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89 Laps Around The Sun

I race through life in my father's steps

By J. S. WadePublished 10 months ago Updated 10 months ago 9 min read
Top Story - June 2023
44

My father's size ten shoes were "big shoes to fill" is an understatement when I reflect on his impact on my life. His eighty-nine years of life and fifty-nine years of personal influence on me have required me to examine my childhood perceptions versus reality. It took years to reconcile the difference as I matured into a man and a father. Harold Wade remains my Superman, North Star, and hero as I plod forward into the future across the ground he has already tread. His race through life, eighty-nine laps around the sun, impacted mine with invaluable lessons.

*

At seven years of age, my father's thirty-fourth lap around the sun, I lay on the bunk bed in the dark and heard my parent's voices. My father was home from a flight mission. Light from the hallway shot under the threshold as a warning before the knob turned and the door crept open. I peeked from my almost closed eyelids and feigned sleep. The silhouette of a man in a flight suit filled the doorway like a shadow monster.

My perception was fear. Was impending discipline from the judge, jury, and executioner about to be meted out to my brothers or myself? As a United States Air Force fighter pilot, he was a warrior comparable to Hercules, Superman, and Thor.

The reality was quite different. As a grown man, I learned that though his oath to protect and serve required long hours on flight missions, when he returned home he wanted to see his sons, even if for just a moment. My perception was fear, but the reality was a love for family that he exercised even when exhausted. He demonstrated by example that love and commitment are the glues that hold all things together, no matter the trials or circumstances.

*

At my father's thirty-sixth lap, when I was nine, the Vietnam War was in full tilt as was the ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Bloc. The military took him away for long periods. My mother, the designated and infallible Queen, held sway as his proxy. My perception was that I was not loved by him. If he loved us, wouldn’t he be here for the family dinners, football games, and school functions?

The reality I learned over the years was his sense of duty, honor, and dedication to his country was born in the red dirt of a Georgia tenant farm during the Great Depression. Early to rise to feed the chickens and milk the cow before trudging the two miles to a bus stop for the ride to school with a piece of cold cornbread in his pocket for lunch. As a teen he observed the uncertain days of a World War where neighbors never returned home. Their shattered bodies were left in the ground of places like Normandy, The Bulge, Iwo Jima, and North Africa.

Every family had sons, daughters, and cousins who traveled to faraway lands to shed their blood against the Axis for freedom from evil. I learned as an adult many friends and members of his Squadron died in Korea and Vietnam serving their country. Men, brothers in arms, he trained, ate, and fellowshipped with for years. I didn't understand the reality until 9/11 and a war was brought to my doorstep. Neighbors interred the bodies of their sons and daughters brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Their once vibrate lives were replaced by marble stone markers.

My perception as a child was naturally self-serving, but the reality was my father served others and offered his life to protect us and our freedom. There is no greater love than one laying down their life for another. First, one must be willing. My father demonstrated he was every day. Duty and honor are motivated by those we love.

*

My early teen years, around my father's fortieth lap in the race of life, brought bits of trouble and rebellion against the well-established tenets of my parents' house. The perception I held, influenced by my friends was that my father was too strict, mean, and inhumane. The military had jaded his soul.

As judge, jury, and executioner, I believed that my father enjoyed the rare punishment meted out for what he considered high crimes. The reality was revealed one Sunday following church services.

We arrived home and I was called into my parents' bedroom, also known as the woodshed. I was asked if I had been disruptive in my Sunday school class. Disrespect of any kind was a cardinal sin. I had been a terror and was amazed that I had not been indicted long before this day. He punished me in a way that my butt still remembers.

In the kitchen where the family had gathered, my mom asked my father what had happened. He told her a youth teacher named George had informed him I had misbehaved in class. My mom informed him that George was my older brother's teacher.

My father's face contorted in horror and shock, and he stumbled backward and collapsed into a kitchen chair. The warrior, pilot, and judge put his hands over his face and wept. Gripping my small framed body he pulled me close and begged my forgiveness. That day, for the first time in my life I witnessed my father's humanity, humility, and pain bared for all to see. It's okay to be human, own it.

*

His race through life was half over on the forty-fifth lap. The dinner table was an inquisition of our knowledge. Questions were thrown out nightly at each one of us. What is the square root of two? What is Pi? What is the capital of Maine? etc.

