Apologies that there hasn’t been much fanfare here about the release of my newest book. The day before it launched, my stepfather passed away. Needless to say, I’ve been a bit all over the place. One moment finds me trying to focus on work for a sense of normalcy, another will find me staring blankly at the television while some show on Netflix plays for what must be the tenth time that I’ve seen it.
Grief is weird.
In any case, my mom had called to ask if I would write something for him, as I’ve done with too many others. I told her that I was already working on it, because that’s part of how I deal with things rumbling around in my crowded head. I write them out, I parse them, and I start to heal.
If I may, I’d like to share with you what I wrote for this man who was taken much too soon from my life.
There’s a clock that hangs on the wall of my wife and I’s home, and inevitably when someone new comes over, we’ll get asked about it.
It’s just not something you will find in a store, and certainly not something you’ll find on Amazon. But it’s a beautifully striking piece, made with care, and though the design is simple, it’s still unusual enough to set it apart.
It was made for us, all because my wife and I loved another clock this man had made. He didn’t charge us, he didn’t even pause to discuss it. He made us one, because we liked it. He didn’t have to, but he did anyway. Even though his own health was failing him, he wanted to work, and he wanted to give, even though there was nothing laid on him that said “you must do this.”
That’s who my stepfather, John McCaffrey was to me.
He met me as a teenager who had already lost a stepfather. And, if I’m being totally honest here, if there ever was a spectrum for familial relationships, we were on the opposite ends. He loved cars, I loved computers. He enjoyed physical work, and I preferred creativity. He actually liked yard work in the Texas heat, and I … well, let’s just say that Texas Summers and I still remain mortal enemies to this day.
He could hunt, fish, drive a boat, and more. I came prepackaged with knowledge of video games, books, and an embarrassingly large capacity for pop culture, even at that young age. Still, he imparted some of those skills onto me. He didn’t have to. I wasn’t his kid. And while some could argue that him teaching me how to shoot my first gun was just another way to connect with the son of the woman he loved, I’d say it’s something more.
He never second-guessed my passions and pursuits. He never talked down to me about how what I was into was too “nerdy”, nor ever hinted that it was a waste of time. When he shared things with me, or taught me a new skill, it was never to supplant something of myself, or just to connect. He did it because he wanted to give me something of himself, his time, and his energy. He didn’t have to, he wanted to.
Even when he bought a car for the two of us to fix up, and I ended up not having the heart necessary to put into it, he never came down on me. He was disappointed, sure, but now I realize why. Not because the money was wasted, not because I failed to show an aptitude for car mechanics, but because I failed to appreciate what he was giving. Even then, he accepted me, even as he tried to teach.
I wish I could say that it was indicative of his life as a whole, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t know enough about him as a person. I didn’t ask. If that doesn’t sum up the meaning of “use your time wisely”, I don’t know what does. I just knew him from how he treated me. I never got—scratch that—I never took the opportunity to learn more about his past. I knew he loved my mom, and that he loved me, and for a kid who was by and large off doing his own thing, that was enough.
But I wish I had learned more. I wish I knew for certain that he was proud of who I grew up to be. But my wife, in her wisdom, pointed out that clock on the night that I learned he had passed. She simply said, “he wouldn’t make that for someone he wasn’t proud of.” I think she’s got the right of it.
He met me as a teenager who had already lost a stepfather. He leaves me as a grown man still trying to utilize the lessons he passed on to me that I was, frankly speaking, just too young, stupid, and impatient to learn quicker.
John McCaffrey was a lot of things to me. At the end, it was a clock-maker, though it was more than just what he could make. That piece on my wall is the physical statement of who he was to me. It’s a piece of him, given freely, given in love, just to make my wife and I happy. It’s him being a father to me, even as he was dealing with something that I can scarcely imagine, let alone claim that I could handle any better.
For over two decades, he was my father. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
I love and miss you, dad. Thank you for everything.