After Mike died, Robert looked at the autopsy reports. He realized his son's left lung had collapsed again.
Robert listened over and over to the last voice mail Mike left on his cell phone. He couldn't bear to close Mike's bank account, even though it held only $29.
He put me in his Ford Escape and took me to all the places in Atlanta that meant something to him as a father.
To the first apartment they shared after Robert and Mike's mom divorced. To the cemetery at Corinth Christian Church in the town of Loganville, where Mike is buried. I remember how he bought 12 gallons of water from a nearby convenience store for the grass around the headstone.
I ask him if he still visits the grave once a month. He tells me he does; that he keeps a watering can, hedge clippers and a bottle of Windex in his car in case of impromptu visits.
"I can't do anything else for Mike other than keep his grave up," he says.
I don't know what to say as silence makes the moment awkward. We both look down at our soup.
Then, he volunteers: "I know some people think I'm over the top."
I know that he's a father in pain.
I think of what he told me six years ago: He couldn't rest until he stood in the very spot where his son took his last breath.
He was like any other person who felt a need to see the place where a loved one died. Only this was not the scene of a car accident along a lonely Georgia highway. It was a place far away -- one of war.
The journey of his dreams
Robert bookmarked the spot where Mike died on Google Earth. Every day, he studied the images of green and taupe parcels of flat land.
He'd always been fascinated by geography. GPS, his family called him, because he memorized maps and never lost his way, even in an unfamiliar town.
He figured out that Yusufiya is about the same latitude as Sharpsburg, the town south of Atlanta that he calls home.
Even before Mike died, Robert sat on his front porch at night, listened to crickets and gazed at the moon. He found solace in knowing that it was the same moon Mike saw -- only eight hours earlier.
Robert is the Coweta County solicitor and well connected in his community. He launched a scholarship foundation in Mike's name and spoke at veterans' events. He lobbied to have a highway honoring his son and invited me to the inauguration. I still have a plastic replica of the green road sign announcing "Sgt. Michael Stokely Memorial Highway" in my house.
But with every year, his yearning to see Iraq intensified.
He wrote about his desire in blogs pounded out on his computer on sleepless nights.
"It is important to me to go to the place where my son fell the night he died, kneel, and touch the soil and breathe the air," he wrote.
"Maybe, just maybe, I might even be able to do it even as the moon over Yusufiya rises."
Eventually, the people who run the nonprofit service group Soldiers' Angels saw the blog. They, in turn, contacted James Reese, a retired Delta Force officer who co-owns the security firm TigerSwan, to see if he could escort Robert to Yusufiya.
Reese wanted badly to help a father find his peace. But to take him to a war zone? Reese knew the risks were huge, but in the end, he agreed.
On Halloween night a year ago, Robert boarded a Delta flight at the Atlanta airport. He had never been aboard a plane as big as a Boeing 777 or traveled so far.
He carried with him a marble plaque bearing Mike's name, date of birth and date of death. It also bore a Bible verse: "Thy sun shall not set, nor thy moon wane. The Lord almighty is your everlasting light."