This has been, for my family and me, a tough day, one week before Father’s Day no less. The man who had been my father for 20+ years, Michael David Smith, has succumbed to cancer.
It’s funny, he had been a part of my life for so long that I’m a little fuzzy on when our first encounter occurred. 1995? 1996? I’m inclined to say the latter, because it was Fall and the beginning of football season, and the Panthers had already existed for a year. Mike, a child of the 60s long before North Carolina had a professional football team, was a Dallas Cowboys fan. I never missed a chance to give him grief over this, often saying “I will create a law that says you must pull for the team in your local area.” He sometimes quipped “then I guess we’ll be moving to Dallas.” (I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I had been a closet Cowboys fan before my beloved Cats took the field.
Anyhow, whenever Mike and I first met we immediately bonded. As I’ve written in my post about complex thoughts on fatherhood, I would often linger on the floor as his Atlanta Braves (MLB) played on the tv, and we would talk about anything and nothing for hours. Sometimes while watching basketball, he would tell me to stand up so that he could demonstrate a great play that had just occurred, often to comical and almost dangerous effect.
He would usually ask me to join him for grocery store runs during which he’d impart advice about finding and being with a good woman, at the end of which he would get me either my favorite candy or a can of Pringles, to which I was insanely addicted in those days. Then there were the innumerable Jeopardy shows and our friendly competitions, usually he was far better at pop culture and I knew my geography.
Not only did he embrace me wholeheartedly, but he took my cousins under his wing with ease and clear enjoyment. We had a stretch there from about 1997 to 2001 where our singing group, Off Da Top, fancied itself celebrities and performed in several talent shows. Along with my youngest sister, Mike would work with us on choreography and talk to us about his knowledge of the music business. He called himself our manager, and said we should change our group’s name to the Backseat Boys (long story for that name’s conception which you can read in an old Writing 101 post, but if we’d chosen it can you say lawsuit?)
I revel in these memories, and if anything I regret not having taken the time to make more of them. I hadn’t seen him too often, which is true of the rest of my family as well, in the last ten years. I hope that the rest of us can now start to rectify this, and am eternally grateful for my birthday dinner with him, my mom, and my in-laws that my wife organized, as it was the last time I saw him healthy. I remember the shock and sadness I felt when seeing him in the hospital bed this past November, as this last cruel journey began. I was overcome with depression, but I also prayed and hoped for the best. But as they say, death is a part of life and at some point we must all confront our mortality and that of those whom we love deeply.
To you, Mike: Thanks for letting me be your son and for your unconditional acceptance of me, even with the unusual package I present. I will always be grateful for your coaching and guiding me through my formative years and helping me to learn to be a good man to my wife and, I hope, a good human period. May you rest in peace.