One year ago today, we lost my dad. He went his way, fresh off of a day on the river, his boots still wet, and his heart full of laughter. I think of him often, and miss him dearly. Thanks for everything dad...will do my best to make you proud!
My dad was a hero. I don't mean a hero in the sense that most dads are heroes for their young sons and daughters, though he certainly was that as well. I mean he was an honest to god all American hero. My dad flew Cobra gunships in Vietnam. He was the kind of man that stepped forward when everyone else stepped back. He volunteered for the missions that no one else wanted. My dad was the pilot the Blues and Scouts wanted flying cover when the shit hit the fan. They knew he wouldn't flinch. He would fly into danger to help them get clear of danger. Once upon a time my dad wasn't John Bartlett, he was "Bloody Bart". He was a hero.
When I was four my dad took me bear hunting. I shouldn't be able to remember much, but I do. I can clearly see the marshy field from our spot on the edge of the tree line. I recall the color of the twilight, and I can feel the rough denim of my dads jeans as I slipped my hands into his back pockets to keep up with his long legs. Mostly though, I can hear the boom of his 30-06. We shot a bear that night, and as I sit here writing my ears are still ringing. I feel as if they have been ringing since my mom called Tuesday night to tell me he was gone.
How many young boys can say they have walked the wild of the Kootenai River? My dad took me. He was the engineer on a work train out of Libby, MT. As such, he spent four days inching along the tracks while the crews cleaned and repaired sections...one tie at a time. In the morning, he would run me out with him on the big locomotive and drop me off somewhere on the river. There I spent the day...me, my fly rod, a half dozen royal coachman's and the trout of the Kootenai. As evening approached I listened for the whistle of the train and waited on the tracks for my dad to come and get me.
His heart had been failing for years now. Last year the doctor told him his ejection fraction (the measure of how much blood your heart is pumping) was less than 20% of a healthy person. Rather than ponder all that he could no longer do with only one fifth of a heart, my dad shot back at the doctor and the world "IT IS A GOOD THING MY BALLS ARE FIVE TIMES THE SIZE OF MY HEART"!
My dad lived his life. He loved his life. He went at everything full throttle and never slowed down. He is gone now, and the world is undeniably a darker place. I am not a religious person, but much like my dad I believe in a higher power. And just like him, I see that power in the wind through the trees and the waves in the water. So I know where to look for him. No one that met him could avoid being touched by him, so he surrounds us all. I see him in Elia's quiet determination. I see him in JJ's fierce competitive spirit. I see him today when I am down, and I will see him in myself tomorrow...when I get back up. I know where to find him and the next time I am walking my favorite flat, I know I can count on him to give me a little extra ripple on the water so I don't spook that big fish. And if I listen real hard after I blow the shot...I bet I can hear him laugh.
Dad, we thank you, we love you, we miss you.