I looked at the short-sleeved plaid shirt hanging in my closet and started to laugh.
At the time I bought it a couple of weeks ago, it had not occurred to me it is something my dad would have worn. If he were alive it could have been his Father’s Day gift.
It also reminded me of something my son wrote for a blog he was maintaining right after college. I asked him if he remembered it and he, of course, did. But when I asked if he could send it to me he said that might be a different story. He wrote it a good eight years ago. He shut down the blog a while back.
Michael — little Michael — and my dad were buddies. With my mom and dad living close by, my two children never went to day care. They spent their preschool years hanging out with their grandparents.
God only knows how many games of checkers my son and my dad played together. He also knows my dad cheated in every one. So did Michael after a while and it made him mad.
“I hate you, Pop,” he’d say and stomp off to another room. But he’d be back five minutes later, crawling up on Dad’s lap.
I’d often find the two of them sound asleep in front of “The Price is Right.”
It took about a year for Michael to properly grieve following my dad’s death. Out of nowhere one Sunday afternoon, he threw himself on his bed and cried his eyes out.
“Why do people die without even a chance to say goodbye?” he sobbed.
He was 9 years old.
The piece he wrote about his grandfather came 12 or 13 years later, the summer after he graduated from college. It was inspired by, of all things, a bottle opener.
After some internet searching, he did find the article. He still has the opener.
He wrote in an email, “And it’s used, fondly, for every bottle we open.”
Inspired by my new plaid shirt, I wanted to share with you on this Father’s Day what my son wrote about my dad.
Michael is the reason I am a father and my dad is the reason I am the father I am.
Following are Michael’s words from eight years ago:
“I don’t have many family heirlooms.
Last summer, my great-uncle gave me a peacoat that belonged to one of my mom’s relatives. He wore it when serving aboard the USS Nevada, a ship that survived two world wars, kamikaze attacks and two nuclear bombs. The coat seems just as indestructible.
My sister, Greta, has a bunch of costume jewelry from nearly all sides of our family. She acquired most of it rummaging through junk drawers and dusty attics. At least that’s what I’m told. I never joined her on her jewelry hunts.
The summer after graduating high school, I spent a long weekend visiting my dad and stepmom in Pennsylvania. Most of the details of that particular trip escape me, though I’m sure it was filled with jokes, home cooking, and possibly a tennis match or two.
When I was getting ready to head back to New Jersey that Sunday evening, my dad handed me a little something: a simple wooden-handled bottle opener with a steel mouth. Or as I like to call it, “The Howard.”
The Howard belonged to his father, my grandfather, Howard Ackerman. I knew him as Pop.
Apart from the surname, you wouldn’t be able to draw many links between Pop and me. He grew up a farmer, joined the Army at 17, was a boxing champ by 18, fought five years in the Pacific, then returned home to support a family of seven by working in the Pennsylvania coal mines and later in a woodworking factory.
His was a life straight out of a John Steinbeck novel, whereas I worked part-time at Banana Republic in college and owe all of my military experience to Xbox Live.
Actually, about the only similarity is our fondness for plaid. And when I say fondness, I mean love affair. I wear little else.
To put it plainly, The Howard is a great bottle opener. There’s something almost elegant about it’s simple design. The wooden handle has a handmade quality that makes it look more fit for the tool shed than the utensil drawer.
And it’s about as unbreakable as the Nevada. Surviving four years of college living is more than enough proof.
A great bottle opener.
And a great reminder that I’m here because of the back-breaking efforts of people who’ve loved me.
That sacrificing yourself for family is never really sacrifice.
That miraculous things can come from the humblest beginnings.
And that I have a lot of living to do before I can pass along this little piece of wood and metal.
Pop died some 13 years ago. With luck, there are plaid clouds in heaven.”
(My words: to go with my new plaid shirt which I will surely wear today.)
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.