A Letter to My Father 10 Years Later

Dear Dad,

As I sit here, it’s hard to believe I’m writing you a letter I will never be able to hand you and one you will never get to read. Since your passing I’ve actually written you several letters but, selfishly, they’ve been more for me than you. Drafting my words to paper has been very helpful for me since you been gone but, I would also add, it has also been a season of contemplation and much growth.

Today marks the ten year anniversary since you left this world. It’s hard to believe a decade has already passed. During this time, quite a bit has changed. We’ve had many holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries but they were never the same because you weren’t present. Several relatives have passed on including our beloved family companion, Kole, a dog that touched your life despite your severe allergies.

In our hometown, the roads have been repaved, new buildings have been erected, and some have been completely demolished. The economy has been hit quite hard. Many are unemployed and that has impacted the lives of many families. Sadly, we’ve seen more bloodshed throughout our world and many precious lives no longer walk down familiar sidewalks. If you were still with us, I know this would break your heart.

I’m happy to share two of your sons got married, an answer to many of yours and mom’s prayers. Words will never express how happy I am to have found someone as special as my wife. She is beautiful and has a joy and faith I always desired in a wife. In many ways, she has that same infectious smile you had whenever you walked into a room. I only wished you could have been there the very first time I brought her home. You and mom would have prepared an Agoglia feast. That’s just how you were - always celebrating the successes of others.

Besides having two daughter-in-laws, you also became a grandfather to a beautiful baby girl. You always wanted to be a “Papa” and now you have that title also. I’ve often day-dreamed about the type of grandfather you would have been to my children. I’ve thought about the day when you got to lift your grandson or daughter for the very first time. I could see your big smile and your eyes filled with water and bliss. Not only would you be proud, but I’m certain I would feel the same way as that little one would be an extension of the love you and mom showed us from the moment we were born.

Technology has also changed quite a bit. Pagers, flip phones, answering machines with actual tape are a thing of the past. The Web as you knew it also looks very different. We not only experience the Internet through desktop monitors but through small, hand-held screens such as smartphones and tablets. Even your music and data can be accessed anywhere in something we’ve come to understand it as the “Cloud.” (I’d have to believe your understanding of a cloud is very different than mine.)

As you can clearly see, many things have changed since we last spoke. After our last goodbyes, there were many emotions I had to address. Feelings of sadness, depression, anger, rejection, confusion, even failure seemed to plague me at different stages. Over a long duration, just wading in a pool of emotions produced nothing of great value. It wasn’t that my feelings were unimportant or irrelevant but that I wasn’t using them as an opportunity to truly listen to my life.

Just like sharp pains in your chest suggest a much greater issue beyond the immediate circumstance (i.e., a heart attack or stroke), our emotions are like arrows which point to something far more important. And if we’re open to listen and see them with raw honesty, we might be surprised what we discover and learn about ourselves, even profound truths that God is trying to teach us.

I always looked up to you, Dad. I admired the man you were and how you chose to lead your life especially when no one was looking. But it wasn’t until you passed away that I began to see how much you meant to me as a father, a mentor, a coach, a trusted advisor, a cheerleader, and, more significantly, an encourager.

That revelation caused me to reframe my own healing. Instead of seeing this journey as getting from letter A to letter Z, I began to notice more closely all the letters in between. Each one had their own unique shape and played a small role in a much bigger context, just like every part of this process would be crucial for me to really appreciate your impact on my life. Therefore, my objective was no longer about getting through as it was about “walking through” this process which would last a lifetime.

Since then, I’ve learned many new things about you, both as my father and as Joseph Agoglia. Although both title and name constitute you, they’re also different. One connotes an affiliation between two individuals; the other as a person. Each are very telling about the man you were. But of the many things I’ve been able to glean from this process, I would like to share with you a very recent revelation.

Having had some time now to review your life and listen to others tell their stories about you, there has always been one consistent theme that surfaces with every conversation: relationships. In order of importance, it was your relationship with God, your family, and then, of course, with others that defined you. Every relationship had considerable meaning to you, but I’m not convinced you really understood how important they meant to others, especially me. This became notably evident after your passing began to really become a reality.

I’ve always believed people play various roles in our lives, all of which help shape and influence us no matter how short or long they’re with us. Some are just acquaintances - they quickly come and go. Some enter our lives for a season - they play an important role by either sharing a skill or offer timely encouragement during a difficult period of our lives. Even though it’s for a season, you’re grateful for what they passed on to you.

Then there are those who come into our lives for a lifetime. You may not see them on a weekly basis, but they’re always accessible and willing to give of their time, their experience, and support whenever needed. And when you actually see them, it’s just like you left off. Their friendship is and always will be important to you.

Lastly, and this is a new insight for me, there are only a small handful who set themselves apart from all other relationships. They influence us whether we’re aware of it or not. Their wisdom seems to be both endless and ageless. You can always count on them to offer you a fresh perspective on life and that wisdom is easily transferable from one generation to another.

When it comes to decisions, you begin to think through and ask how that person might address an issue or come to a resolution. Even in the smallest of details - things you once viewed as minuscule - are now important to you. Quirky mannerisms, unique sayings, certain smells, an old memory, even a familiar place harkens us back to that person emotionally. An obvious indicator of this type of relationship is a grin that mysteriously shows up on our face (and sometimes to our own surprise), the moment that person comes to our awareness. These little nuances not only cause us to smile but they warm our hearts.

Dad, you fall into that last category and will always be at the top of my list. Throughout my life even up to the very present, you’ve been impacting me. As you fought hard during those last six weeks of your life, what I didn’t realize was that I was about to embark on a different battle of my own, one that would be very painful but very necessary.

There is no amount of formal training one could go through to really prepare for and understand what the bereavement process is like. But once I began to fully embrace it, I noticed that from the day I was born you and mom were preparing me all along for some of life’s greatest challenges, including your passing. You might be surprised to hear this but most of what I know today did not come from me sitting in a classroom or under some of the worlds leading scholars. My classroom didn’t have a perfect desk, a comfy seat, or a clean chalkboard. My learning came about by sitting at your feet and watching you live your life. Every decision you made - some of which were very difficult - revealed the man you were underneath that skin. Every moment with you was a privilege for me because you were preparing me all along on how to be a man.

I now realize, dad, that some individuals don’t just come into our lives; they come through our lives on a daily basis. Thank you for being my father as well as my greatest teacher. I love you and look forward to our next meeting.

Your eldest son and lifelong pupil,

Justin