past homepages - happy 60th birthday, dad

"A New Look At Sadness"

I remember like it was yesterday. Mother spent quite a bit of time preparing for this special occasion. Every detail had to be accounted for, and nothing could be wasted. Secrecy was a must. Time was limited. Mom invited my father's closest friends, requesting their presence in honor of our special guest - my father. It was his 40th birthday and we wanted to make this party one he would never forget.

Everything went off as planned and my father was taken by surprise as he walked through our front door. Our home was filled to capacity. In fact, that may have been the first and only time I've seen our home filled with so many guests. Everyone lined up to hug my father and wish him a special 40th birthday. As uncomfortable as this was for him to receive that much attention, I knew it meant something special to him.

WHY SUNFLOWER IMAGE? Sunflowers always turn toward the sun, toward the light (a.k.a. phototropism). My father lived a life always turning toward the Son as his source for guidance and wisdom.

As a young boy, I didn't realize what I was witnessing back then. Actually, as I see it now, I should be the one who is thankful for what I observed that evening. I watched individuals express powerful words of encouragement - specific details of how much my father meant to them. These words had to hit the center of my father's heart; I know they touched mine. Each person had a distinct story to share. They were different, yet the same: every message was under girded with one consistent point - they felt loved. These lives were touched by one man's love. They were impacted, permanently. I was just a kid who didn't understand the significance of what was unfolding before my eyes then, but I'm starting to understand now. I especially enjoyed hearing hilarious stories about my father's past and then seeing everyone including my father laugh with joy. Many recounted incidences of how my father purposely went out of his way to "reach out" to them, usually at a difficult phase in their life. Some even pulled me aside with my father present just to tell me how much my dad meant to them. It made me feel so proud of my dad.

The festivities weren't just filled with storytelling. As was always the case in the Agoglia home, the meal was just as important as the telling of memorable stories. There was plenty of singing going on. With my grandfather leading the way (a natural Frank Sinatra), he got everyone singing songs from the past even if they couldn't sing on key. A highlight for me was when the attendees found out that my dad had a hidden talent. To this day, many don't know this but my father played the according, well, he played it in when he was a youngster. And only on special occasions would he go into our basement and retrieve his childhood instrument. That night, with tons of pressure from the "crowd," he played in front of everyone. When he was through, everyone clapped as if he was playing in front of thousands of music connoisseurs.

Twenty years ago, a little boy observed his father being honored by guests who admired and loved him very much. Like an outsider looking in, I took in what I could understand. Not having the maturity then to understand the significance of that evening, I now see that even as a young boy, I was in the presence of a very special man. I just didn't know how special he was, and that's something I'm still learning more each day.

Today, twenty years later, it's a sad anniversary for my entire family. As I opened Microsoft Outlook early this morning, I was instantly reminded that today was my father's birthday and, of all things, it was his 60th. My emotions were struck and I had to pause to injest the reality of the moment. Dad's not up early. He's not waking up with mother by his side. There is no kiss good morning. Mom's not rolling over to wish him a special happy birthday. And Kole is not by his bed side, feverishly wagging his tale with hopes of getting a walk just before he leaves for work. No, things are quite different these days. Mom doesn't have her best friend around. Kole is three years older now. He's not up early to greet his master as he once did. Even a part of him died when my father never returned home. My brothers and I carry on our day-to-day activities. Work continues as usual, projects are closed and new ones are captured. But throughout the day, there's something underneath this shell of ours. It's a numb feeling...a sad one. It will always be there, and for good reason.

But here is how I've come to look at my sadness. Everyone wants to be happy. Joy gives us energy. It impacts our thoughts, our decisions, how we approach our days, and our relationships. And it should be a part of our daily lives. I still laugh. I still find humor in most things. But I can't deny that something significantly has changed in my life. When you lose a parent that you're very close to, the pain is even greater. This is where my sadness stems from. I must be honest, there are times I wish I could remove this sadness. But then, again, even if I was capable of such a thing, I would only limit myself as a human. You see, ironically, my sadness has become a companion. Yes, you heard me correct - a daily companion. With this perspective, I've gained a:

  1. NEW PERSPECTIVE: This emotion has helped me see things I never saw before. I see things with a new set of lenses, perhaps giving me a more realistic view on life.
  2. NEW APPRECIATION: I have come to appreciate my father in ways I never had before. It has helped increase my level of gratitude for his life.
  3. NEW SET OF TOOLS: My sadness has helped me learn about my father and continue learning from him. His passing has allowed me to understand more about him, his upbringing, his decisions, his relationships, and the way he approached each day. But besides learning more about him, I am learning from him. His life stretches my life, helping me grow into a man better prepared for tomorrow.
  4. GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF OTHERS: Perhaps the greatest gift my sadness offers me is my ability to understand others better. I can see the sadness in the eyes of others even before they mention it to me. I can identify with them and share that they're not alone. It allows me to listen clearer and hear the inner cries of others, and hopefully they can sense how much I care for them. I may not be able to change their circumstances, but I can show that I care deeply for them

So today, as I think about my father's absence, I must remember what I observed twenty years ago. And if I could ask him how I should address this day (or any other), I know what he would tell me: Go make a difference in the life of another; become a gift for someone who needs one.