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“Kick em’ in the ass.”  These are the last words my dad said to me.  The week my father died I came to the hospital every day, morning and evening.  Some days, I also visited him in the afternoon.  One day, as I walked into his room a nurse was attending to him.  He seemed to try to sit up, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Kick em’ in the ass.”  The nurse made a face, looked at me and asked, “does he always talk like this?”  I replied, “Mam, I have never heard him curse in my life.”  I asked him who did he want me to go after?  He did not say who he was upset with.  I do not believe it was the nurse.  She seemed nice and treated him tenderly.  The other nurses were also nice to him.  I thought to myself, “Maybe he is near the end and just talking out of his mind.”  The rest of the visit he was quiet and seemed to sleep in the most peaceful of ways.  As I began to wind down the visit, I asked him to pray with me.  I prayed for the nurses, doctors, medicine, blood he was receiving, his wife, Doris, Steve and me, Denise, the grandchildren – I went down the list of everyone I could think of.  The nurse was in the room as I prayed.

I concluded the prayer the same way I concluded every prayer with him, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer.  In his half-sleep state, my father gasped in a low voice the prayer that Jesus taught we should always pray.  He said very little, but almost until his last day, he would pray the Lord’s Prayer with me.  As I picked up my coat and turned to walk out the door, my father seemed to sit up and once again he looked me dead in the eye and repeated his first command, “Kick them in the ass.”  With wide eyes the nurse stared at me and I said good bye to her and told my father, once I figure out who you are talking about I will comply with your wish.

I called Steve and asked if he had received the same command.  He said, no.  My father knew me well.  I am the first born.  I do not make threats.  I do not get caught up in hot air bluster.  Even though my church members probably think I am a nice, peaceful fellow who bends over backwards to maintain a harmonious church, and I am all of that, but my father had watched me from my youth.  There is a side of me that will not back down.  Once I get started, I won’t stop.  It was either the 1964 special election, which he loss, or it may have been the 1965 election when he won a seat on the Detroit City Council, in the basement of Lomax Temple AMEZ church on the northeast side of Detroit, I verbally went after another candidate, Jackie Vaughn, whom I thought insulted my father.  I was only 12 or 13 years of age.  When it was over, as we climbed the steps from the church basement, my father dressed me down and said, “Nick, I was winning until you opened your mouth.  I’m not going to take you with me anymore.” Jackie Vaughn, years later, was elected to the Michigan State Senate.  We developed a respectful, cordial relationship and got along, but I doubt he ever forgot how I dressed him down in a church basement.  A few years ago I met a man about my age who told me he remembered that night in his church basement and my verbal altercation with a man old enough to be both of our father.  I share this story, because I think my father also never forgot what he saw.  When my father lost that first election, I would start fighting any kid who teased me about my father being a loser.  Eventually my father pulled me aside and said, “Nick, sometimes a good run is better than a bad stand.”  I did not care.  If someone said something about my father, I would start fighting.  One day, my father told me if I were ever circled by boys who wanted to fight me, that I should not try to fight everyone, but pick the weakest kid in the circle, hit them with all I had, and then run home.  I always wondered where he learned that technique, but one night after a cub scout meeting I was forced to put my father’s advice to good use.  I looked a threatening little boy in the eye, smiled to myself and thought, “I choose you.”

This is where I am going with this business about fighting.  I am a peaceful person who strives for kindness in all that I do.  But, my father knew that I have a tough streak and underneath my calm exterior I have another side.  I do not think he gave me a death bed direction for no reason.  My problem is I do not know where to begin.  I’m not sure who to go after.  While he was in the hospital my father told me he felt his doctors had maintained his health for 92 years, particularly in his last years, but that his health care was not proactive.  At points, some of the specialists attending to him prescribed medicines that seemed to attack his body. Worse, it did not seem like there was a lot of coordination between them. It is easy to pass his death off with platitudes like, “Well, he lived to be 92 years old.”  But, he was still my father.  The doctors seemed to cover for each other.  One young emergency room physician spilled the beans and said, there is medicine that was given to him that began to attack his body.  It seems to me like there is a code of silence in the medical profession where some doctors are reluctant to challenge and question the actions of a colleague. An old man like my dad, with failing health is a big pay day to someone, but to me, he was my father.

Why am I putting this in writing? I could keep my mouth shut, but I can’t because I am troubled by the last lucid words from my father, “Kick them in the ass.”  I do not want money for his death, but I am troubled by what I saw.  So, I pray to the Lord for guidance as I try to understand who my father wanted me to go after.

Written by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III

Photo by Nicholas Hood III

Additional Prayers, Photos and Meditations from Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III at https://nicholashoodiiiministries.wordpress.com/

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