e13-1To my father on Father’s Day: I wish I’d asked you more about the young nearsighted boy you once were, who took refuge in books, who learned to read  at a startlingly young age. Who spent hours on the river, skating in winter, swimming in summer. I wish I’d asked you about the solitariness of skating — the scrape of blades on ice, the cold wind stinging your face, the town growing smaller behind you, and the fear that your father would once again drink too much lessening, the abandon of skating through a wintry landscape taking over, at least for a while.

I wish I’d asked you pointedly about that fear — if your father was late coming home from work, did you quickly assume that he wouldn’t come home, that he was in a bar drinking, that there would be a familiar late-night knock on the door with someone dragging him home, half passed out?

Is that why you grew into a man who seemed to have no fear? Did you bury that boy’s dark trepidations beneath a decision to be courageous? People do decide who they want to be in this world, and your aim was high and true.

I wish I’d asked you about your daughter who died. We weren’t allowed to talk about your first marriage to Jane Wyman, so I only found out as an adult that you and Jane had a daughter — Christine — who was born premature, lived for 9 hours, and died. Did you get to hold her, say goodbye? Did you stare into the darkness of sleepless nights and ask God why? You had such trust in God, even when you were shot, but I wonder if that trust ever wavered, if you ever had dark nights of the soul.

I wish I’d asked you if I ever really fooled you with my rebelliousness and my acting out. Did you secretly know all along that I was just trying to get more of your attention?

I wish I could ask you where you are now, and if the other side is all that you told me it was  when I was a child and beloved pets died — wide open space, endless fields and gentle skies, eternal rest in the palm of God’s hand. You opened your eyes the moment before you died and in that moment you made me a little less afraid of death. Maybe someday I will get to ask you everything.


  1. Dave says:

    So beautifully written.

  2. Chet Rhodes says:

    Wow! That was powerful…

  3. Sarah Gladstone says:

    Your father was larger than life, so it’s interesting to read about him, from your unique and honest perspective.
    He sounds here, like he must have been a wonderful father.
    My mother has Alzheimer’s, at least as far as they can tell (she hasn’t been tested.) So I know what that is like, as well.
    All the best,

  4. karen thomson says:

    Beautiful,had a tear in my eye thinking about my own dad, and the things i wish i had asked him.

  5. Leslie says:

    In your writing, I feel you searching for answers: answers to pieces of your life’s puzzle that weren’t answered in your younger years, and answers to pieces of the puzzle for you after death. None of us have the specific details to life after death, but I hope and pray that you take in the faith that your father had, particularly if you desire to emulate him in the coming years of your life on Earth. Beautiful essay.

  6. Lynda Wells says:

    I cried…as I imagined your father answering each question and placing them in your heart.

  7. Rodney Wilson says:

    My father also died in 2004 and I, too,have many questions now that remained unasked when he was here.

  8. david marks says:

    These are the questions we ask our fathers daily; these are the unanswerable queries we collect like a series of unfinished and masterfully emotional books. The answers to all of these wondrous questions, all without answers, will be forever so, and perhaps they rest in the enigma of that absence, that the treasure of an answer seems to inflate with an exemplary rate of speed and purpose. These are the little things that can only be shared by you and him, and for some odd reason, I know the answers to which you could are with no one, and rest solidly in the heart of a daughter. This is stunningly beautiful, and yes, relatable to those who held their fathers on a mantle of supreme love and respect. You miss him, and the framing of even the question, make the answers that much more rhythmic and significant.

  9. david marks says:

    Edit: “inflate with an exponential, not exemplary.”

    I ask for a post-post editing tool, please?

  10. Anita says:

    So sweet, I hope that all that read this, hug or call the fathers they still have on earth

  11. Karen E. Osborne says:

    I remember, quite vividly, when your parents visited Jamaica. He grasped your Mom’s hand, squared his shoulders back and whispered “they’re here to teach us.” The traditional welcome dance by young children was about to start. Jamaican officials were hurrying him along. President Reagan stood his ground. He watched. He listened. And I never forgot.
    My Mom, now deceased, also had Alzheimer’s. We both watched this on TV & I devoured the
    details in the “Daily Gleaner.”
    I was fortunate to have a brief career as a journalist-no small feat from a small town. Your Dad was a shining light to me

  12. Joan Gardner says:

    Beautiful. And yes, we all wish the same thing.

  13. Edward Jenny says:

    Patty, you are so talented at peeling the layers, picking the words, painting the emotional terrains, another wonderful journey. thank you. Be well, Peace.

  14. Sandra Simmons says:

    I have read two books about your father this past week and they both reiterate what a wonderful person he really was, albeit not perfect. I am of the opinion that he would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have with insightful, well thought out, intelligent answers and his humor thrown in for good measure. How blessed you are to have had him for a dad, and my prayer for you is that the blessings will enfold you and erase the past hurts completely.

  15. Rita says:

    Wow! This piece is deep, simple and powerful for any person of any age who has lost a parent. I started reading your blog purely chance shortly after Mrs.Reagan’s passing, and have become a fan of yours. You are an exquisite written, blessings to you and your talent.

  16. William Cochran says:

    Patti You will nevernknow how this touched me way down deep in my soul. Maybe I should ask my Father the questions Ivenalways wanted to ask before it’s too late.
    God Bless you Patri. Keep hope alive!

    William Cochran
    Atlanta, Georgia

  17. Erika Griesemer says:

    We all go through this. I wish I asked my grandfather several questions about my family. Though I seek the answers through my genealogy search, I miss the stories of what my grandfather could of told me and my cousins. My grandfather was eight years younger than your dad and I have wondered if it is a generational thing of not sharing stories or that generation telling us that what we have in the present is the best thing in the world than looking at the past. I wish I still asked my grandfather the questions I wanted to know because my mom and aunt don’t know. Hopefully, in time we will find the answers we are all seeking. Great blog, it really got me thinking and even getting me to ask questions to my own parents.

  18. Ciaran John Ryan says:

    My understanding is that your father was not able to see his daughter Christine, that he himself was at another hospital at that time with a life threatening case of pneumonia.

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