We lost you 34 years ago, Dad. Here are my three wishes for Father’s Day

In observance of Father’s Day, a letter to my dad:

Dear Dad,

I was sitting in my parked car, asking my cell phone for driving directions. I’m spoiled. How did I get around town without maps in my phone?

It’s Father‘s Day month. I thought about you. Would you be using a cell phone? Would you program a destination into your phone and listen to the directions?

I am directionally challenged, like you. I remember when you drove to Smithton for a banquet at the old Augustine’s Restaurant in Belleville, or when we drove to the Lake of the Ozarks on our way to Florida?

Still amazed at how you could combine multiple cusswords into one, very long and colorful exclamation.

Wow. It’s been 34 years since you left us on Christmas Day 1990. Cancer got you bad. Like many men of your generation, you started smoking cigarettes as a kid to look cool. As an adult, the first thing you did every morning was smoke a cigarette. The last thing you did before going to bed at night was smoke a cigarette.

I wonder what we would be doing together this Father’s Day, if you were here? Maybe barbecue. Hang around the house. Watch a game. You were never big into big plans. You’d love the big screen TVs today. Watching cable movies on a 75-inch TV screen? You’d never leave the house. Porky’s reruns, non-stop. You’d be 96 years old, too. Maybe we’d listen to music. Sinatra, Damone. Warwick. Tap your foot.

I was 31 years old when you left. My hair was red. I wasn’t ready for you to leave. You weren’t ready to leave, either. You were so sick at the end, a shadow of yourself. You were a proud man. It was a blessing.

Funny. I thought you would answer the phone at Gasen’s Drug Store forever. Whenever there was big sports news, automatically I called you at the drug store. That was our thing. It was prior to cell phones and the Internet. For a few years after you passed, when big news broke, I automatically called the drug store. I knew my mistake as soon as John or Mike – not you – answered the phone.

Sorry, I said. Again. And again.

I turned 62 a few years ago. I reflected on your life. I realized how young you were when you passed. I reflected on my life. How did I get this far, so fast?

Here are three stories I tell about you a lot. I bet you had no idea of their everlasting impact on your youngest son:

Dads are bigger than life. It was the early 1970s. I was in grade school. A big kid named Marvin pushed me off my new bike and rode off. I walked home from Burger Chef on State Street in East St. Louis and told you that my new bike had been stolen. You said nothing. Got into your car and left. About an hour later, you returned home with my bike in the trunk. You had gone to the police station. You knew police officers. Together, you went to Marvin’s house. You put my bike in your car and came home. Bigger than life. Billy Jack.

You never gave up. You were a laborer at Shell Oil in Wood River. In the mid-1960s, with three boys and a wife, you quit your job as a laborer and returned to college to complete a pharmacy degree. I have no idea how we pulled it off as a family. Mom went back to work full-time as a secretary. You went to school during the day; worked at the old Hamilton’s Drug Store on State Street part-time. As a family, I know we did without many things but it seemed like we had everything. You graduated from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1967, at age 40.

Always there for me. In the mid-1980s, I made a mistake that involved driving a car. You were at my side, from start to finish, and helped me pay fines. I asked you about it years later. You said, “You knew you had messed up. I didn’t need to remind you. I’m your dad. If I didn’t help you, who else would?”

Three close-my-eyes-and-wishes before I end this letter to you:

  • I wish you could have known my son and daughter. I see you in them.

  • I wish you could have been here to experience the Blues winning the Stanley Cup.

  • I wish you could answer a phone.

My dad, William (Bud) Mackin
My dad, William (Bud) Mackin