My best friend’s father died last week.
The text was short and stunning. “Clyde passed away unexpectedly this morning.” The words were so difficult to wrap my head around. “What? Clyde? Not Clyde. C’mon.”
One minute, a 75-year-old man is walking through retirement, all his kids and grandchildren thriving. Then in the span of a few hours, he’s gone. So swift, so harsh.
Clyde’s three kids range from ages 48 to 51. Whenever the late 40s or early 50s are reached, many people begin to contemplate the loss of parents if it hasn’t happened already. At the age of 58, I already have lost both parents: my mom when I was 22, my dad when I was 56. And my first wife died when I was 39. So loss? Yes I have experience, but warning signs were there for all three of those deaths. Excruciating losses? Sure. Unexpected? No.
My best friend is Dave. And like his father, he has forged a career in newspapers. That’s how we met, in the newsroom of a daily paper here in Upstate South Carolina. At first we didn’t really know each other. But as the years passed and our paths began to cross more, we formed a friendship. It was made out of what many friendships are: common backgrounds, interests, respect and values. But it also consists of iron, titanium, graphite, plastic, wood, grass, dirt, sand, rubber, nylon and leather. In a word, golf. We have played countless rounds together, and it was on a golf course that I met Clyde.
Actually, Clyde wasn’t his real name. His real name was Dave. He got his nickname through a column, “Coffee with Clyde,” he wrote for a newspaper in eastern Pennsylvania each Sunday morning for more than 20 years.
“This is my dad, Clyde,” David said to me with more than a little pride several years ago.
“Nice to meet you, Clyde,” I said with a firm handshake. “That’s an interesting first name. You don’t hear it much.”
“Well, actually, that’s not my real first name.”
“Then why does Dave call you Clyde?” I asked as his son chuckled.
I then got the explanation of the name Clyde, an alter ego created for the purpose of the column. As I heard the tale, there was a twinkle in both sets of Dave eyes.
I played several rounds of golf with Clyde and Dave, always a pleasure and always lots of stories … and a few beers (fittingly, I got the text about Clyde’s passing while I was … on a golf course).
What I sensed between Clyde and Dave was a long-time respect between father and son, one that went beyond the bonds of family and into the commonality of shared life pursuits in newspapers. A newspaper career can be a tough, sometimes lonely existence with its own special set of disappointments and rewards. It also has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, with opportunities shrinking along with the reader base.
Through it all, Clyde was Dave’s touchstone. Clyde was the one he bounced ideas off of; Clyde was the one with sage advice; Clyde was the one Dave could count on; Clyde was dad. Now, half of that relationship has evolved into a divine realm. The other half remains here, still needing the emotional and spiritual nourishment provided by the stumpy, bald, cherub-faced Irishman.
My best friend has a tough road to hoe through mourning and grief. It will come at him in waves, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes predictably … but come it will. Clyde will be in a silent role now, but Dave can draw on memories and replenish himself with the knowledge that Clyde looks on with a twinkle in his heavenly eyes and a smile of approval.
Here’s to Clyde and Dave.