You will never change the faith of another by labeling their faith as stupid, you will only entrench them deeper in their beliefs.
“Let me ponder this simple question, am I a good friend.”
That’s the question I was left off with last night in my mind. Am I a good friend? On paper I would probably say no. In reality I would say, “to some.” There are at least as many out there who hate me as who love me. The number those two opposites share, and even the sum between them, is nothing compared to the number of those I’ve met regularly who hold me with zero regard. When I was Adam32‘s age, that realization would have devastated me. To Adam42 it’s simply a matter of fact, and needless to change. I do wish I was a better friend still, that’s a trait we share, but the taxation of life’s responsibilities, and the toll of age and experience has left me on a budget of spirit.
Adam42 has to look back at Adam32 tonight and try to glean in the most unbiased way possible whether they could be friends if they met today.
I’m playing my own version of Looper, but instead of going back in time to kill myself, I’m going back in time to see if I’d want to strangle myself. And I’ll try to make this brief, because yesterday went on quite a bit.
Adam32 and Adam42 share a sense of humor. Adam32‘s is maybe a bit more carefree and enthusiastic than Adam42‘s, but they’re still fundamentally the same. I think they’d feed off each other in that way. But it’s also possible they’d hate each other for stealing each other’s jokes and making each of them feel like they’re not funny. Then they’d get self-conscious, and then they’d just have to leave.
Either is possible, honestly.
This question is one I thought a lot about after I finished last night, and throughout today, and it’s something I don’t know if I have an answer to give to you.
I’m sorry, that’s a lie. I do have an answer to give to you, but I’d like to avoid it as long as possible.
Adam42 takes issue with Adam32.
Adam32 was tired of being at the beck and call of his father. Adam32 wanted to be free from all this so he could pursue his life. Dad was hard to deal with. We got into some absolutely furious arguments over the course of his illnesses. Especially when he started getting some paranoid dementia. Adam32 was ready for this to be over.
Adam42 wants to slap him in the mouth.
Adam32 would avoid seeing his father sometimes because it would just be so depressing. Adam32 would screen phone calls from his father later in life. Adam32 found excuses to not go see his father after he moved to L.A. because he hated seeing how much Dad would degrade from visit to visit, year after year.
Adam42 wants to punch him in the nose.
Adam32 is the person who mentally drafted a version of his father’s eulogy that was all about how crummy his Dad was. Adam32 is the person who pissed away countless hours that he could have spent with his father. Adam32 is the person who decided to put Dad on hospice.
Adam42, or at least some part of Adam42‘s lizard brain, has a hard time forgiving him for that.
Don’t get me wrong, it was the right decision. Adam32 was absolutely correct to put his father on hospice, and Adam42 agrees with the decision. Adam42 harbors more resentment over the hours Adam32 wasted not seeing his father that Adam42 would nearly kill for. And the worst part is that Adam32 didn’t even get it. He was selfish and immature. He was focused on the short term and was blind to the long term. If he knew then what Adam42 knows now…
Adam32 was focused on escapism. He didn’t have a solid job, was behind in his career, was overweight, and felt he wasn’t worth much in general. He wanted to chase girls, play with his friends, and feel like a grown up. It was a feeling he didn’t have much. He’d lived a good deal of his 20’s at his mom’s house, picking up odd jobs where he could, but generally being unemployed. He watched all his friends get jobs, apartments, relationships, CHILDREN, and still he was in a bit of a vacuum. Dad was increasingly becoming the antithesis of escapism. Adam32 had periods of resentment. Not long, but real.
I understand everything Adam32 went through and did, and I understand his reasoning. I just wish he had been a little more prescient. I would love to have had the time he tried so hard to shed. We come at this picture from such opposite corners, I don’t know if we could find common ground.
