Most of the time, I can sit down to write a blog entry a message on Facebook or GoFundMe update in a few minutes. This entry is an entirely different thing. This entry, the one I am writing today is one of the hardest, most painful write-ups I have ever done, because it is personal. It is painful because I knew as I wrote this, my father was on life support, and that he would never come back, he would never come to what we now consider home, a hotel. That once he was dead, I would be posting this for the entire world to see.
Today, I want to talk to you all about my father, the man that so many others and I have been asking for money for. The man that we wanted to leave his life feeling as though he was not a failure, and even though my mother and I know he was not a failure, how you see yourself is what matters most to you. Harold Richardson was a father, a damned good one in my estimation. My failures, my siblings failures are not his own. He helped me become the man that I am, with the demeanor that a man dies with his boots on, if that is what it takes. He was a husband who doted on my Mother. When he was younger than I am today, he helped take care of both of his parents while working full time jobs. His choice of employment was working for a paving company during paving season, then working at a textile mill during the down months (typically winter).
If you want to believe, it in the 50’s at fifteen years old, my father was driving a school bus. At eighteen, he was running a paving machine, by the time he was twenty-four or twenty-five he was a supervisor at what would become APAC. When he was in his late forties, he was running the plant at a small company called Virginia Paving, which later became Lane Construction. He found he disliked being that high of a position, he felt he was not worthy of it given his high school education, so he chose to return to being a crew supervisor, where he worked until he retired.
Along his career paving roads, he built the Dullas Toll Road, and many roads that people in Northern Virginia take for granted. If you are a fan of NASCAR, he paved many of the raceways (Martinsville, Richmond, etc.), he helped develop the means to pave places like Daytona and Talladega. Every time you see a new picture of the White House, with its sterling white asphalt, you can think of Harold Richardson, who helped created the mixture and dye to create its appearance. If you are United States Military or government agencies stationed at a base, and you are ever stationed at Quantico, AP Hill, Dalgreen, or any other bases in Northern or Central Virginia, Harold likely put in roads there. There are pictures of Harold standing next to presidential elect Bill Clinton, and vice-presidential elect Al Gore. Harold refused to be in a picture with Mr. Bush. There is no telling how many pictures could have been taken with political and military leaders, but Harold never wanted to risk soiling their suits, or getting tar on their hands, so he would usually politely decline photo ops. Clinton was the exception, because he always saw him as a working man, who would laugh about such things.
From there he retired to a life of being a homebody that loved to fish. Ask any of the Richardson family, and they will tell you that a Richardson is never happy unless “they are running around 500 miles per hour with their hair on fire.” Sad to say that while he was a great father to me, and a great husband to my mother, he drove us all batty in that month he was “retired”. One morning he came back home, and told us that he had taken a new job driving a coal truck. You see he had made a promise with several other older co-workers that they would all die with their boots on, I guess in a sense it fit his personality, and he always wanted to work.
Harold only worked four full time jobs his entire life. At seventy-one years old, the doctor told him that because of his Osteoporosis that he needed to call his career a career because of his back. It was not much longer after that we became homeless. For nearly three years, we lived in a tent, struggling at times to make ends meet, and that is when he began to feel like he was a failure to his family, specifically my mother and I. Several months ago, with the help of some friends, we managed to get out of the tent and into an apartment, which seemed to help Harold’s spirit. He started to become less reclusive, and enjoyed his time at the beach. Often he could be found with my mother walking the beach looking at the ships that were sitting in the bay, and joking about what would happen if he took pictures of the sitting aircraft carriers. He seemed to think the government would frown on it.
Then he said one day that he wanted to go home, his home, where he was born and raised. My mother and I both felt it was a bad choice, no good ever comes from chasing the ghosts of the past, but we decided that it might be good for him. What we did not know is that within two weeks of moving back here that he would end up in the ER with what was said to be a severe cold. From that point, his health further declined and on December 11, he was taken back to the ER, and he would never return to the motel. Leading to where we are today. Harold at some point before this was posted was taken off life support, his O2 stats hovering in the mid-sixties his CO2 levels in the nineties, and his body failing him at every turn. I have a list of mistakes I have made, we all do somewhere in the back of our brain. But that choice was one of the worst choices my family had to make. Not because it was bad for him, the doctors said there was no hope of Harold ever coming back, and living any kind of life. It was the worst because of the self-inflicted pain, the knowledge that we had no way to lay Harold to rest, the fact that we would go from barely making it, to not being able to pay for anything.
I can say with certainty that Harold never did fail us. He made his share of bad decisions, but we all do that, and it is not always our fault. We as a society failed Harold. His family failed him, as they were too hung up that he married a Jew, and they were too hung up on their own personal drama. As for the rest of society, when someone comes to you, asking for help, and you turn your back to them, you have failed them. The system failed him, because for as much as things like Social Security help the elderly, it could be better. His body failed him after seventy-two years of hard physical labor. I can also say that in these last three years his mind failed him miserably, and that played a role in his bad choices. To top this list of people and things that ultimately failed my father; I can say that it was his faith. It was not his faith in God that failed him, make no mistake, God does not fail people, it was the church and those who would call themselves by a faith that failed him. It was a preacher who used his station in life to take his money; a man who showed no remorse for his own conduct. It is the people who claim to be Christian and turned their backs on him. All the while, we do what we can do, to become stable once again, without losing anything else.
Harold Richardson, a man who would give the shirt off his back to anyone, even if the majority of society felt they were not deserving, a man who would give his last penny to make sure that a child ate, or a neighbor had their medications and food, died a failure in his own mind, and homeless. Today was the single most devastating day for our family, and rightly so. We lost not only the man who supported us, but we lost a wealth of knowledge, a father and husband, but most importantly, we lost our good friend.