“You can be beaten, but don’t ever give up.”
My father said that a lot. It was like his mantra; his Credo. Yeah, those words may not rival any line that Shakespeare ever wrote, but I learned to live by them, and they’ve kept me going for a lot of years.
Porter Matthews was a man whose determination kept him going long after others would have thrown in the towel. He raised me alone after my mom walked out on him and me just after my first birthday, operating a successful tow truck service that eventually led to a decently profitable auto salvage yard operation. He worked his ass off seven days a week, rain or shine, and died at the relatively young age of 44, long before he got the opportunity to just stop and rest and enjoy the fruits of his labors.
He worked hard for all those years and what did he have to show for it? Pretty much just me and my short-lived motorcycle racing career… and he seemed quite content with that.
I got to work alongside my dad on the road and in the yard, letting the family business serve as my schooling for my future while chasing my dream of making it as a motocross racer. Dad supported and encouraged my dreams, right up to the day he died. I spent more time with my dad in my 25 years up to his death then some kids will spend with their fathers in 60. I didn’t lose out on a family because of his work and business; my dad and I were all the family we needed and his work and business allowed us to be together.
I was standing at his gravesite on a chilly April morning, memories of our times together drifting through my mind and stirring emotions both bitter and sweet. I hadn’t brought any flowers with me to place on his grave; dad hated flowers. I wasn’t standing next his headstone talking with his “spirit”, like some folks tend to do when visiting the grave of a deceased loved one. Dad’s spirit lived within me, and we knew our love for each other was unwavering and needn’t be spoken. I didn’t make my graveside visit to pay my respects. My father always had my respect, and he knew it.
I was going away for a while, so I just came by for a little visit, is all. Another moment of remembrance, and then it was time for me to go. Dad would understand and expect no more and no less.
The last time I left something on my dad’s grave I got a tersely-worded letter from the cemetery’s management company telling me not to leave a bottle of beer on the flower receptacle. I decided to meet them halfway. I reached in my jacket pocket and pulled out my gift, leaving a can of beer next to his headstone.
I nodded my good-bye to the cold patch of ground where my father lay. He didn’t go down without a fight, no matter how badly that pain of his cancer ate at him. Proud to the end, like his personal life’s affirmation, he refused to give up.
But he also gave one other piece of advice that I was taking to heart at the moment.
“It’s okay to step back from the battle and regroup and decide if the battle is still worth fighting. If it is, then come back and fight harder.”
He did that a couple times in his life, and that’s what I was doing now. I was stepping back to see if my current battle was worth fighting.
The fog hung low over the wet, well-manicured cemetery lawns with headstones seemingly floating like flotsam in a sea of gray mist. It wasn’t necessarily the best time to ride a motorcycle. But it seemed the best time to ride my motorcycle out of town.