The quote at the top of this post says that the author is stitched by the thread of absence, threaded through the needle of himself. I’m equally stitched by the thread of absence, but the needle is isn’t me, it’s Adam32. The scars I carry from the puncture wounds of his stitching, pressed through my flesh by way of his short-sightedness, I will carry the rest of my life.
I don’t hate him. I understand him. But I don’t know how well I could tolerate him. I would want to grab him and shake him. I’d slap him hard across his cherubic cheek and say, “I know this is hard, but I need for you to pull your head clean out of your ass and look at the long game here. I need you to not take this for granted.”
I also know he wouldn’t listen. He’d take it to heart, but he ultimately wouldn’t listen. And I can’t change that.
The absence of Dad is the thread, and Adam32 is the needle, however, maybe I can look at this a different way. A thread and needle are used to stitch up a larger wound. Perhaps the larger wound was my immaturity. Maybe the last painful throes of an evolution partly delayed by the unrelenting ravages of cancer. Maybe I should be glad I have those scars.
Maybe, just maybe, I’d react in an altogether different way to Adam32.
Oh, I’d still slap him in the chops, and I’d shake him angrily because he needs it. But maybe I’d also grab him and hold him. Maybe I’d tell him this fucking sucks all the way around. Maybe I’d give him permission to cry into my shoulder the way he cried the last time he saw Dad alive and his dad said in an almost unintelligible voice, “I hate this.” And he answered back, “I do too.” Maybe I’d tell him I forgive him for the time he wasted, but I’d love to have taken a day or two off his hands. I don’t know if we would have ultimately been friends, but I think we would have taken each other’s calls.
Or at least called back reasonably soon after having screened one another to voicemail.
Why haven’t I been putting quotes on pictures of Dad since day 01? See? I’m really flying by the seat of my pants here. I’ll probably go George Lucas the others though, and insert photos when all of this is done. Side note: It’s bugging the living Hell out of me that there’s a typo in the above photo, but I’m racing the clock to start crying, so I gotta just let it go. I’ll probably fix that later too.
And like that, with this post I’m half way done. Its moved so quickly, and yet taken its toll. I’m far more introspective than my girlfriend would prefer right now, as she’s getting her bits and pieces together for her brother’s upcoming wedding. She could use more support I think, and I try to give it to her, but I’m also quite consumed with sorting out the questions put forward in part 1. But she’s also very supportive of me in this endeavor, and that’s something I’ll never take for granted. But still, I feel like a poor boyfriend.
I don’t think I can answer if my father, Adam42 and Adam32 would be friends without first breaking down how they make and treat friends, internally and externally. I’ve been there for the two Adams, but I’ll have to extrapolate for my father, based upon what I saw of him in his life.
I can’t tell you much about Dad’s friendships. I know I didn’t really ever see him “hanging out” with friends once I was in my teens. Maybe once a month with a work friend, and he only had a couple of those. He spent most of his non-work time sitting at our dining room table, listening to the radio louder than a person should reasonably be comfortable with while drinking a suitcase of beer and smoking a pack of cigarettes.
That wasn’t as true when I was just a boy. I only remember Dad out with a handful of friends on occasion, but rare ones. Usually it was a couple or two that we had known from Camp Fire. Except on Sundays. Every Sunday morning during the pre-dawn our social time would begin. The whole nuclear family; Dad, mom, my older sister, and myself would cram into mom’s 1978 white Volvo station wagon and head the 1/2 mile from our house to the Dana Point Harbor, also known as “baby beach” by the locals. Once there, as the sun was just cresting over the horizon, he’d set up beach chairs for he and my mother, lay out beach towels and tarps to cover a square of rarified beach real estate equal to the size of a bachelor apartment, sit down with a big mug of coffee with my mother, and wait for the friends to come.
And come they would. A gaggle. Maybe, I don’t really know how much a gaggle is, but dammit it seems like a whole bunch without being a stampede. A good 10 couples, some with kids, some without, would start populating the beach shortly after we arrived and staked claim, would drop their chair/towels/coolers down in Dad’s wall-less beach front studio apartment and start gabbing happily. And there we all would stay, us kids playing in the water, while the adults sat on the beach, drank some beer and chatted the day away while tanning.
