Time to sign the painting

April 13th 2023

I was standing on a hill in eastern Ohio checking out the cabin the Pennsylvania family members had rented for the weekend when my phone rang. I looked at the screen and it was Charles, I thought I wonder why he is calling? He’s back from his honorary guest invitation to Norway visit and has been working hard on the painting. After some small talk he asks if I can swing over to the studio to witness the signing of the painting this weekend, The fine details are done and the painting portion is complete.

I’m a little surprised. I knew it was coming, I just hadn’t realized it was here, the moment was really here.

Because Charles had explained the process so well over the past two years, I knew that there was still a need to let the painting breath, set, time to allow the dyes to set before sealing. I just didn’t realize that time had come. We talked about if he should just sign it and make a video. I really didn’t love that idea, I wanted to be there, if I could. Because we would be back in Minnesota the next week, we decided to meet on the 18th of April 2023 at his studio for the official signing of the painting. As I looked at the calendar to schedule it I noticed that the 21st of April, the day he died was on Friday. I really valued the cymbalom of the painting being done two years after his passing. That wasn’t all he had to share. The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls, MN has an annual open house on Memorial Day and they ask Charles to see if I would be interested in having the painting at the event on display. The frame is being shipped shortly and there is a way for it to be in the frame before the final seal has been applied. Charles would have to explain that in more detail. I just recall that it involved waxing points, which I am not sure what that means yet. He said I would need to have my little write up ready for the painting. I said, “Yes”. I am honored. I am also considering being there in person to share with people anything they might want to ask. I feel like it’s the start of something.

It is starting to feel like enough.

After his passing a deep feeling came over me of not loving him enough, not traying hard enough to understand him, a feeling of missing more than just the person. A feeling like I didn’t even know the person well and that I had missed my chance.

I know that logically that what I am describing is part of grief. The loss of the future. The loss of being able to right wrongs, learn about each other, and make new memories. I have found that this feeling gets mixed with the fact that he was so distant emotionally and afraid to engage in his life. Some of the heaviness of the grief at the time of his passing and after was tied to our years of fighting when I was a teenager. I so wanted him to be someone he was not able to be anymore. I wanted him to be connected to me in some way. To attend my swim meets and say he was proud of me. I wanted him to stop yelling and fighting with my mom and I wanted him to stop telling me I was always doing everything wrong. And in those years of being an angry teenager and said very disrespectful things to him and really stopped seeing him as successful in his role as father, husband and community member. The walls were just so high emotionally around him, there was just no way in and I wanted in.

Years later I was able to apologize for my behavior. To tell him that I respected him and all he did for us as a family. We didn’t discuss it more than once and so there was still a grey cloud hanging over how I respected him. I know how important respect is for men. I have also learned over the past years how very thankless being a parent and especially a father during the 1970’2 and 80’s. It was a time of change as the roles and responsibilities of men and women were evolving and it was messy and confusing. The expectations and boundaries weren’t always clear. Like if both parents are working, who is responsible for the laundry, cooking, cleaning and car maintenance? Once of the best gifts I have received through this process is talking with other veterans with some PTSD and they say time and time again, “Your dad had the same job for over forty years?” I didn’t know that was a question or a thing. It turns out that for a person with PTSD to hold a solid job isn’t easy and he did for us all those years. That is what this journey is about. It’s been about finding the best of my father and honoring that. Saying to the world, in a way that I can.

“Thank you, you were enough. I see you and you were more than enough. You did enough and I honor everything that it took to be in my life as long as you did. I have the utmost respect for you and the sacrifice you made for this country. I am so proud of you. I love you Dad.”

I can tell that being able to talk with people about the painting and learning their stories is going to be part of me telling the world that he was enough.

There is also part of this that is my fight for him and the abuse he received when he returned from the war. I want other Vietnam Veterans to know that they are seen, heard and loved. The abuse that they endured after the war in their own country was deplorable. I can’t fix the past, but I can acknowledge that it happened and honor them now for the heroes that they are.

While the creation of the painting is coming to a close, I believe the true story and journey are just beginning. Here is to new starts, shared history, God, country and family.

A special thanks to Charles Kapsner for not only taking on this project with such skill, heart, and wisdom but for also bringing to my journey other artists and all of the connections in the military art world. I am so honored to know that others will enjoy viewing this piece, connecting with Charles’s skills, and honoring more veterans as human beings that made a sacrifice.