I write this today as the grown son of Ronald Wybrant Lambert of Louisville, KY and, in later years, Atlantic Beach, FL.
I am proud of my father and I am proud to tell you that I am his son. But I am ashamed on this Father’s Day, ashamed that I never told him I was proud of him
It’s a ghost I wrestle. He deserved better, my dad did . . . from his kids, from his work, from the world, and ultimately from his own body. He deserved better.
So now I say it: I’m proud of my dad, proud of how he hoisted the family yoke and rolled with the yaw of work and business.
And I’m proud and happy that he finally found his peace and his place in a drafty old beachfront house in a small village on the ocean in North Florida. He was never happier than sitting facing the ocean with a martini in his hand and a day’s or week’s work behind him.
My dad was known as Ron to most, Ronnie to boyhood friends, and he was R.W. on every bill and letter that populated our mailbox. But I knew him only as Dad, or in my teenage years, Pop, (a handle I was never sure he liked).
He died 30 years ago, after a 10-month debilitating bout with bone cancer. His was an ugly dying. For the most part he was fighting out of his weight class, yet he fought strong and smart.
Ultimately the illness sapped his strength and sucked the flesh from his body. In the end he rolled his hands down and bared his vein to the needle . . .morphine. Ronnie’s Cocktail the Hospice nurses lovingly labeled it.
I’m proud of how he fought and I’m proud of how he died. Still, I never told him.
I’m proud of how my dad always played the deck he dealt from . . . and how he skillfully enjoyed the things that came his way, those things that he had. He took whatever came his way with a grain of sand or salt, then recast it to fit the skin of his quirky, humorous and slightly humble sense of self.
Of my father I’ll say this: I never heard him complain; he never groused, bitched, or bellyached. Toss what you would his way and R.W. Lambert would somehow wrap his arms around it and make it his. This wasn’t always immediate, mind you; sometimes he’d have to think on it awhile, but I saw it happen many times.
On this father’s day I think of him and I realize how little he’s populated my thoughts these last few years. And I am again ashamed.
So, this day, nearly 30 years after your death, I say this: Dad, I’m proud to be your son. I’m proud of your five war years and I’m proud you had the smarts and the luck and the skills to get through them. I’m sorry you knew too much of the canvas and the cold water, the primal fear, the wrenching loss, and the horrors of blood and bullet. I’m sorry you had to carry that particular psychic brand on your soul.
But your soul scabbed over, and you outlived the scarring; at least that’s what you showed us.
Later, with a family and four hungry boys, you had the balls to strike out on your own when your fortunes turned anemic. You took a dilemma and made delimmonade. (You’d have hated that joke, I know.) I’m honest when I say I can’t imagine the mountain of doubt you faced, and the mountain of debt.
This day, I want you to know that your sons are who we are because of the choices you made. We learned from you what counts, and what doesn’t. From you, my skewed world view. It’s helped me understand. From you, an appreciation of lyric and song. Music is my bank account. From you, interest in the world outside. From you, my love of word and story. Maybe best, from you, the ability to generate laughter. And from you, the need for laughter. You could always laugh. Even when it hurt; especially when it hurt.
So on this day, 30 years too late, I say to you the things I should have said before you got sick. I am proud of you.
I now understand what you gave up. . .and I understand what you gave us.
Thanks, Pop. Too little, too late, toodleoo.
–© David Lambert, Father’s Day, 2010