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A Run With Dad

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June, 1999

The following essay was published in the June 1999 issue of Runner’s World Magazine as the “Finish Line” article.

Dad’s Final Farewell

by Jim Fortner

I was angry....and hurt. But, mostly, I was tired. Drained. The events of the day had exhausted me, both physically and emotionally..

Although it was a nice day for a run.....cool and dry.....and I hadn't run for a couple of days, I really didn't want to do it. But, I knew a run would be good for me. And I had to get off to myself. Away from the others for awhile. So, I began.

My legs felt heavy. My breathing quickly became labored, even though I kept the pace slower than usual. This was not going to be a good one.

Two miles into the run, he joined me. His presence, which I sensed suddenly, startled me. I had never known him to run a step in his life. Oh, he wasn't unfit. He worked hard all his life. Often, under brutally hot and humid conditions that were typical of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And, there he was. Running with me.

At first, I resented his presence. How dare he impose on my run at a time when I wanted solitude! After all, it was mostly he from whom I was running. But, he had always known what I really needed. As usual, his quiet, confident bearing was reassuring and soothing. Gradually, my anger subsided. I slowly began to realize that this was a rare moment, never to be repeated.

We ran stride for stride.....shoulder to shoulder. I had never seen us as equals before now. He had always been a step ahead of me in my eyes. I sensed that he was deliberately trying to elevate me to his level. I understood what he was doing for me.

We ran past the house where I grew up. Our family home that had always been filled with love. Where he taught me to ride a bicycle, catch a baseball, clean a fish and be a good neighbor. I sensed that he was reliving the same nostalgic memories. I began to relish his presence by my side.

We ran past the high school I had attended. I remembered the time he went to school to stand up for me with the principal when I complained that I was being unfairly disciplined. After he learned the reason for the discipline, he made his dissatisfaction clear to me to make sure I learned my citizenship lesson. I recalled his quiet pride at my graduation. I felt him smile. He knew what I was thinking.

We were cruising now. My pace had quickened. My breathing had become more comfortable. The heaviness was gone from my legs. He was easing my burden, as he always had.

We passed the shipyard where he had a good career, and where I worked, sometimes with him, while attending college. I remembered learning the meaning of work ethic from him.....and the value of doing what you enjoy and enjoying what you do. I was savoring our run now.

We ran along the seawall where he taught me to cast fish nets......his version of "playtime". It was less strenuous than running and often more frustrating than golf. But, just as relaxing as either. Especially when we did it together.

We were nearing the end of the run now. I felt light, both in body and spirit. He had eased the pall and pain that I carried into the run.

We approached the point where he had joined me for the run. I could see a montage of color against a backdrop of green grass just ahead formed by the multitude of floral arrangements that surrounded the spot where we had said goodbye to him earlier today.

I felt him leave my side. I felt a sadness, yet was uplifted. I understood that the run was ended for him.....us. Never to be repeated on this earth. It was time to part and for him to begin his new eternal existence. Yet, he would always be with me. I was certain of that now. I had not lost him. He would be part of me and all I do for the rest of my life. And we would run together again one day.

Thanks, Dad. I will try to live up to your high standards in guiding my sons. And, I hope I can reassure them in their own special way, as you did for me, when I reach my final finish line....and new beginning.