The Morning I Started

As promised in my post Revelations, I will from time to time share material originally contained in To Dad: From Kelly.  These stories, the “leftover” writings, will now become part of a separate short story collection. The entry that follows is the original introduction of To Dad: From Kelly.

The Morning I Started

I sat alone at the small, wooden kitchen table in my living room. The clock ticked past 5:00 A.M., too early even for a cup of coffee. Somewhere through the white blinds and outside a fogged window, I pictured the sun debating when it wanted to rise that morning. Soon, I hoped to fill the empty lines of my legal pad with a letter to my dead father. I planned a simple, thankful message; something covering how much I missed him since his death nearly a year earlier. When I first pressed my pen’s blue ink to the yellow pages, I had no idea how the words I spilled that morning would change me.

Through scribbled letters and margin notes without direction, I finished a letter I never expected to write. Although I told my dad that I missed him, during the process my letter became something different. In paragraph after scrawled paragraph, I found myself asking, almost begging, for my dad to answer one question: why was he not fulfilled with everything in his life after he retired from professional football? I couldn’t understand how my father, a man blessed with a loving wife, two adoring children, lifelong friendships, a storied athletic career, and enough money to live comfortably, could feel that everything he had wasn’t enough. The question haunted me like a living, breathing monster snarling at every word I wrote. I wanted to flee the scene, but crumpled balls of discarded yellow paper confined me to my chair, a reminder that until I finished the letter I had nowhere to run.

Beneath the appreciation I felt for my father were words approaching anger and resentment–two emotions I never attached to our relationship. The words felt like a strike across my chest that pushed me against the back of the wooden chair I had now sat in for more than two hours. I idolized my dad and considered him my hero and best friend. How could I feel anything but love for him? This letter, though, proved that all the nuances of our bond escaped me. I needed to understand more about him, about me, and about our twenty-eight years as father and son.

I wanted to know why my dad, an All-American running back for the University of Michigan who finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, and someone who played professional football with the Denver Broncos for seven seasons, never recovered from the sting of retiring from the sport he fell in love with as a young boy. I wondered why my dad, a man who inspired and encouraged the lives of many others, failed to appreciate the importance of his influence. I sought these answers in order to understand the direction of my own life as I coped with his death. Like my dad, I suffered from a burning need for fulfillment. Despite graduating from Princeton University and trying several career routes, including working on Wall Street for three years and in the front office of the Cleveland Browns for one year, I felt purpose missing from my life. In the past, whenever I tried to find this purpose, it only left me more frustrated and confused than before I started my search.

I lacked answers, but this letter helped me finally ask the right question. For the first time, I accepted that in order to define what I wanted and whom I wanted to be, I needed to start by examining my relationship with my father. I would study the lessons that he taught me, the questions that I either never asked him or that he never answered, and the confessions from my own life that compelled me to write this original letter to my father. My goal was to summon my own undiscovered passion–and maybe my father’s spirit–to begin a journey of uncovering personal truths.

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