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My father, Walter Stephen Hamm, was a complicated man, wounded by the circumstances of his childhood and then wounded again by the grenade that blew up in his hand during World War II.  As a child, I believed that grenade had blown up in the hands of his unborn children as well. And my relationship with him was mostly one of fear. His mother died when he was six years old. His father descended into his alcoholism and his six small children were either farmed out to relatives or adopted. When my father entered the military, he was a carpenter. When he came out of the VA hospitals he'd spend more than three years inside, he was a carpenter who'd had most of his left hand blown off, who would wear a steel brace from thigh to ankle, and would battle osteomyelitis for the remainder of his life. The grenade exploded when my oldest brother was an infant, before I and my other brothers were born. My father was angry and when he drank that anger exploded in some pretty frightening ways. 

Most of my life, I kept a safe distance from my dad. I loved him. And I thought I hated him. In his later years, he needed an aortic transplant when he developed an aneurism that could not be repaired in the ordinary way because of his osteomyelitis. I traveled from my life in Oregon to Baltimore where I sat by his bedside for 5 weeks that changed my perception of  him forever.  I wrote something in my journal on the way home from that amazing time. Now that my father is dead, I wish I'd shared what that time with him meant to me.  Each day, he told me a story from his life.  I'd listen and then at night I'd return to the motel room I'd rented on the campus of Johns Hopkins and write about what he'd told me that day.  If my father cried the following morning when I read it to him, I knew I got the important things right. I wish he could have known how I changed as result of hearing his life story.  Perhaps understanding is all we really need to find forgiveness. This is what I wrote on the plane.

"From the other side of the country, the other side of my life, I came to that place--The Johns Hopkins Hospital--to be with my father. And each day, for more than five weeks, we greeted the morning together. 

It was in those moments that I came to understand, I mean really understand, how far my father and I had journeyed together and how much I was able to reconcile the separate truths of that voyage. My father is a man I came to love in an intricate and irreversible way and I can no longer conceive of his absence from my life.

But if time could magically cease for my father and me, I know that is where I would stop it--in that place, at that unlikely time in both our lives. That time when our roles reversed and I became the parent of my father. It was a wondrous, unbelievable time, especially the way we were in the morning.

And that is what I want to remember. To remember always. The two of us, father and daughter, shadowed by the first light. Momentarily alone together, our breath rising into the morning air and him, lying there, telling me for the first time, the story of his life. The story of the man who was, after all, my father."


And so on this Father's Day I go back to that time, as I knew I would, and I remember him with love and respect for everything he endured. For how hard he tried, despite the wounds, to rise above his circumstances and love me and my brothers.  My father taught me tenacity. And it has helped me in this elusive pursuit of the writing dream. My father never gave up and he became a pretty good one-handed carpenter. I loved you, Dad. And now, when I can no longer say those words to you, I wish I'd said them more often. 


An afterthought:  It occurs to me now that, in a way, I did stop time by writing about those weeks with my father. And now I can go back to it whenever I want. Sometimes it's a wonderful thing to be a writer.  
 

 


Comments

Annette Baines
06/17/2013 3:27am

Susan, I'm not sure if you remember me, but my husband Jay and I used to be in New Castle where Jay was pastor to Grady and Laura Hamm. Steve Greenwood posted this on Facebook affording me the opportunity to read. This struck a cord in me and I just wanted to say thanks for sharing "your story".~ Kind regards, Annette

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Susan Goldner
06/17/2013 7:53am

Of course, I remember you, Annette. I used to love to go to your church whenever I was visiting Grady in New Castle. I even wrote a children's story for Abby in which your son, Caleb, was a character. Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to read it.

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Marjorie Reynolds
06/18/2013 10:40am

Beautiful as always, Susan

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Jude Bunner
06/19/2013 10:58pm

What a wonderful Father's Day tribute to your father.

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Lily Gardner
06/28/2013 12:07am

Susan, you write with more heart than anyone I've read. Thank you.

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09/20/2015 1:46am

No doubt, education is offering many comforts and luxurious to us to make our lives a bed of roses. To make more effective and good use of education, we are taking various initiatives.

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barry
01/13/2016 7:19am

Thanks for writing this heartfelt sharing of emotional reconnection. Sometimes, as we look back, we discern that fear of some relationship and circumsances was really such that F.E.A.R. was just an acronym for "False Expectations Anticipating Reality." You are the most fearless writer I've every met and you have the ability to turn pain into promise. As for respective memories it's be written that: “Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads - at least that's where I imagine it - there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library.” – Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Shore

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05/26/2016 2:34am

The following blog shows your love on your father. Hats off to all the fathers who are sacrificing their life to give bright future to their children. A father knows anything and gives whatever you ask. Your blog make me to remembering my father.

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