Sean has a Dad. He is the man responsible for who Sean is in so many ways. He raised Sean from the age of two and nurtured him into a man. He instilled a good work ethic in Sean. He taught responsibility by example. He disciplined Sean when he needed it. It was his signature that Sean forged. Sean's Dad is the one who sat through numerous parent-teacher disciplinary meetings. He taught Sean how to treat a woman. He took Sean bowling and sent him to Disney World for the summer with his father. He is our connection to Pop Pop, the greatest man to have ever walked this earth. Sean's Dad is the one my kids call "Grampie." He is the unsung hero in this whole story and I'm so very, very thankful for who he is in Sean's life. In all of our lives. His name is Don and he is Sean's Dad.
This story is about Sean's father, Gerry. Last month we got a call from Mickey, Gerry's wife. Gerry was pretty much on his death bed. He was at a VA hospital, six hours away. Sean felt like he should go, but we had quite a few reasons not to. Money, time, the fact that Sean hadn't had a conversation with the man since he was Simon's age.
Sean's last memory of his father was tossing a baseball with him in the yard. He shook Gerry's hand when they said good-bye. I picture Simon doing that and it makes a little sob catch in my throat.
Gerry decided to step out of Sean's life during his childhood so Sean could have a normal family life. That decision truly shaped Sean's childhood as a positive one. He had a mom and a dad and a sister that he grew up with. Every day. No weekends here, weekends there, fractured holiday schedules. It was just a normal family. Sean kept his biological father's last name when given the choice, but other than that, he didn't have any interaction with Gerry. No phone calls, no visits, nothing.
Fast forward twenty three years. I told Sean he should go. Meet his father. Mend fences, ask questions, not let arbitrary factors cause future regrets. And so he went. Sometimes it's just about showing up.
Sean and Simon went to the hospital while me and the others stayed back at the hotel. I didn't want to overwhelm the man. I imagine it was quite a shock for him to see Simon. Like a ghost from the past. They had a good, long visit. Stories were told, memories shared, life caught up. Sean told Gerry that he never felt like he was missing out. He thanked him for giving him a normal childhood. There was never any resentment or hard feelings and if he was harboring any guilt or regret, he shouldn't be. Sean released him. He showed him grace when he truly didn't have to.
Later that night, Sean brought me and the others up to meet Gerry. More stories were told. Gerry and Mickey got to meet the whole crew. Towards the end, Gerry looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me."
One thing Gerry talked about was that he and Sean's mom were never anything other than friends. Their marriage dissolved, but they stayed civil. I can honestly say that I have never heard my mother-in-law speak ill of Sean's father. She has given credit to Gerry for some of Sean's character traits and now having met the man, I can say she was right. The nature versus nurture thing is fascinating.
Witnessing just how ugly divorce can be, it was refreshing to see that people can divorce and still be civil for the kids' sake.
As Sean left that night, he gave Gerry a hug. He said, "I shook your hand when I walked in, but now it's time for a hug." Another moment that caused us all to take stock of the situation at hand.
The next day we went and sat with Gerry again. The kids were getting squirrelly and Sean had something important he needed to do. I took the boys to the park and gave Sean the time to discuss with Gerry the whole reason we came.
Gerry is a talker, like Sean. He did a good bit of the talking during our time together. We all enjoyed hearing about his time in the Navy, fighting in Vietnam, all about his Cobra, fishing adventures. Sean got his chance to talk.
He said, "You've told me a lot, but you haven't mentioned anything about faith." Gerry tried to avoid the subject. Doctors and nurses kept interrupting the conversation. Gerry even went so far as to say, "You keep bringing it up. I wish you wouldn't." And then the Senior Amport got a taste of his own stubborn medicine when the Junior Amport said, "Well tough. I'm talking about it."
<enter Sean> He finally caved to my pestering and finished the story. Here's the rest from Sean...
It was at that moment that I noticed a change in his demeanor. It appeared that he was actually listening. I proceeded to explain the significance of my visit...at least from my perspective. The thought of a man suffering with the guilt of not having a relationship with his children weighed on my mind heavily. I did not want to look back on this moment and regret not sharing with him the most important information in this life. I began explaining to him that because of the grace that has been shown to me I am able to also extend grace. I explained to him that I held no hard feelings and was not angry at all for the decisions he made. I told him to just let it go. I know this was easier said than done, but it was all I could really offer him. Or was it?
The gravity of the situation quickly started to come together for me as I was stumbling over my words. This was one of those God moments in life; the type of moment that could have only been orchestrated by the divine. I know that God is merciful and desires that no one should perish. I believe that He offers grace in the people that He places in our lives. Those interactions are just one of the ways He communicates His love and mercy for us. It was evident, from listening to Gerry's stories, that he had a church background and was quite familiar with Christianity. There was no doubt in my mind that he had probably heard the gospel too, but he was allowing the interactions with people to stop him from yielding his life. Well, here was another moment that God was using to talk to this man. When it hit me my words began to break and that quiver you get in your lip when you're trying to hide your emotions began. He, too, noticed it and did not know how to handle it. He tried to change the subject, but I persevered and explained to him exactly what God wanted me to say.
I implored him to consider the reason I was there. I told him that I was not there to convince him to shave his beard, change his vocabulary, go to church and start "acting" like a Christian. I told him that God is not interested in anything that you can DO. I said that God is looking for your heart so that He can save your soul. I may never get another chance to see him or to talk with him face-to-face. What if my boys never come to have a relationship with him as a grandfather? The moment that matters most, I explained, was when he is all alone and left to ponder these things we spoke about. If God exists then He expects something from us. All it takes is acknowledging Christ's sacrifice, believing in it and confessing it. If he would just do that, then all of the suffering in life will have meaning. Pride is a hard thing to let go of when your life is filled with broken relationships. It was my hope that if I could show him that our relationship had promise then his relationship with God also could be fixed.
When Sean was talking with Gerry, the cardiologist interrupted. She wanted Sean to look at the chest X-rays. Once she got Sean alone she said she couldn't believe Gerry had made it as far as he did. She explained that she thought he would die the week before we came. When Sean told her that he is Gerry's son and it was the first conversation he'd ever really had with Gerry, she was shocked. Funny how things work.
Gerry was released from the hospital after almost 50 days. He has since had to be readmitted. The future is pretty uncertain at this point. It's one of those one step forward, two steps back kind of things.
I'm thankful for the time we had with him. We look forward to establishing a real relationship once he's out of the hospital.