Lessons about Love
By Brad McEwen
When I sat down to write this week’s Beyond the Bank, I honestly thought it would be easy.
After all, I didn’t have to pour over pages of notes or listen to playback of an hour plus interview. And I certainly didn’t have to battle the pressure that comes with telling someone else’s story and wanting desperately to do that story justice.
No, this week, it should have been smooth sailing.
With another holiday upon us, my only task was to craft a first-person column—akin to some of the others I’ve been fortunate to write over the past year of Beyond the Bank—and expound upon the virtues of fatherhood.
So, feeling inspired by the recent success of my Mother’s Day piece—the volume of positive feedback I received following that Sunday was truly humbling—I fired up my Dell, opened up a blank Word doc and set about penning something to honor all of us fathers out there, especially the ones who have been such an inspiration to me.
And that’s when things got tough.
It wasn’t hard to ponder how much being a dad means to me—as I’ve written before, being a father to Bear and Milla has unequivocally been the highlight of my life. And it wasn’t difficult for me to consider how fortunate I’ve been to have strong relationships with men like Ted Wright and Bud Greco—kind and loving men whose presence in my life has been an incredible blessing.
Thinking about that stuff was easy.
But trying to put to paper my feelings about the man who had the biggest impact on my life—the man who has shaped the person I am today, and who inspires me daily to be the kind of father I can only hope to be—that, was the hard part.
Not a day goes by without David McEwen somehow guiding my thoughts and actions, but that kind of happens almost automatically without me even realizing it. There’s no conscious thought, or inner “what would dad do?” dialogue in my mind.
That powerful sway is just there, like my brown eyes and dark hair. My father, and the blanket of love and support he laid over my life, is just a part of who I am. He’s in my bones. And that’s an awesome thing.
But if I stop for a moment and reflect on his profound influence and conjure up memories of the 27 years we shared on this earth, then the going gets a little rough.
I mean I love my dad. There’s no doubt about it. And I don’t want folks to think otherwise.
He was everything a boy could ever hope for in a father. He worked hard and took his responsibilities as a provider seriously, but he rarely if ever missed my ball games or swim meets or that seemingly endless stream of parent-teacher meetings that ramped up during my time at St. Teresa’s.
When it came to my behavior he always demanded the best of me, but he was exceedingly fair when his growing boy fell short of the mark and I never doubted his belief in me.
Whenever I was struggling with some difficulty or didn’t know which choice to make or route to take, he’d be there—not to tell me what to do, but to lift me up with an encouraging word and challenge me to work through the problem using the skills he’d tried to impart from the day I was born.
And if I just needed a friend—someone to hang out with and talk to—I could always count on some time with my dad.
In short, he was always there for me and his friendship meant the world to me. When so many of my friends struggled to find common ground with their dads—to the point that many of them found solace in the warm and welcoming confines of the McEwen house—I could always take comfort knowing the friendship I had with my dad never wavered.
Sure he was my dad, and—unlike so many people I encounter who strive to be friends with rather than parents to their kids—he didn’t sacrifice his duty to teach me and do everything he could to ensure that I grew into the kind of man he and my mom expected me to be.
But he really had an uncanny knack of doing those things—teaching me right from wrong, setting boundaries, holding me accountable, pushing me to do more and be more—while also managing to be the person I most wanted to spend my time with—even when I reached those teenage years when most kids avoid their parents like the plague.
The times we spent together, roaming the fairways of Radium Springs golf course, bouncing in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico or just sitting in my room, listening to music and talking about sports, are the stuff of legend and make up some of the strongest fibers of the rich and beautiful tapestry of my life.
They’ll always be cherished.
But for all those wonderful memories that warm my heart—like the epic, Van Halen “5150”-fueled road trip we took my sophomore year at Westover to finally take in the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, or that one golf tournament that started with some broken ribs and ended with a blazing third place finish—I’ve got a few too many that bring a pang of sadness.
Often, when I conjure up an image of that twinkle in his eye, or of that mischievous grin that used to steal across his face every time he’d get excited about something (which thankfully happened a lot), or of that hearty, full-bodied laugh that filled our house and got all of us smiling, I also can’t help but catch a glimpse of my dad at the end, as the 59 years of his life wound down in the face of an aggressive cancer.
