There is a large stone sitting on my heart, staunching the flow of emotions for the time being. The stone has an inscription that says “I wish I loved you better.”
This is in memory of my father, Richard James French, Sr. born January 22, 1928 and moved on to a better life on January 18, 2011. Growing up in Michigan, my dad was called “Dick”, a name he despised and started using the nickname “Jack” once he enrolled into the army. Why he chose Jack, I will never know. The only people ever allowed to call him Dick were relatives when we visited Michigan.
Those Michigan visits to the old farm house were when he reached full bloom. Retracing his childhood steps recreating his youthful adventures seized creative spirits making me lust for more of those vacations. I learned to drive a stick shift by learning to drive the farm tractor when I was eleven years old. Even when I almost maimed my father, my brother and myself by barely capsizing all of us into a ditch by the road, my father remained calm.
When we moved into our first house of our very own, the neighbors and even my teacher thought my father was my older brother. He was younger looking than his years and I was taller than mine. This may have been why he and I were more like brothers than father and son. There was nothing I couldn’t tell him without knowing that I would be unconditionally accepted. Alternatively, he too confided in me, but I had some deficiencies in being as all-embracing as he.
My dad was not the most emotionally demonstrative person, so you had to read his actions to know what he felt. I will never forget the day when I was twenty-nine years old. He hugged me, kissed me, and said he loved me. What prompted it escapes my memory, but the my reaction doesn’t. It was such an unexpected action, the floodgates of emotion cracked through the dam, causing me to bawl like a newborn. That was the first time as an adult he had done that.
When I told him I wanted to change my name from Richard James French, Jr. to Ryan James, there was no ego defensive reaction, but only “Regardless of what you call yourself, you will always be my son.”
My father never finished college, but he was one of the most intelligent people I knew. He was infinitely curious. I remember his continually researching anything that peaked his interest. He tried teaching me French verbs while toilet training me. He himself had just learned them from a Berlitz record. Although my mother pushed me all the way through Cub Scouts, I went all through Boy Scouts enduring weekly meetings and hateful weeks of camp every year just so he had an excuse to be the Assistant Scout Master. If we could only trade places, we would both have been in our glory.
My father was the most patient man I have ever known. The only time he really lost his temper was when I accidentally almost killed my brother. His rage at the time was most likely a fear reaction of having to face my mother when she returned home.
My father demonstrated qualities that were so admirable to me; I could only wish they had passed from his gene pool to my own. I had often said that my father was the most androgynous man I knew. He could sew on a sewing machine as well as he could weight lift or throw a football. He was the original metro-sexual. Nothing interfered with his self-esteem and confidence in his humanity. It would never occur to him there was a need to prove his masculinity. Whatever needed doing, Jack was there, willing to be of assistance.
No one was more tolerate of others than he. As cliché as it sounds, Jack would give you the shirt off of his back, proving it to his financial ruin, but that was who he was and there was no changing him. He was blind to race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Regardless of these positive attributes, I still muddled through trying to figure out how to get closer than I felt we were, but I always knew it was my thinking not his.
Dad, I wish I loved you better, but I know you loved me with all of your being.