My perception was he expected my brothers and I to be perfect and ignorance was the greatest sin. As an adult, I learned this wasn't true and discovered the reality of my father's path to success in life. How did he get from the red dirt of a farm to the cockpit of a high-performance war machine?

In rural Georgia when your parents worked a farm or in a mill that would most likely be your lot in life as well. My grandfather believed in the tenet, know your place and never step out of it. Education was limited and each stratum of economics expected you to know your place.

My dad could have succumbed to the system but was determined to escape it. During his tenth lap around the sun, he built his first radio from scrap parts and self-study with a book from the county library. No one assisted him. When he turned sixteen he took the FCC Ham Radio exam, passed it, and received his license. Witnessing an air show he decided he wanted to be a pilot. His father thought he was delusional and rebellious to want such a thing and created a rift that would last a lifetime.

On his seventeenth lap, with the required eleven grades passed, he graduated high school. My grandmother signed for his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force where they trained him in the operation and repair of electronics.

Several years later as a Sergeant, he requested to take the college equivalency exam which included testing in trigonometry and calculus. His superiors laughed at him and called him a dumb Georgia cracker. Self-taught, he passed. This allowed him to compete by exam against thousands of college graduates for one hundred slots in the U.S. Air Force Flight Cadet Program, an officer candidate school. His superiors ramped up their abuse.

He beat out thousands of competitors and was awarded a pilot training slot. My father had to forfeit his stripes and become a cadet. If he failed, he would be sent home as a civilian.

Just over a year later, on his twenty-fourth lap around the sun, he graduated second in his squadron, received his wings, an Officer's commission as a Second Lieutenant, and the highest rating possible by being awarded the designation of a single-seat fighter pilot.

Against all odds, economic and social, the reality he taught was, You, and only you, are responsible for your education.

*

In every way, my father lived the tenets he taught us. As I grew into manhood, the impact of his life lessons became anchors of truth. During his eighty-ninth lap around the sun, he raced to the finish line but still had one final lesson to teach me.

My mother, his life partner, had preceded him in death three years earlier. As a grown man, I had abandoned all perceptions and witnessed the reality of my father's life through debilitating medical challenges and devastating loss. He had never stopped loving, learning, and serving as recognized by the South Carolina Award for Ham Radio Operator of the Year. Until his last week, he continued to provide emergency network service to FEMA and other agencies during disasters around the country from his radio room.

On his radio desk lay a snapshot photo of my mother. The picture was bent and worn from holding it between his thumb and forefinger every day. I know he loved my mom with every fiber of his being.

The finish line approached for his heart was failing and time grew short. Fully cognitive and with a clear mind, my father's breathing slowed as did his heartbeat. I held his left hand, and my nephew held his right with the family gathered around the hospital bed.

Each breath seemed more shallow with each heartbeat weaker. He opened his eyes, turned to me, squeezed my hand, and said, "It's okay, Scott," and smiled.

He looked up and focused on the top of the wall where it met the ceiling, pulled his hand from mine and my nephew, raised his arms out, and reached out to who and what he witnessed. He said, "I'm coming…I'm coming," and his heart stopped. I have zero doubt that my mother came to him in his transition to the next life. Love is a bridge across forever.

I cannot fill my father's shoes, but I can walk in the impact of his steps. He, by self-determination, shifted our family up numerous strata out of cyclic poverty, limited education, and an embedded culture of bigotry. My footprint within his creates a deeper impact by holding fast to the tenets that he lived. His common theme you wouldn’t expect to learn from a warrior was love.

Love and commitment are the glues that hold all things together no matter the trials or circumstances.

Duty and honor are motivated by those we love.

It's okay to be human, own it.

You and only you are responsible for your education.

Love is a bridge across forever.

I am on my sixty-fourth lap around the sun and will someday approach my finish line. The greatest honor would be if it were said, He followed in his father's footsteps and left them just a bit deeper.

*** *** *** ***

I love you, Dad.

WisdomMen's PerspectivesFatherhoodEmpowerment
44

About the Creator

J. S. Wade

Since reading Tolkien in Middle school, I have been fascinated with creating, reading, and hearing art through story’s and music. I am a perpetual student of writing and life.

