Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Real Hero Is..

10 years ago, on December 22, 2004, the last great hero, in my personal opinion, was taken. He wasn't a fighter pilot or a brain surgeon.  He was so much more than that.  His name was Richard Paul Bryant.  He, as you will read, was more important than most men.  He was far too young to die but if you could ask him when he left this world, in his grumbly, inpatient, put-off voice, he probably would have said, "I lived the way I wanted to, God Dammit so let me go already!"  And so, we let him go.

Richard, or Dick - as most his close friends called him - was my father and as I previously mentioned, he was my hero.

He would laugh at this blog.  In fact, with his naughty, Catholic mouth he'd call this post a load of bullshit. There's no other way to begin this paragraph; he was a character in every sense of the word but a sweet character at that.

People who truly knew him knew he had a heart of gold.  He would give his last dollar to a family in need even when his own family of seven, his wife of thirty odd years and five children, were existing on powdered milk and Hamburger Helper.  He worked 60, 70, sometimes 80 hours a week in a metal factory slowly showing that without a college degree he had a mind for business and built that lousy, little company into a multi-million dollar success.  He still bowed and humbled himself to the "big boss" allowing himself to be humiliated behind his back.  For what?  For the security of his family.

From the stories I heard growing up, he went to his father once.  Grandpa was a conservative, WWII veteran who felt no one should have a free handout even if that meant refusing a couple of hundred dollars to his young son with a mortgage, four babies and a below average paying job.  Grandpa refused.  The banks refused.  Somehow dad scraped by.  He never asked for another handout.  Years later I remember my dad putting money down for my grandparent's lovely retirement home in the San Juan Capistrano hills.  I never heard him complain.  He did it out of of love and respect.

Dad, or Papa Bear, as the grandkids lovingly called him, growled and scowled but when he laughed or giggled the entire house was at peace.  He was the nucleus of the Bryant household.  Family members were drawn back only because dad was home - no other reason.  Whether it was to sit and play poker (stop screwing around girls!), watch a football game (be quiet girls!) or to just meet for the latest family outing to the greasiest steak place on the map he was the reason we were there.  AND the laughter...there was ALWAYS the laughter...

We were never allowed to cry in his presence not because it annoyed him but because it hurt him. Anything from scraped knees to broken hearts was mended by dad getting into our faces and blubbering along with us until we laughed.  To this day, crying over anything is difficult but every so often I'll let it loose.  I suppose on the 22nd of this month when I squeeze nasty Easy Cheese on a cracker and slice processed Yard o' Beef in his honor I may weep over the sheer grossness of it.

Twenty years ago, my ex-husband called me and basically told me (drunk) that I was "shit", hung up on me and ended our marriage.  Seven years - over.  With $15,000 worth of combined debt that I took on as my own, I left Colorado and moved back into my parent's destitute and completely lost.  It was at this moment I let out a wail from so deep within me I would never have known it existed.  My dad and I were the only ones home at the time. When he heard it, he reached out for me and said, "Honey, if I could take away all of your hurt, I'd do without ever looking back."  I stood there in his arms and wept for another twenty minutes without saying a word.  That moment, that incredible moment of unconditional love, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This year was a particularly tough one for me.  I tried my best not once but a couple of times to meet my dad before my time.  It's given me pause, especially during the holidays, to consider what he'd think of my weakness. I wonder if he was sitting beside me during the last attempt? Did he tell me to take the, "God damn" bag off my head!?"  To breathe?  To be strong?

I've also lost people whom I considered my backbones, my rocks.  They've let me down or vice versa. One is hiding away in his own self-destructive patterns, another has proven that she doesn't understand the meaning or value of being a friend and the last needs more from me than I can ever possibly give her.  I'm running out of hands to reach for.  All I can say is Thank God for my husband, Eric and my dad watching over me.

Pop, I love you,  I miss you.  I will be you with one day but I promise not too soon.  Oh, and thank you for the dreams.  Forever, your Rose Bud...Breezy.