His father's dog tags | OPINION: Prized Possessions | Indy Week
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His father's dog tags 

Jimmy Mathers, computer programmer, Raleigh

My dad died when I was 8, and it really completely messed with my head for a long time. There were certain things of his that I wanted, and one was a guitar that I've since left in Harrisonburg,Va., like a dumb-ass, and the other thing was he had a pinky ring that I really wanted. And our house got broken into and that was stolen. The last two things I wanted were this coffee table and his dog tags. And we couldn't find the dog tags for years and years. Then two Christmases ago I finally got it, and I've been wearing them ever since.

He died of a heart attack. He had had two before, and he had a stroke. You know I was 8, so I don't really remember enough. I was the one who actually found him; he died in our house. So essentially, I don't have any real memories of him. And not too long ago we found out that I have the same heart condition as him, so I wear the thing as a kind of weird reminder just to not let that happen to me.

The sad thing that kills me and is a motivating factor in my life is that he died completely nameless, and he was a brilliant man. He was a nuclear engineer on the Trident submarine, which is like the second nuclear submarine. He went around the world underwater and he's in the Guinness Book of World Records. No one knows who my father is and it just really bothers me. When I die I don't want the same thing; that's why I want to do films and stuff. I have to make a difference, my name has to live on. That's the reason I wear it--just to remember that I can't go out like that.

I've lost 35 pounds since I found out about my heart condition. I'm playing soccer now and I don't drink alcohol anymore. I don't eat any kind of enriched sugar type of crap. I need to get my cholesterol checked again. I'm not going to die of a heart attack next week, but if I continued doing what I was doing, in 10 years it would have started to happen, if not sooner. My dad had eggs and bacon for breakfast every morning and four pots of coffee and all that stuff just clogged him all up. And he smoked all his life. I mean he quit when the doctors told him to, but it was just too late.

I've been thinking about it a lot recently. I've been wondering if it was a blessing or a curse that I lost my dad. You know, I had no father figure, and there's this big, weird void in my life, but at the same time I don't have all these weird issues that a lot of people have with their fathers. I don't have--because I'm not religious, I don't have God as a scapegoat and I don't have my father as a scapegoat. It's my responsibility. I don't have anyone to blame for any of that bullshit. So sometimes I feel like it's a blessing, but other times ... you don't have anything, and it sucks.

  • Jimmy Mathers, computer programmer, Raleigh

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