Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ring

The Ring

The morning started the same way they always had. He woke up, ran to the bathroom where his dad was, took up station on the commode as the only available seat, and watched his father getting ready for work.

Every morning he awaited this time with dad with anticipation. This was a special time of day for the both of them. He would ask questions of all kinds, musing about all the different topics his young mind could muster and Dad would answer them with a smile.

Dad drew the raiser up his neckline and plowing a small row through the snow like shaving cream sticking in the shape of a beard upon his neck and face. “If girls are equal like sissy said, why do you hold the door for Mommy and let her go first everywhere?” Dad smiled in his usual manner, taking care not to knick himself from the slight chuckle. “Son, the world needs balance, it needs beauty, and it needs the touch and creative force of women.” I hold the door for your mommy because I am humbled and honored that such a wonderful creature decided to share her life with me. We hold the door for all women because regardless of the standards people set for themselves, we choose to honor the essence and wisdom of women, not a particular woman. We call it chivalry, and we do it for us as much as for them.”

He understood some of what his dad had said, more importantly his dad showed him how important he was every morning by answering his questions.

The shaving completed, the after shave in place, the shirt tucked in tightly, shoes shined, dad completed the ritual the way he always had. He put on his giant gold ring with the lodge symbol on it. It always ended with dad reverently putting on the ring. Dad kissed his forehead and headed for the living room where he would kiss mom as she readied herself for the drive to work after dropping him at school.

“Dad, why do you always get so dressed up for work?” “It’s for the ladies he said with a wink and then a laugh.” “Your teasing dad!” he said. “I am little buddy. It’s the inside of the man that is important. The way he loves, the way he chooses to worship, the way he thinks and feels. But, the outside of the man is a nice way for your old dad to try and reflect how I feel on the inside. Daddy wants people to know he values them, he values himself, and he values his community…so he dresses for it.”

Dad had just finished putting the collar stays in and synching up his tie. Dad double checked to make sure all was in place, slide on his lodge ring, kissed him on the forehead and off for another day.

As he grew and the teen years moved in, he visited less with dad, but still peeked in for council during the morning hours when something important loomed. “Dad, John Garry said he is looking to fight me, I’m not afraid, and quite frankly I wouldn’t mind shutting him up.” “Is he an idiot?” “I think so.” Dad squared his shoulders and made eye contact, but kept a softness to his features that showed caring and concern, “And he thinks this fight would be a good idea?” “I guess so?” the boy said. “Why would you follow an idiot? Look son, I can’t stop you if you choose to fight. You will win I am sure. But in a few ways you will lose. You will have followed a bad idea by a person you have little respect for. If you are going to follow, then choose your leaders wisely when allowed. In this case, you can choose not to fight. If this other boy leaves you no alternatives, provide him his penance and don’t use any more force than necessary to defend yourself.”

The ring was put on in its normal fashion and this time a hug as dad headed for the door.

It would go like this for many years. It was funny, but those talks would prove a powerful potion through the college years and during times of stress and frustration. He could even here his dad’s voice delivering its wisdoms and witticisms when they were needed. He fell, like many do, made some bad choices here and there, but again, his dad’s voice, “Son, they’re called regrets, everyone over about the age of 12 has them. The difference between the victorious soul and the defeated one, is that the victor got up, dusted himself off, learned his lesson, and moved forward. The forward part is important son. People are always looking for a direction, but backwards is a direction too. Keep your head up, your mind open, and life will never be an obstacle by itself.”

It was hard for him when it first happened. Harder for his dad he thought. He had first noticed it when they had brought the grandkids over for a Sunday visit. Dad refused to live anywhere but the house he grew up in, even after all of the kids were gone and mom had long since passed away from cancer. But that Sunday he noticed it. Dad’s shirt was not tucked in.

He flashed to watching his dad’s dressing ritual every morning the meticulous care he took of himself, even after he had retired. Dad always shaved, always combed his hair, and always got dressed in a fashion that led you to believe he was expecting company at any minute. He always had a smile ready and fresh pot of coffee was only a moment away.

“Dad are you feeling okay?” “Sure,” he said with a questioning look. “Well its just that your shirts not tucked in.” Dad looked down as if seeing his own clothes for the first time that day. He began to slip a little from there and it was months later that he convinced him to move into the city and stay at their house. It was the grandkids that did the trick.

As the disease progressed, he found that he had done more and more for his dad, who, losing some of his memory…still wanted his morning ritual more than ever. Its just that dad didn’t have the ability to do it anymore. First he shaved for dad, fearing that dad might cut himself, then came combing the hair, and one day, much to his father’s dismay, he needed help getting out of bed, getting dressed, and making it to the living room.

He saw them the day of the ring. The day that he had to put dad’s ring on for him as his hands were shaking to much for dad to do it himself. Dad stopped him and grabbed his hand. Dad rotated his son’s hand palm up and stared into his son’s eyes for a moment. He placed the ring into the palm and shut his son’s fingers around it as best as he could.

His voice did not come easy these days, but this was important and it needed to be said. “Son, some men join the lodge, take their oaths, carry a dues card, and show up to the meetings. Some men, men like you, live the life son. They put their chest out, they love with their whole heart, they work hard, they hug kids and kiss their wives with tenderness.”

He could see tears in his dad’s eyes and tried to remember a time he had ever seen him cry. Dad continued, “They care for their old dad in such a way that the old man never loses his dignity and pride. You might not be a member son, but you can wear this as much as any man I have ever met. I love you boy.”

The funeral had been at high twelve. Dad didn’t say why, but wanted it way according to the will and so it was done. He had intended on burying his dad with the ring when one of the men from the lodge had come up at the viewing. I’ve got a ring here for your dad. He called before he died and said to bring it. That his ring would be yours now….so put that ring on or back in your pocket, but your dad made me promise you would keep it.”

They removed the blindfold and he saw them there. The men from his dad’s…from his lodge. He was kneeling and had just taken his oath when the tears began and he couldn’t stop them. His dad would have wanted to see this, he would have wanted to be there and he had always been too darn busy to join and share this with him. Why hadn’t he done this sooner?

The thought of regret almost consumed him and threatened to steal the beauty of the evening. The initiation part of the night over, the lodge was handling some simple business when the Master of the lodge called for “good of the order” and old Mr. Henry from his dad’s office stood up. He was the same man with the ring at dad’s funeral months before.

He cleared is throat and said with his gruff voice, “I’ve got something I need to read Worshipful.”

Mr. Henry looked at him square in the eyes and said, “Your dad made me promise to read this when the day came.”

“Son, I knew this day would come and I promise you that I was there in the light when you received it. You see, I had my speech prepared. When the good lord asked me what I had done right, I asked him to take a quick peek at you. I squared my shoulders and said, ‘Lord, if I can simply be judged as half the man my son has become, I would be most gracious.’ My spark has rejoined the flame son. It was an honor to sit in lodge with you tonight, and the view from here was spectacular. I love you boy.”

The next morning as he shaved, combed his hair, slide on the ring and stared down at the greatest little boy God could ever create, he found himself chuckling as his son said, “Daddy, can I ask you a question?”