And I do literally mean “chatted the day away,” we wouldn’t pack up to go home until the sun was hanging threateningly low in the sky. This is something we did every Sunday. For years. I can’t tell you how many, because the first film evidence of my life is as an infant on that beach. I can’t tell you when it ended, because it was so much of my life, but I’d wager around 10.
There were several conversations going on in the community, but always at the center in his collapsible, aluminum-tubed throne (which always seemed to reach just a little taller than everyone else’s) sat my mother and father. Dad could deftly throw comments in to several conversations, sling a half-honest insult one direction, then shift his head a little and offer advice another direction, while tracking a third conversation with his enormous radar-dish ears.
That was Dad, charming as hell. Why don’t I remember seeing him with more people?
I look at his old photos and I see him with groups of people, often being the one sticking out for doing something just a little different from the rest.
By the way, that might as well be a picture of my legs. Throw a 4 inch scar across the left knee and that’s me. Weird.
I think, looking at the places where Dad had the most friends; work, the beach apartment he set up every Sunday, Camp Fire, were all places with structure. From that I’m making the leap to think that my Dad maybe did better with “structured fun.” A place with a set of rules, either declared or implied, with a structured activity and a set in/out time was possibly a comfort to my dad. I don’t know. I could be wrong. Mom, if you read this, will you let me know your thoughts on this? Who am I kidding? Mom doesn’t internet. If someone who knows Mom reads this, can you ask her to read this and let me know her thoughts? Screw it, I’ll call her tomorrow.
As he got older, he withdrew more. Once he got sick the first time, he withdrew even more than that. He reconnected with a number of his old friends very late in life, but so much time was lost at that point, and he could do so little. When we crossed the terminator from father/son to father/adult child caretaker he confessed to me on more than one occasion that he was terrified of dying and having no one show up to his funeral.
But what some people knew and I suspect many did not, is that Dad would drop everything when a friend, even one he hadn’t seen in a long time, called and needed something serious. There wasn’t a question. You were always a friend. And that’s what you do for friends.
After he died, I swore that sort of detachment from friends he seemed to carry was something I would never do.
I’ve started several sentences and deleted them here, because I simply didn’t know what the right next thing was.
And then I realized why I couldn’t find the next beat. I’ve been describing myself. I thrive in social situations with structure. High school I would bounce from one group to another, making jokes, throwing casual and half-true insults at people, while listening to what was happening in another social group. I was welcome everywhere. Granted, I didn’t know that then. I felt I was overstaying my welcome, so I’d jump in, be charming, and then either leave or hang back a while.
I have a great number of friends within the Lindy Hop community. But even there still 20+ years after high school, I’m still eager to bounce from one group to another to avoid overstaying my welcome.
At my father’s funeral, a handful of friends showed up. I didn’t expect them. I didn’t even know they knew where the funeral was. They surprised the hell out of me that it would be of value to them to show up to a funeral for a man they never met. They’ll never understand how much seeing them meant to me. I doubt they know that if they ever called and said they needed something, I wouldn’t ask questions, I’d just go. When I asked in yesterday’s post for people to please give me feedback, one person answered. But that person is a friend. A good friend. Her opinion counts for 100,000. On the post before, completely unsolicited, another friend told me to keep posting. That was enough to make this worthwhile as anything other than a personal journal.
But I rarely see any of them.
Hell, Hemstead had a stroke in Washington and I dropped what I was doing. I flew back a couple of months later to help pack up his house to move to Minnesota. But I’ve not been there simply to be social. And this is one of my closest friends. The friend who responded without solicitation I’ve not seen in I don’t know when, and the friend who is the only person to respond when I posted yesterday I see once a year, twice if we’re lucky. And it’s always her down here, never me up there. I’ve never seen their house. Or the house before it. And it’s not for a lack of love. I would walk through literal Hell with these people, but I’m afraid of overstaying my welcome every time I see them.