As much as I’d like to, I just can’t shake images like that of the two of us in the bathroom mirror, me standing behind my once larger-than-life father, carefully running a razor across the protruding cheekbones of the frail man in front of me the way he once did when teaching his only son how to shave.
I know that image, and others like it, will never leave me. As folks are fond of saying, it is what it is.
But thankfully, I also have the memory of the way he reached up—as I gently cleaned the stubble from his too thin face, that warm smile and flash in his eye briefly turning him back into the father I’d always known—to lovingly pat my grown-man’s bearded cheek, and let me know I was doing a good job and that once again he was proud of me.
And that he loved me.
As a kid I used to get a little embarrassed every time my dad would drop me off at school or camp or at the ballfield and each time, right there in front of God and everybody, would give me a hug and kiss and tell me he loved me.
But when I look back at those moments now, I realize how special that was and what a powerful thing it is for a father to share his love with his children and let them know that no matter what, he always will.
Despite the uneasiness I felt back then, I now pass that gift on with pride each time I send Milla and Bear out into the world. Because, just like my dad did with me, I want them to know, that regardless of what happens—whether they hit a home run or get a strikeout, or whether they make an A or completely bomb the test—I love them.
When I think about who my children may one day become, I don’t see pro ball players, or lawyers, doctors, astronauts or scientists—the kinds of visions I had about myself when I was their age. I think about the kind of people they will become. I wonder if they’ll be good people, people like David McEwen, who always treated folks with the love and kindness they deserved, no matter their circumstance or their station in life.
Of all the gifts my father gave me, none were as precious as the lessons he taught me about caring for others—treating folks, not the way we want to be treated, but the way all people SHOULD be treated—with love.
Watching that cancer slowly steal the life of such a vibrant and hearty soul was hard to take. Those three years slogged on for far too long. But they did afford me opportunities others I know never had.
I remember on the night my dad finally passed away my then brother-in-law came right over to make sure I was alright and that I had everything I needed. It was a powerful gesture from an often guarded man who struggled to let people get close. In that regard Todd was the opposite of my father.
But Todd wanted to make sure someone was there for me and that I didn’t feel as alone as he did when his father had died just a few years prior. And I was glad for the company, even if I didn’t really feel alone.
As we sat on my patio under a starry sky, watching the ambulance take my dad’s body away one last time, I remember Todd telling me how fortunate he thought I was that my dad and I had a chance to clear the air and say a final goodbye. He recalled how his dad had died suddenly of a heart attack and how it bothered him that the last time they saw each other they had argued over some trivial and pointless thing.
Todd was right of course; having a chance to say things that shouldn’t remain unsaid and talk about the things that really matter in life is one of the few blessings of caring for someone with a prolonged illness.
I felt badly Todd hadn’t gotten that. During those final weeks my dad and I had a lot of deep and meaningful conversations.
But I also couldn’t help but think about my childhood and my dad’s insistence that we never parted without a hug, a kiss and an “I love you.”
Even though my dad and I shared a great many things during those final few months—including his showing me how to remain strong and faithful and thankful and happy in the face of incredible difficulty—there was one thing we didn’t really need to talk about. He knew that I loved him and I knew he loved me. We had made sure of that every day of our lives.
Some of you may not know it but Tay and I, Lord willing, will be welcoming a new member to our family next month—a third child we never expected. Despite the typical worries and fears moms and dads have about an expanding family, it’s a joyful and exciting time.
But it’s also a reflective time.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about my legacy as a father, and whether I’m up still up to the challenges that come with caring for another life more vigorously than you care for yourself.
I’d like to think I’ll do my best and that I can afford my three children with the kind of wonderful life my parents provided for me. But no matter how things turn out, if they can look back, after I’ve gone to meet my maker, and feel about me the way I do about my dad, then I’ll have done a good job.
So this Father’s Day, like all the others that have passed since I said goodbye to my best friend and hero, I’ll pull Milla and Bear close, put my hand on Tay’s tummy, turn my smiling face to heaven and let them know once again that I love them.
Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - firstname.lastname@example.org - @BradGMcEwen