J. S. Wade owns all work contained here.

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Comments (31)

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  • Julia Schulz7 months ago

    My father was a WW2 Navy veteran, so I know the era. And I cared for my mother as her health declined. It's interesting to now gain different perspectives on my perceptions of my parents from my other 4 siblings but ours were of more dysfunction..not the graceful way you saw your father's heart. Nice piece.

  • Renessa Norton7 months ago

    This is fantastic writing. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man - complex and stoic like most men of his era and those who have served in the military. In my experience, they are the people who have seen the horrors of war and have realised how important their loved ones are and want to leave the world a better place for them. Wonderful homage to your father - keep on deepening those footsteps.

  • Joe Luca9 months ago

    Great story, Scott. Wonderful to have a man like that in your life. Loved the way you used the metaphor of the earth turning every year - that was a nice touch. I do have one question: I didn't quite understand the Sunday school story. Why did knowing the youth teacher, George, was your older brother's teacher bring your dad to tears? Thank you.

  • Test10 months ago

    Oh, Scott. Such a beautiful tribute to your dad... I have tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this. I felt every word, and every emotion, and I thank you for sharing something so very personal. Sending love.

  • Donna Fox (HKB)10 months ago

    J.S I really appreciate your narrative voice in this excerpt from your life! I loved all the mantras you inserted through the story and then repeated them at the end! This was a beautiful and touching tribute to your father! I am so sorry for your loss! 💜 Also, congratulations again on another Top Story! You seem to be in a roll. 🎉

  • Elisandro Pedro10 months ago

    The love for our Fathers is an inspirational one. God given.

  • Real Poetic10 months ago

    Incredible story. Well-deserved Top story. You’re so blessed to have a Father like him! Well done and congratulations.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby10 months ago

    This was a very beautiful and poignant piece of yourself Scott. I truly felt you put your heart and soul into their personal narrative of your father and life. A truly touching and gorgeous piece

  • Lamar Wiggins10 months ago

    There was a lot of great history of the Wade family in this piece. I really enjoy stories like this. Things you wouldn't know unless you ask. Thank you for sharing this amazing tribute. 💖

  • Aman Khan10 months ago

    Very nice

  • Dana Crandell10 months ago

    Congratulations, Scott! Well deserved!

  • Cathy holmes10 months ago

    Congrats on the very well-deserved TS

  • Roy Stevens10 months ago

    Oh good, a much deserved and very appropriate top story. Congratulations Scott!

  • K. C. Wexlar10 months ago

    beautiful piece and great photo at the end :)

  • Brenton F10 months ago

    What a beautiful and profound piece, so very well written. You've done him proud!

  • Your father really a great soul. What a great tribute. Very well done. 👍🏽

  • The way your father wept and begged for your forgiveness, without any ego, shows how strong of a man he was. Not everyone can apologise when they are wrong, especially to their children. I love how your father proved everyone wrong, especially those who laughed and underestimated him. Also, I too think it was your mother was the one who welcomed him to his next life. If I'm not mistaken, please correct me if I'm wrong, I feel like it was about your father that I read in one of your stories. Was he one of thirteen siblings?

  • This was powerfully tender & beautiful, never shying away from the harsher moments but growing to appreciate them for what they were & are worth. What a remarkable tribute. And may it so be said of you, that you left those footprints just a little deeper.

  • MT Poetry10 months ago

    That was incredibly inspiring. Thank you for sharing this profound message.🙌👏🥰💕

  • This was phenomenal! You’re father was an amazing man. The theme of his fortieth, seventeenth lap around the sun was brilliant I throughly enjoyed every line

  • Leslie Writes10 months ago

    This is a very touching piece. You honor him with your words. 💖

  • Gina C.10 months ago

    This was so touching Scott, oh my goodness! Honestly I have tears in my eyes -- your father's story and the way you wrote this is so moving. It is evident he cared so much. ❤️ Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Dana Crandell10 months ago

    What a wonderful tribute, masterfully written! I like the way you've succinctly summarized the values he taught you. Thanks for sharing a bit of him with us!

  • sleepy drafts10 months ago

    This was... simply incredible to read. Truly, I am speechless. Your father is an incredible man. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this with us, Scott. I will be thinking about this piece and your father for a very long time, I believe. 💗

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