Wednesday, November 5, 2014

With All Of My Heart

Today is my son Richard's 25th birthday, and in the last six years, two months and four days, he's spoken to me once.

It doesn't matter. I still love him with all of my heart.

His mom and I separated when he was less than a year old, and divorced several months later. Richard has never known what it's like to have his own father at home, but with God as my witness, I tried to be the best dad I could be from 430 miles away. The memories of having him with me at several of the NASCAR events I covered are some of the very best of my life.

Richard didn't much care for football. It didn't matter, though. I loved him with all of my heart.
A Winston Cup Scene reader once asked me for my autograph in Richard's presence, and for sure, I thought it would impress the kid. Nope. Richard just looked at the guy and shrugged his shoulders.

Whaddya want his autograph for? He's not famous.

There was the time he wanted to drive back through the parking lot of a restaurant in the Scene company car. The vehicles had the paper's logo plastered on both doors, and he enjoyed the attention it drew when a race was in town. We once stayed at the same St. Louis hotel as the Colorado Rockies, and he loved Larry Walker and Vinny Castilla. We got off the elevator one morning, and there stood Larry Walker and Vinny Castilla. Richard was in awe. As we left to go to the track, I asked if he wanted to go back and try to get their autographs.

No. It was good enough just to get to see them in person.

December 26 had always been the worst day of the year as a child because it meant that the next Christmas was a full year away. Later on, however, it became my favorite day of the year because that's the day Richard always came to North Carolina. Nearly two decades later, the $40 bicycle and the Go-Kart I was able to give him remain my best Christmases ever.

Despite all that, our relationship obviously wasn't the same as it would've been had we lived in the same house -- or even in the same town, for that matter. More than the loss of my job in NASCAR ... more than struggling with my weight for so many years ... this is the single greatest failure of my life.

It didn't matter, though. I still loved him with all of my heart.

God knows I've wondered and fretted and worried and prayed over why things went so horribly wrong between us. The young man is smart, far smarter than I'll ever hope to be. He picked up philosophies in high school that were completely foreign to me, and we had an exchange or two because of that.
My boys.

He got off the airplane one year in North Carolina with hair down his back.

It didn't matter. I still loved him with all of my heart.

He met us for dinner one night in Nashville sporting a ring in his nose. 

It didn't matter. I still loved him with all of my heart.

The last time I saw Richard in person was on September 2, 2008, a couple of days after my father -- his paternal grandfather -- passed away. Richard didn't make it to the funeral.

I was upset over that, and I let him know about it in a long e-mail a few days later. I tried not to be ugly. Jeanie read it before I pressed "Send." Other than one brief 30-minute call a couple of years later, that's the last communication we had.

It doesn't matter. I still love him with all of my heart.

The last I heard, he's tending bar in Portland, Oregon.

 It doesn't matter. I still love him with all of my heart.

He evidently has some additional piercings.

It doesn't matter. I still love him with all of my heart.

And some tattoos.
This was Adam's favorite spot with his big brother.

It doesn't matter. I still love him with all of my heart.

I understand that he's lost his faith.

That does matter and it matters more than anything he'll ever face, but it's a struggle between Richard and God. My faith isn't hereditary. It's a decision he has to make for himself. All I can do is pray more earnestly for him than I have about anything in a long, long time.

The bottom line is this. I love my oldest son, and I love him with all of my heart, every bit as much as I love Adam and Jesse. I'd very gladly give my life for him, because that's what a father does for his son.

About a week ago, I got a call on my cell phone from a number originating out of Oregon. My heart nearly stopped. Was it Richard? Was there anything wrong? I answered with a hitch in my voice. It wasn't him, and I hung up without saying a word to the salesman on the other end of the call.

When and if Richard ever does call to say that he needs me, I'll leave a great big Rick-sized hole in the wall to get to him. It matters that much, for no other reason than he's my son, my flesh and blood. I'd heard Luke 15:20 a million different times in a million different Sunday School classes and sermons, but never paid the kind of attention to it that I do now. Now ... it means everything.

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

I ache for that day.

God, please. I love Richard. He's my son, and I love him with all of my heart. Bring him back to us in one piece, safe and sound.