funeral and lost it — I completely broke down. Every emotion from 32 years of life came crashing down on me. I cried for two hours and went to bed. I woke up the next day feeling the same.
I couldn’t believe it. HE WAS DEAD. He was gone, and I would never get another chance to talk to him. I would never get a chance to repair our relationship to at least a functional level. That was it. Game over.
After a few days of raw emotion, I started to replay some of the last few conversations we had. The one thing he kept talking about were all the things he wished he had done in life.
He wished he was there for my me and my brother. He wished he had traveled. He wished he had done this and that. He had so many regrets. He knew he would die with those regrets.
The one thing he said to me was to learn from his life. He said to live a life of no regrets. He would ask about my dreams — he told me to chase every one of them, no matter how impossible they seemed.
Little did he know how his death would impact me. I hated my father most of my life, but in the end, he gave me a great gift. He gave me a wake-up call and reality check to the kind of life I was living.
As we approach the three-year anniversary of his death, I have taken his advice and honored his last wishes. I’ve lost 170 pounds, quit a job I hated to write full-time, and moved our family from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to our dream destination of Maui, Hawaii. We have three beautiful children, and my wife and I will celebrate 17 years of marriage in December.
Live a life of no regret
When you deal with death, the one thing that becomes clear is the preciousness of time. Life is short and before we know it — it’s gone. Time is the one thing we’ll never get back.
Is it possible to live a life completely free of regret? I’m not sure. Probably not. BUT, you can accomplish all of your big goals. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want a better job or the chance to start a business? Do you want to move to your dream destination? Whatever your dreams, they ARE possible.
It’s not going to be easy. It will take time — too much time it feels like, but your dreams are possible. Don’t let your dreams die with you — like they did with my father. They are in your mind and heart for a reason. We only get one life to live. Make it count.
I miss my father. I miss my grandfather. I will continue to honor their memory. I am their legacy. Don’t wait for death before you do something about the kind of life you want to live.
Are you chasing your dreams?
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
Photo: Flickr/ Stephan Ridgway