Sometimes life turns full circle, as was the case with the passing of my father Delbert McAmis on Thursday. He helped me into this world, then cared for me; I helped him through his later years and held his hand as he passed. In between we loved each other deeply, often from afar as I traveled and lived my life.
It all started in early 1939 when Dad was only 19, and began to date Evalynne Fuller, a divorcee 6 years his senior. Then an unexpected pregnancy. This is an intimate part of our family history, but it is essential to understanding this story. It was back in a time before reliable birth control, she had tried through 7 years of the prior marriage to have a child and believed herself unable, they were children of the Great Depression and clung to warmth and love.
It was also time when callow young men could walk away from these circumstances without consequence. In fact, my mom told my dad – this boy, not quite a man – that he could leave, she would raise me alone if need be, perhaps go back to her abusive husband who always wanted a child more than anything. My dad – this boy, not quite a man – said “No one else is raising my child.”
I adored my dad from the beginning, this hard-working man who came in from his roofing job, tall and strong and brown as a berry. I thought he was the most handsome man in the world in his baseball uniform, striding to the plate and hitting home runs in a sport in which he excelled. It was years later that I learned he passed up an opportunity to go into the Majors when I was a baby because there were no financial guarantees and he had a daughter to support.
Life rolled on, our family grew, other challenges were met, and Dad was always there. When I divorced and became a single parent of three sons, Dad was my rock. As long as he was alive, I felt safe because of him. Even in later years when I moved around the country, following career, we were connected. That bond he forged at my birth sustained us both.
My Dad, this strong and dependable man, began to fade once he reached his 90s. His body began to fail in numerous ways, and yet he soldiered on, unwilling to bow to physical restraints. Five years ago as he approached 92 I knew he needed an extra pair of hands and I moved back home.
These were good years for both of us. We watched baseball and football together, went to family gatherings, out to eat, even a weekend trip to the War of the Pacific Museum in Fredericksburg to relive his days in WWII. His body failed more and I became his nurse, supporting and chiding as necessary to keep him safe.
I tell you this part, dear friends, not so you can label me a good daughter, but to remind you that we all reach a point in life where no matter how strong we once were, we will find ourselves unable. Without help, life is too painful, too small, not worth living. It was my honor to give back to my dad. He had given me 20 years of his life to raise me, another 20 to help raise my children. I owed him so much more than the 5 years I was able to give him.
And my, they were such precious years. We laughed, we talked, we argued, we reminisced. Most importantly, he felt safe because I was there. In his final days in the hospital when he was fully dependent, he had a moment he shared with me. He remembered the day that Evalynne Fuller told him she was pregnant with me; the moment he said “No one else will raise my child.”
“And here we are,” he said. Here we are, having traveled full circle. There is a life lesson in there somewhere and I will let you ponder it further, but the child he kept, the child he lovingly supported for decades, here we were together at the end.
— Jonnie Martin