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Nearly a year

Agent009's picture
on February 2, 2010 - 6:54am

Yesterday on twitter, Lucia Micarelli posted this very moving link:
http://www.dayswithmyfather.com/

(mournful, longwinded thoughts ahead. beware. It's mostly therapy for me.)
And it got me to thinking about my own father, who died nearly a year ago at 62. The number says he was young, but the way he died says he was old.

My brother and I live far from our hometown (me 1200 miles, he 800 miles). We aren't there often, rarely are we there at the same time. We did, however, have a very pleasant childhood in that hometown. Much of the pleasantness facilitated by our grandparents. We were blessed with the most amazing grandparents anybody could ever hope to have. My grandfather was an adventurer and yet so incredibly grounded. He served his community in many ways, and drove to Alaska multiple times. A do-it-yourselfer, there was no project he would not tackle. He wasn't one to talk much, but his wit was a thing of legend. He had this whole sort of "John Wayne meets Johnny Carson" spirit. Up until shortly before his death at 83, he cut his own firewood, by hand, with an axe. In fact, it was his inability to continue with this tradition that caused the discovery of the bad valve in his heart. The doctors did not want to operate. But Grandfather insisted....he would go down swinging (I admire him endlessly for that). He did not survive much beyond the surgery.

When I went back home to eulogize my grandfather and take care of my grandmother during the process, I saw my own father in a state that I couldn't recognize. It was even worse than when we lost my sister (who died in a car accident at 24). It was a state from which I don't think he ever recovered. I think losing that practically iconic figure (in the loss of his father) was too much for him. Every time I went back, it seemed to be worse. Most notably, his constant goofball sense of humor was completely gone.

Finally, on one of the few trips that my brother and I were there at the same time, we concurred: Something was very wrong. He needed to see a doctor. We insisted. MAKE HIM GO.
My dad was a chronic smoker of ridiculously large quantities of Marlboro Menthols. He had tried to quit a couple of times over the years, but one of those time in his 'shortness of temper', he punched a hole in a television. He never tried to quit again...until he was diagnosed with emphysema.

He had not wanted to go to a doctor because he was just sure he had cancer and he didn't want treatment. When he found out it was emphysema, he seemed to play along with the whole treatment plan for about 39 seconds. After that, he more or less surrendered to it. He had weened himself down to 1-2 cigarettes a day, but even when he couldn't walk the stairs, or was put on oxygen, he never completely quit smoking.

The last time I saw him, he took me to a cemetery. He'd found out that some of the distant family was buried in this country cemetery, and thought I ought to know about it. He never got out of the truck. He just wanted me to know where it was. It was bizarre, but I remember thinking "he's still driving. It's okay."

I remember when I found out that he let his driver's license go. It was about this time a year ago that I called him up and gave him holy hell. I asked him what he was doing. Because it sure as hell looked like he was resigned to sit in a room and wait for death to come. That pissed me off greatly.

My dad was so damn smart. There wasn't much that he couldn't figure out if he really wanted to. But, he had an achilles heel: when things got a little bit hard, he'd give up rather than persist. While there were many things he had to give up because of this illness, like fishing and hunting and boating and drag-racing and auto-mechanicing, there was some things that he could be doing.

He played bass (and had a great talent for it, playing in local bands)for years, but gave it up. I thought perhaps while his mobility was restricted, it was a good time to pick up a bass again. He was an awesome photographer. In fact, he had bought himself a new SLR Digital camera the year before. Much to my discouragement, he only took about a dozen pictures on it, and that was all. (I have that camera now, and those original pictures will remain on that memory card forever, as far as I'm concerned).

On that phone call, which would be our last true conversation, e talked about the things he could be doing. He said maybe he oughta do something about ...well...something. But nothing really changed.

He died in his own bed. My mom, I think, wanted me to deliver the eulogy like I had done "so eloquently" for my grandfather. But it was too raw. I was still trying to wrap my head around why I was so pissed off.

I got on that plane by myself and didn't want to be there. I didn't want to go back. I didn't want it to be real, and even if it was real, I didn't want to be involved in it. I noticed one of the flight attendants looked remarkably like an afghan, as in the breed of dog. So then I played a game of 'what breed of dog does each person most resemble'. Yep, I'm aces when it comes to ways to distract myself.

When I got back to ye olde homestead, we had to make preparations. Ernie, my dad's closest friend and an amazing blues singer came over to help me pick music for the 'memorial video'. Clapton and the Eagles....those suited my dad. He thought Desperado was about the greatest song ever recorded. And I needed Ernie there because he reminded me of the things that were good about my dad. I remember barbecued chicken and days out on the boat and watching Monty Python and In Living Colour and all of dad's REALLY bad jokes. I mean bad. I mean like "who invented cottage cheese and how did they know when they were finished" and "why is there a freshness date on buttermilk, isn't it bad already?" bad. I thank him for his humor and the love of music that permeated everything.

So, all of this had a point. In that link where a man so tenderly speaks of his father, I never did that. It wasn't because I was too emotional. I don't let myself get emotional at funerals. I do that when I'm alone...traditionally it happens on the kitchen floor of my grandmother's house at about 2 AM. I've never really written or spoken much about it before right now. In retrospect, I wish I had given the eulogy. The minister was awful. My dad would've hated it and made snarky remarks. But that fact alone kinda amuses me.

I feel like my relationship with my dad never got closure. He was gone before he was gone. And honestly, I do NOT miss him...the him who he was at the end. I don't miss that. I don't wish that kind of hopelessness on anybody.
What I miss is the what could have been. That is what makes me angry. He could have been so very very much MORE. Our relationship could have been more.

Onward. Dad influenced who I am, probably in ways he never intended.

It's really easy for me to sit here and say "what did he do about....." so many different things for which he would SAY he wanted more. But I can't change that. I can't change who he was or how he behaved. I can only change me, here and now.

The lesson I take from all of this: it's one thing to sit around and say I want more out of life or more from another person, but WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT IT?

Thanks for that lesson the hard way.
And now I've done it....the public acknowledgment. Not as beautiful as the one in the link, but it's just as honest.

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