I was at a volleyball tournament back in the beginning of September this year. As I was getting ready to get on the court to play, there was a young guy who was taking his shirt off on the sidelines getting ready to play.
For a moment, I stared at him while he was shirtless. Not because of anything you might think, but because I saw something on his ribcage that made me do a double-take. Anyway, I made sure that after the game, I put myself in a position to see it again.
What I saw confused me. It was writing of some sort that was on the side of his ribcage that was a tattoo. It looked like handwriting of some sort, but I couldn't really see what it was. But it certainly made me think about it a few times that day.
Later that night, I ran into one of his teammates who I have known for many years. I asked him if he had seen this tattoo on this guy on his team and what the story was about. He told me, "yeah, but you should ask him. It's actually a great story"
Well, I am all about stories.
So I went up to him later that night at the party to introduce myself. I couldn't help my curiosity, and I ended up asking him about his tattoo. And I had never heard anything like this before, and I thought I would share it with you here...
He went on to tell me that his father had battled demons in his life of substance abuse while he was growing up. Both him and his brother were basically raised by their mother while his father was in and out of sobriety programs trying to get cleaned up.
During one of his father's clean bouts around the Christmas season, he had done a lot of battling with his addictions and was reflecting back, and he wrote a letter to his 2 sons. Well, he had kept that Christmas letter from his father because it had touched him and gave him some understanding to why his father was the way he was.
It was only a matter of time before his father was going to collide with death from his lifelong battle with substance abuse and sure enough, one day the man's poor, tired body finally gave out and he left this world.
After keeping this letter, his son realized that this was one of the only things that he had left as a reminder of his father, whom he still dearly loved. So he took it to a tattoo parlour and had the tattoo artist take the letter that his father had written, traced it and had the exact letter superimposed on his body so that he could take his father with him always.
I asked him if I could read the letter and he said "Sure" and took of his shirt and turned towards the light so that I could read it.
What I read moved me to tears.
I would never be able to sum it up and do it justice by telling you everything that it said. But it was so filled with a struggling father's humility and love and it said everything that would make another father reading it reflect on his own life and bite his lip to fight back tears. It seemed that this father knew that he was going to die of his battle someday and he wrote this letter to make his 2 sons understand that he couldn't be prouder of the men that they had become and asked them for their forgiveness.
I imagined what it must've taken this man to write something so personal and apologetic. I imagined him sitting at a table, alone at night after everyone had gone to bed. Alone with only his thoughts and demons haunting him, he wrote this letter knowing that he was not going to be able to be there for his kids. Expecting to succumb to his addiction, and leaving his sons to bear the brunt of his mistakes in life, he wrote this letter.
I felt something that I have truly never felt before in my life reading that note.
I asked him if he forgave his father for all of this. He told me that he understood why his father battled his whole life and realized that he wasn't strong enough to win and that he accepted that. He also went on to tell me moments that his father and him shared during his life and I sat in awe and listened to every story he told me and it touched me deeply. Just the look in this kid's eyes made me see it as he told it.
I have to say, that I thought that was a great moment for me. For some reason, I felt like I had a connection to this young man because of that story. It may sound stupid, but it's true.
I'm glad I met that young man, and I'm glad he shared that very personal story with me. It was very unique and obscure, but it made me realize that there are many reasons that people choose the roads in their lives and everyone takes you to a different places.
He could've been bitter about his father's struggles and demise, but he chose to carry his father in a better way, and I think he is a better man for it. But either way, he carries the best part of his father with him for the rest of his life...
I bet that his father, who is now free of the struggles and demons that he fought in his life, never realized that when he wrote that courageous letter, that he would set his son free and give him the ability to move on and carry his father's memory with him the rest of his life.
And I hope that he feels that now...