or so very long Aug. 8 held a day of painful memories.

It was on that date 25 years ago that my dad died.

So, each year, on the anniversary of his death, I dreaded it, and always asked the same question: how could a man die at age 38 from natural causes? I know it sometimes happens to those who are younger, as well as to some who are older, but not to my dad.

A Vietnam veteran, an exercise fanatic who, like so many North Carolinians, loved nothing more than the swish sound of a basketball hitting net, he died too young.

At 18, I wasnít prepared to lose him, to spend the rest of my life, fatherless.

My dad had begun to answer lifeís questions for me at an age when I dearly needed him.

Why did you leave the South? Why didnít you return?

How, as a preacherís kid, did you cope with Vietnam?

At such a young age, I had begun to write my Familyís history, and I needed him to fill in the gaps, to make sense of it all.

Twenty-five years ago I had begun to make adult decisions about my career, friends and relationships, and I needed his guidance.

I needed him to steer me away from the mistakes he had made, to steer me in the direction of adulthood.

But, an unexpected phone call made one ordinary Sunday morning something out of the ordinary. It was a phone call of death from my fatherís girlfriend: ĎYour father is sick and you need to come.í

It was a message that sank my heart to the sole of my feet.

It was, in so many ways, the end of my childhood.

Who are you when you lose a parent?

I remember immediately thinking, how could it be? He shoots basketball each week. He jogs regularly. He eats right. He is the picture of health.

It wasnít like his life had been cut short by a prolonged illness. He had not been plagued by those chronic illnesses that snatch life from people: stroke, heart attack, diabetes.

But, Dad would leave soon, exit lifeís stage in the same quiet manner that he inhabited the lives of those who loved him.

Like his father before him, Dad was a man comfortable with quiet, at ease with silence, troubled more by words that meet air than by those that do not. A smile or stern look conveyed more than verbal communication.

I am not my fatherís child. Iím verbal. I value the exchange of words, and have built my life and livelihood on the exchange.

Even today, two decades after my fatherís death, I still summon words to help me muddle through my loss.

Because, what do you say on Fatherís Day to those of us who have lost our fathers? There is still a void.

I continuously encourage my sons to value the time they have with Family. Born into a large Family, many of the grandparents are gone now. But, I live by the memories and still carry the love. I wonder sometimes what they think of this decision or that one, so in a sense, they continue to influence my life. In so many respects, I live to honor their memories.

At least once a year, Iíll dream that Dad is still alive. For some reason, weíre usually fishing or heís spending time with his grandsons. I am temporarily happy. The dream likely is a manifestation of a futile hope. But, I awaken to discover that it was only a dream, and the reality of being fatherless is a nightmare. Iím sad all over again. Itís like reliving his death all over again.

Death swallowed his life, but never my memory of him. Aug. 8 is still a day of sadness, but 16 years ago, I met a lady who repurposed that date ó my mother-in-law.

She was born Aug. 8, so instead of remembering death, my Family and I celebrate her life, and what she means to us. Sheís a phenomenal grandmother who waited 50 years for the her first grandchild, my eldest son.

Sheís a Christian woman devoted to helping rear her grandchildren in the church, and she sings a song that makes this journey easier:

ďLord, donít let my running be in vain

Iíve been running for Jesus a long, long time

I donít want to get almost there, and then not make it in

I want to keep on running for Jesus.Ē

Life is so full of ironies. God, in his wisdom, knew I needed another frame of reference for Aug. 8, and in mercy, gave it to me.

Iíll take that over a slice of birthday cake any day.