“I’ll find a place to rest my Spirit if I can.
Perhaps I may become a Highwayman again.
Or I may simply be
a single drop of rain.
But I will remain…” ~ Jimmy Webb
19 June 2017
Greetings on this post-Father’s Day. I’ll never know why it seems to be my function to be the buzz kill. Don’t get me wrong, I dig a good buzz as much as anyone. But there are times when my mouth opens and these things just come out.
For example, one glance yesterday at the multi-headed beast of social media was all it took to put a fresh crack in my admittedly hitherto broken heart.
Yet, have no fear over this fractured heart, Dear Reader, for I have been well assured that these cracks are how the Light gets in…
Yesterday I was wished a Happy Father’s Day. And that’s complicated for me—hell, it’s complicated for a lot of people. In truth, there’s endless pain, regret, and suffering skulking about on such days. From dysfunction to grief, in every holiday survivors are camouflaged.
We smile, we say thank you, and wish you a happy day as well.
While inside us a tiny piece of breaks off and dissolves.
I was adopted, but that’s not the complication—it’s a long story best left for another time. Let’s just say that I am grateful to have been twice-blessed. First by being chosen for adoption by a family who made me their own. And later reunited with my birth family, whom I have come to love unconditionally.
Adoption is a rare gift, too often overlooked in our society. For those who make the most heartbreaking decisions, and those willing to accept a child as family, are humans of empathy; they are humans of immense empathy and courage, regardless of what tragedies that may force such choices.
No, the difficultly in this day is that I lost my father when I was only 28. Please understand that I realize countless people are not so fortunate as I, to even have had the years we did—to have even had a loving father.
But nothing can stop grief. It is a tsunami, we can only be inundated and Survive.
I could write pages about my dad, Red McKenzie. But I’ll share a memory my mom is especially fond of. I was nearly two years old…
1969, Christmas, San Angelo, TX
Dad, known to his older relatives as Billy Chris, was sitting out on the stoop playing with my brother and I. An old friend, one who’d lived in Mother McKenzie’s building since dad was a kid, stopped and admired the two darlings he was bobbing up & down—one on each leg.
“Why, Billy Chris, what beautiful babies!” she gushed at him. “So, which one is yours?” She asked, knowing of the adoption—as doubtless the whole building did. According to my mom, he simply looked at her and answered mildly, without rancor,
That was just how he was. A man of few words, but you listened when he chose to speak. I learned from him that our actions often matter most—that coming from a poet is something of an irony, I freely admit. So many lessons I learned from my father only really sank in after he died.
I never had a chance to thank him for giving so much; even through the worst times, when I was a delinquent thug bent on leaving a wake of destruction in my path. Using Tough Love, my parents pushed and pushed to save me, rather than let me rot in McLaughlin juvenile jail when I was sixteen.
They never gave up on me, even when I had.
They allowed me to earn back their respect, and helped me find some for myself.
For those adopted: never forget that we were chosen…no one gave us away.
Forgive the rough edges of this poem, Dear Reader, for I wrote it 21 years ago, and in mourning. I have only edited it here for clarity.
In the box with my memories
I have a short deck of playing cards.
Only forty-seven are left.
The rest I buried with my father:
a straight flush in his breast pocket
to best St. Peter at the Gates.
Born and died a cowboy in the end
his last word went unheard.
We have put his pistols in the ground;
fought with the wrecking company
to remove his saddlebags from
the maroon Taurus in which he died.
I have stood beside
my mother, my brother—
as if exiled by thick, awkward pain
we faced the line of grieving friends
and bore their condolences with grace.
I smiled when I had to:
at heartfelt tales of yesterdays,
of shared sorrow, and keen-edged kindness,
for elegies both solemn and bittersweet.
Shed no funeral tears, he’d have said.
For an honest gambler he remained.
He always taught—
We have to play the hand
we are dealt in life.
That the turn of a friendly card
is the best we can hope to gain.
I drank with his partners.
Howled on asphalt dusty
until my throat cracked
until bore-tide tears ran
clean tributaries down my face.
These things I have done
will honor him as best I can.
Yet they all pale
when set beside
the East Texas man
who claimed me
from the cradle
and made me his son
not through blood
but through love.