In Memoriam: My Father, Bob Hawkins
Although my father hadn’t been in perfect health in recent years, he did pretty well for 89. He walked with a cane most of the time, but he also drove himself to the gym three times per week and I had convinced him to start going to a personal trainer to try to improve his mobility. Perhaps optimistically, I believed that with some work, he would be capable of ditching the cane. After all, if he could walk through the house without it, didn’t it seem possible that he could take it to the next level? Maybe. Maybe.
About a month ago, my father got very sick out of the blue. It was sepsis. I could go into a lot of detail about his condition, but there’s really no point. Long story short, once he got into the hospital, it felt like he just couldn’t get a break. The sepsis caused problems with his kidneys. The attempt to fix his kidneys caused more problems. Problems with his heart started to play a role. Next thing you know, the issues started to overlap. He couldn’t fix one issue because of the other issue. Nothing the doctors tried seemed to work. He got weaker. He said he didn’t like the food, but the truth was he just didn’t want to eat and sick 89-year-old men are simply not meant to spend day-after-day nearly immobile in a hospital bed.
Eventually, after yet another time where we thought we were turning a corner and ran into a brick wall, it became clear that my father was in a battle that he wasn’t going to win. We made the decision to move towards hospice care. We wanted to bring him home, so he could spend his last few days in his own bed. That was supposed to happen yesterday. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it didn’t work out.
Yesterday, my brother reached out to me from the hospital to let me know that my father appeared to be close to death. I alerted my mother and we both immediately left. By the time we got there, it was too late. My father had passed very quickly after my brother’s call. It would have been great to have all been there, so my father could have been surrounded by people who loved him when he died, but it wasn’t to be. We had to content ourselves in knowing that when he left this world for the next, at least my brother was with him, so he wasn’t alone.
That’s how my father died, but what was more important was that he lived a life that he could look back on with pride.
My father was one of ten children and he had lots of stories about how poor he grew up. He spent his childhood wearing hand-me-downs with holes in them from his older brothers. During his childhood, things like soda and peanut butter were luxuries in his household. In fact, he talked about once eating a bit of peanut butter, thinking it was the best thing he had ever tasted, and ultimately just eating the whole jar. He got a whooping for that and many other things. His father, who didn’t know how to read or write, didn’t have a lot of book learning, but he taught my father to work hard, know the value of a dollar, and that family was everything. My father, whose childhood nickname was “Brain,” took those lessons to heart.
My father served in the Air Force. He was part of a decorated helicopter rescue unit during the Korean War. They would come in, sometimes under fire, and ferry wounded soldiers off the battlefield.
When he got out of the military, he went to work for Karastan Carpets. My father started out with one of the worst jobs in the company, manually punching holes in carpet. He worked hard, looked for new opportunities, and became an excellent salesman. In fact, he was so good at it that he worked his way all the way up to VP by the end of his career.
Of course, he didn’t just work hard. He was a competitive man who played hard. He made it into the North Carolina Softball Hall of Fame. He was part of a state championship duckpin bowling team. He loved to golf and over the course of his life, he managed to get a hole-in-one multiple times.
My father had four children and at times, he had a fierce demeanor because that was the way he was raised. Growing up, the two of us clashed a lot. My father was a hard-charging man who was determined to make sure that his son went to college, and I was an extremely bright “C” student who responded poorly to being pushed or berated until I reached my mid-twenties. Over time, he became a softer person, I got much harder, we met in the middle and started getting along much better. One thing that helped with that was that I always knew that whatever faults my father may have had, his highest priority was always making sure that his wife and children had good lives. When you’re young, you may love your father, but you don’t fully understand his importance. You clash, you make-up, you get some advice, you go out into the world to prove your worth and find your way, always knowing that he’s there if you need him.
That really matters because, for most of us in life, there really aren’t all that many people that end up on our team. There are friends we enjoy seeing from time to time, there are allies and people that are close for a season or two. However, if you’re talking about the ones in your life that are close, loyal, and always looking out for you, almost everyone gets down to family, dogs, and maybe a spouse along with a friend or three if they’re lucky.
My father was one of those people for me and I was lucky to have him in my life for as long as I did. In fact, I don’t think you can be much luckier than to have a mom and a dad, two grandparents that dote on you, and to be born in America. I have had all of those and I am so, so grateful for it.
In the end, nothing was left unsaid between us. I loved him, respected him, appreciated him, and he knew it long before he was on his death bed. As long as I am alive, I will always miss him, and my world will be worse because of his absence from it. I believe there is a heaven and if I’m right, since he was a devout Christian, I have to believe I will see him again there. For the rest of my life, I will continue working to prove that I am worthy of carrying his name so that when we meet again, he’ll be as proud of what I did after he passed as he was of me when he was still here. The last words I whispered to him before I left his side Monday were, “Love you, Dad.”
I always will.