First Hug
by Jim Thielman

I am 54 and Dad is 85.

In three years, he will walk toward a mailbox on a sidewalk,
then trip where a tree lifted a sharp chunk of concrete,
smack his forehead hard and never be the same.
His walk will become a shuffle, his mind confused.

Dad will die at ninety-two, and at the very end, he needed
to let go of life. So, my sister Rose whispered in his ear,
“Dad, it’s time to go see Karen,” their first daughter,
who died at five of leukemia, the year I was born.
She left us before she had time for mortal sins.
It was easy to assume she was in heaven.

But instead of thanking Rose, Dad says, “Shut up!”
and right then dies, as if following her advice.
Rose was probably saying this over and over,
and Dad’s “Shut up!” might have meant “Okay, enough!”

Back when I asked for a hug at 54, I can’t see ahead,
but sometimes we make the right move at the right time.
Maybe, Dad’s German American father did not hug him,
so, Dad didn’t hug us? Well, it was time to change habits.

We both stood up like two gunslingers in a Western
wondering who will reach for the holster first. I move in.
We open our arms and close them in my first hug.
It feels awkward, no doubt looks awkward, but we do it.

The memory sticks with me. I’m joyful that I got one
hug from my often-stoic father, long before he was gone.
More important, it set up a habit I follow with my sons,
not once, but every time we get together. Maybe,
Mom helped, coming from English and Polish parents,
and for that or other reasons, not afraid to hug.


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