by Dennis Ensor
Last month I had the awesome privilege of presiding over the wedding of one of my favorite nieces, daughter of my youngest brother, Josh. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that. It will be a day I treasure forever.
After the ceremony, during the reception, one of Josh’s good friends, and a long time acquaintance of mine, came up to me and said “Good job on the wedding.” He then said something that really surprised me. “A long time ago you wrote something about your dad that Josh shared with me. It really touched me.”
What he was talking about was something I had written in 1994. That he would remember the article at all, much less that I was the one that had written it, was quite moving. Based upon his comment, and in honor of all the good fathers in our lives, I want to share with you that article today. I’ve labeled it “Last Kiss.” Enjoy!
I heard a tape today that talked about how important it is for a father to spend a lot of time with his kids. Quantity of time is as much if not more important than the quality time. This is partly true because you cannot always plan the quality time. It just arrives unexpectedly and if you don’t spend quantity of time, you just miss out on the quality times that could have been.
The tape also talked about how important it is to touch your children and to make physical contact with them. The man speaking related how his 12-year-old son still liked to sit in his lap and to be near him and to even kiss him. That brought back memories of one of the last times I saw my dad.
One Tuesday afternoon in 1982 he had a heart attack. When I got in from work, I heard a message on my answering machine from Mom saying Dad had a bad heart attack. We packed up and went down to Llano that night. When I came into that room I could see that he was in a lot of pain. I came over and hugged him and cried. We had such a good visit – it was all deep – no shallowness there – no small talk – no chit chat. With life hanging in the balance, the walls and shells around us were stripped away.
He said he was ready to go if it was his time. (I think he even preferred it). But he said he was going to try to make it for Mom and my brother still at home. He said he didn’t know a body could hurt so much – so much pain. Near the end of our conversation he asked me to kiss him. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He said “on the lips.” I leaned over and kissed him again – on the lips.
I think he knew he was going to die. And I think he wanted to show me and tell me in no uncertain terms about how much he loved me. This kiss was heart to heart with no paraphernalia – just pure love – no facades, no inhibiting pride or pretense – just a deep and abiding expression of love.
I think that is the only time in my life that I kissed my dad on the lips. I shall never forget it.
My dad knows he did a good job raising me. He knows that although I sometimes drove the whole family crazy, that he did instill in me a sincere and honest heart. I am a weak person, no doubt, but my sincere desire is to be a man after God’s own heart, full of integrity and sincerity and patience and love.
I thank God for my dad. Of all the fathers in the world I was so blessed that mine was that man. I hope I can instill some of those same qualities that my dad instilled in me, into my two precious boys. If I can do no more than that, my life would be a success.
My dad made it through that night and felt a little better the next day. We decided to move him to Austin where the medical facilities were better. He would be more vulnerable during the trip, but would have a better chance of surviving once we got there. Dad made the trip just fine and slept well that night. The next morning, Dad felt wonderful. It was so good to see him feeling good. We saw him quite a bit that day but had to be careful not to get emotional because the heart monitor would go crazy.
Mom’s brother, N.D., came up from Hereford to see Dad. In many ways, Dad had been like an older brother or a father figure to him. The heart monitor really went crazy when he came in. I never really appreciated how deep their relationship was until that moment. They were both speechless because of their inability to keep from breaking down and crying. That made me love and respect N.D. more than I ever had before. That also, as well as many things N.D. told me about later, made my love and respect for my dad grow deeper.
I cried a lot that night. Everyone else seemed very happy. Although Dad had been through a good day, the doctor never would show a lot (or even a little) optimism. We wanted him to so badly and we tried to convince ourselves that things were better, but he just never would paint any bright pictures for us. I think I knew – way down inside – he was not going to make it. The uncertainty is so draining.
The next morning, while waiting for the visiting hours (15 minutes) to come, a nurse came out to tell us that “he’s not quite ready yet” and to “wait a few minutes”. Near the end of the visiting time, I asked the nurse if we would get to extend our visiting time since we had missed out on the regular time. She said “yes”.
When the regular visiting time was over the nurse came out and said, “Y’all can come in now.” Instead of leading us to his room, she asked us to wait in a vacant room because the doctor wanted to talk to us. Shortly, the doctor came in and told us that early that morning my dad had either extended the existing heart attack or had a second heart attack and they had been working on him all morning trying to revive him and that there was nothing more they could do.
Those words were so hard to believe. My dad had always been there – my whole life – he can’t be gone. We all cried and held each other in disbelief. I asked if we could see him and the doctor said yes.
We walked into his room. It was so obvious that his spirit was gone. His body was there but he was not. We cried some more. We held each other some more. We talked about this wonderful man that lay before us, some of the crazy things he did, the quality of his life. Laughing and crying, rejoicing and weeping. The mystery of the heavens and earth had taken place in this room.
When we got back to Mom’s house, I went out into the shop where Dad’s tools were. I put my hands on the handles of all the tools I could find. My dad held these tools last. I wanted my hands to be where his had been.
The funeral was special. Since it was delayed a couple of days while we were waiting for my sister and brother-in-law to get in from South Africa, we had time to come to grips with what was happening. My brother-in-law preached the sermon. “Can you imagine James growing old?” he asked. And we couldn’t. He also talked about the many wonderful memories that we could cherish because of this man – the nostalgic memories, the crazy things he did (sometimes on purpose and sometimes not). But most of all he reminded us of the Christian heritage this man had left us. His goal in life was to see his family grow up to be Christians and to lead Godly lives.
That was more important to him than making a lot of money or having a lot of power or impressing his friends. In that, he succeeded. He had five kids who are all faithful Christians to this day. They all have strong Christian families and are passing the legacy on down to their children and grandchildren.
I thank God for blessing me with this awesome man as my father. I feel compelled to make a difference in other people’s lives because of that blessing. My father died on April 30, 1982 at the age of 56. In 10 days he would have been 57.
—I will always love you Dad! —
In 2009, Dennis authored a family history book called, Texas Pioneer Chronicles: The Life and Times of the Ensor, Kelso and Crim Families Since 1856. It covers five generations of Dennis’ family on both his father and mother’s side. He used this “Last Kiss” article as the introduction to the book. The book includes over 100 photos and many wonderful stories—many quite humorous. The book is available from Amazon.com.
Copyright © 2014, Dennis Ensor. Permission to print granted by author. Photography curtesy of Dennis Ensor. All rights reserved.