This post was originally published February 16, 2016 on my website, AppioHunter.com.
Yesterday I laid my dad’s body to rest in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He transitioned back to his non-physical state on February 10, 2016, and the days since then have been an educational experience for me. I’ve had tearful moments as I remember him and I feel his absence, but for the most part I’ve felt relief, peace, and joy as I sense him reveling in his new freedom. As I said in a Facebook post when he first transitioned, he is no longer constrained by a body that refused to cooperate with him. He spent years trapped in a body that slowly deteriorated and restricted his movements to the point where he could barely care for himself. Now he is free to do everything his heart desires.
Before I continue, I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the people who cared for him during his last years of life. I was only able to speak to a handful of his caretakers, but every single one of them told me how much they loved my dad and how much they enjoyed working with him. That’s not to say he didn’t try their patience when he was having one of his cranky moments, but for the most part my dad was a sweet, humorous, and kindly old man. I have to admit that I’m impressed at how he always made an impression on every person he met.
Some of what I’m about to say are thoughts and impressions I shared during my dad’s memorial service, but now that I’ve had time to process my initial impressions, I understand that there is more to the man who was my father in this life. My Reflection today is how he wants to be remembered.
If I had to describe my dad in one sentence, I would say this: Emerson Hunter is a joyful, fun-loving, adventurous soul whose greatest desire is to laugh, play, and share his joy with everyone around him. Funny enough, that’s how many of my friends describe me. Although my dad wasn’t present for much of my life, I know beyond any doubt that I am very much my father’s son. His legacy is one of passion, joy, and fun. That is his gift to me and the gift I choose to share with everyone I meet.
As I feel my dad’s essence, I’m able to understand him better than I ever could when he was physically focused. He was born into a time and culture where everyone was expected to conform to “the way things have always been done.” For him, the expectation was to go to school, serve a mission for his church, get a job, get married, have a family, and make sure that his offspring repeated the same cycle. At times I wondered if my dad did things he didn’t really want to do because of the expectations placed on him, but I now know that everything he did, he did because he chose it. He did well at some things, but in others he wasn’t very successful.
I’m not going to sugar-coat my history and say that my dad was the best father and husband my family could have hoped for. As a family man, he failed miserably. He left me, my brother, and my mom when I was in my mid-teens. Even when he “lived” with us, he wasn’t really present. He spent as much time away from home as he could, avoiding the responsibilities that came with being a husband and father. Did I wish I could’ve seen more of him? Sure. But long before he transitioned, I came to understand that my dad did the best he could given the internal conflict he experienced.
My dad spent his entire life trying to live up to cultural expectations that conflicted with his true nature. Although I knew my dad was a bit of a hell-raiser when he was a kid, I had no idea just how mischievous he was until this past week, when my aunts, uncles, and cousins shared their memories of him with me. The theme that surfaced in every one of the stories I heard was that my dad just loved to have fun (in other words, he always found creative ways to cause trouble). He was – is – a playful, fun-loving spirit, and that was how he lived his life until he was in his mid-twenties.
After he got married, his slow decline began. The pressure to “be a real man” weighed on him, and the pressure grew when he had kids. I now know that my dad could have been the most awesome dad in the world had he been able to focus exclusively on what he did best; which was to laugh, play, joke around, get into mischief, and savor every moment of life. Instead, his free-flowing, boundless spirit was crushed under the weight of “having to be a responsible family man.”
If there is a tragedy in my dad’s life, it’s this; he never figured out how to balance the expectations of responsibility with his playful nature. He got stuck in the “either-or” cycle that traps so many of us. Because of his own pain, those of us closest to him also felt it, and we ended up as collateral damage in an internal war that only ended last week. My dad is saddened by the pain he caused, but he is also grateful that we forgave him before he made his transition. That is the most important thing he wants all of us who knew him to understand.
As to how he wants to be remembered, I will put it this way: I’m glad my dad is free now. He has returned to the state of blissful, playful joy that is his essence. I rejoice with him, I celebrate with him, and I shed happy tears with him. I’m so happy, so grateful that my dad gets to revel in his essence and experience everything he denied himself in this life.
On that note, I will say ciao for now to kindred soul. You continue to touch our lives and leave us smiling, chuckling, and even laughing out loud. Have fun, Emerson. Thank you for sharing the greatest part of you with us, and most especially with me. Thank you for teaching me through your own example how to achieve the balance that eluded you. Thank you for being my dad and for giving me so much. Go now. Have fun, cause mischief, and laugh until your sides ache. I will rejoin you when my adventure here is done.
I love you forever.