13 Years

Today is the 21st of October…13 years ago, MSG (ret) Lester Kidd closed his eyes for the last time and left this world behind. And at 27 years old, I was left without a father. At the all too young age of 56, he was gone. We’d always assumed that he’d never live to be 90, but 56? While one is never truly prepared for the loss of a parent, my immediate vision of the future didn’t match up with what was being presented to me.

Dad was diagnosed with cancer just before the Labor Day weekend of that same year. I can clearly remember being in Florida, visiting my sister when the call came in from Germany. Life was going pretty well for me at that point. Coming off of a pseudo-messy divorce, I was basking in the glow of potentially newfound love, and relishing the long weekend visit with my older sister. When the phone rang Sunday morning, my world came tumbling down around me as my sister turned ash white, lost the ability to speak and could do nothing more than hand me the telephone. From 4000 miles away, my mother broke the news as best she could, and then passed the receiver to my father. In his calmest, softest voice ever, he told me that it was “very bad” and that the prognosis wasn’t positive.

For the rest of the day, my sister and I somehow muddled and stumbled through the remaining hours. We were losing the head of our family, and couldn’t even rush to his house to sit with him. That changed suddenly less than two weeks later, with yet another stoic phone call late one evening.

It seems that Dad developed a bad case of pneumonia to go along with the cancer that was completely wracking his fragile body. Given that, they were medevacing him out of Germany and back to the States. In what was to become the first in a series of gut-wrenching decisions, they decided to return to Clarksville, TN where they owned (which was being rented at the time) a small house. Without a moment’s notice, I jumped in my car and made the 9 hour drive down from Michigan to meet them upon their arrival. The house was quickly cleared of the renter and a logistics operation was mobilized to furnish the house, the likes of which would have impressed Norman Schwarzkopf. Within one Saturday, we had procurred a bed, a couch, a recliner and a small dining set. HOOAH for friends and family.

My mother left the hopsital for roughly one hour every day to go home and shower. That was it. Otherwise, she rolled out a sleeping bag in the ICU waiting room floor and slept there each night. Family rotated shifts with her to keep her company. My aunt and uncle brought food to us each day. Throughout all of this, my new love interest endeared herself to my family by making the trip down to TN from MI several times, staying right there on the floor, alongside my mother. Testament to her place within our family, even before we were married, was the fact that my mother insisted that Yvette sit with the family up front during the funeral, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was a long, grueling month at Clarksville Memorial. At one point, dad improved and I made the fateful decision to run back to MI for a few days to catch up on bills, work, etc…I drove out Sunday morning after saying goodbye to my dad and promising that I’d see him in a couple of days when I returned. Having had the tubes pulled from his throat, he was actually able to talk and seemed in good spirits (even eating ice cream to sooth his throat, and he never ate sweets). Monday, they transferred him to his own room, as the improvement seemed to be holding. Tuesday morning, while sitting in my office, the phone rang and I assumed it was my sister calling to update me on dad’s progress. With her first heavy breath, I knew the next words that were coming.

With little warning and thankfully no drama, pain or suffering, my dad closed his eyes, drew in a few last shallow breaths, and left us without our head of household. I had picked the wrong weekend to go home, and never got the chance to see him again. Sure, he had given me what I call the “John Wayne” speech about taking care of my mother, but there was so much more I wanted to talk to him about.

There was never a moment I was prouder of my father than the day I saw his casket covered with an American flag. A funeral detail was called up from Fort Knox, and the crispness and precision of their service to honor my father left me speechless. I cried for the loss of my hero, but also at the swelling of pride I felt for the man they were laying to rest. Here was a man who grew up in the backwoods of Indiana farm country, joined the Army and made something of himself when so few in his family had the courage to do anything other than exist and complain about life. He served 26 years, did two unaccompanied tours in the Pacific and survived Vietnam.

This man rose to the rank of Master Sergeant, earning the respect and admiration of those that served with him for his professionalism, knowledge and unwavering service to his country. He wasn’t an “educated” man, but was more importantly often referred to as a “soldier’s soldier,” a compliment and description that meant more to him than any piece of paper on a wall could have. He put both of his children through college, and stayed married to the same woman until the day he died.

But he died too soon. He was within months of becoming a grandfather, and he never got the pleasure of meeting his soon-to-be six-year old grandson. Our own relationship was blossoming from that of authoritarian father to close friend and confidant. There were so many conversations that were lost when he passed away, and as I moved through being a father of my own child, I needed those moments where I could pick up the phone and talk to him, seek his advice and counsel on what I was going through. That void is still a gaping hole 13 years later and the pain of him being gone hasn’t lessened over time.

As I face my own hardships with my son, I’d give anything to hear my father’s voice on the other end of the line. His reassurances and calming voice would work wonders to sooth me as I struggle to comprehend the things that are going on. How did my father disect and handle my own maturation? It’s something I won’t know until I meet him again.

I love you and miss you dad.

Editor’s Note: This blog first appeared in Military Brats Online on October 21, 2010.

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  1. Hi Jim. Thank you for such a personal blog posting about your father.

    My father, like yours, was taken from me at a young age—56, just five years after he retired from a 24 year career in the Army. He was a long-time smoker and I always thought he would get lung cancer or have a heart attack, but it was colon cancer that took my father.

    I wish he were alive now so I could ask him how he felt about the changes in the U.S. Army after he retired in 1981, or the state of U.S. politics–we could have some lively conversations sitting on the front porch, sipping a beer after completing a repair project on my car or on the house when I would visit while I was in college.

  2. Thank you Jim for your beautiful testament to your father. All of us brats seem to have a life time of memories. Hopefully, you will share with us. Naomi

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