I pulled back a lot from friends after Dad died, and I focused on my career. I was 10 years behind where I should be, and I needed to move forward with it. I didn’t have the security blanket of a father to help me out if I got in dutch and couldn’t find freelance work. But also, I lost the person I had focused the most attention on for 13 years, and I switched that focus to work.
There are so many friends I rarely speak to that probably don’t know the lengths I’d go through with an earnest phone call needing help.
I don’t know if Dad went through this, but the evidence points that way. Maybe I’m projecting myself onto some anecdotal evidence of characteristic similarities, it’s hard to say alone in a dark room at the bottom of a Maker’s Mark (don’t get haughty on me).
Maybe I’m becoming the person I promised myself I would never let myself be when I saw it reflected in Dad’s experiences. Maybe I’m broken. I don’t know. But I know I can’t go on anymore tonight. I have some thinking to do.
“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” – Possibly Joan of Arc (according once again to Brainyquote.com)
Okay let me start out by saying it’s really frustrating that in the “information age” it is so hard to find corroborating proof for an attributed online quote. We’re doing something seriously wrong as a society.
Day 4. When I started this endeavor I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fill 10 days. Now I feel I’ve only scratched the surface and I’m starting to run out of time. I hope I do us justice, Dad. My plan of waiting until the very last possible second to write a loving 10 part essay is backfiring. It’s so difficult to release these as first drafts, without even a cursory spelling pass. But it’s the road I’ve built for myself, so here we go. EDITORIAL NOTE: I’ve had two glasses of wine at this point, and I was a solid whiskey in when writing last night’s entry, they’re gonna be a little more stream of consciousness.
This was a picture I took of Dad on a weekend he came up to visit me at my old apartment. He’s wearing scrubs because he was going through treatment for his third bout of cancer and had a pretty frustrating rash over his torso. He’s got stage 2 Parkinson’s disease at this point, as well as C.O.P.D. and a touch of emphysema. As soon as we took this photo he put a cannula back in in his nose that fed him oxygen from a tank he dragged behind him 24 hours a day. He’s not drinking wine, he’s drinking cranberry juice. And he’s not even drinking that, but we’ll get to that later.
I had mentioned I wanted to expand upon the idea of friendship in part 3. I’m pushing that until later because something came to me today while I was running errands that I feel should pre-empt that discussion. Why is this so important to do for me? Everyone loses their parents at some point. I’ve got friends who have lost both. Why is this so special or greater than anyone else’s?
It’s not. Loss is loss. It’s tragic and it hurts and it scars the fragile tissue of our emotions. Personally, I felt compelled to blog about my relationship with Dad for one reason alone; when I was 18 I made a promise to help him through his first cancer. That promise didn’t end until the day he died, a couple of years after he was diagnosed with his third cancer when I was Adam32. The whole of my twenties, and by extension the whole of the early formative years of my adulthood, were consumed with my father and his health.
I think I should say a few things about those years, because they will affect two essays; the upcoming essay on friendships and the essay about Adam32.
The years of Dad’s various advancing illnesses, surgeries, and recoveries are, in retrospect, the most brilliant and hated years of my life. I walked a line between untethered, carefree child and dispassionate on-call caregiver. I’ve never laughed as hard, or cried as furiously. I’ve never felt so powerful, and so worthless. There’s so much of those years I lived as fully as I could, and wasted more than seems possible. I met some of my greatest friends during this time, and we’ll get into them in the next essay. I wouldn’t change any of those years, but I desperately wish I had the ability to go back there and live them very differently than I did.
I am who I am by the forceful will of an abrupt chasm born of those vicissitudes.
If given the chance to change those years, I honestly don’t know how I would answer. The whole experience reminds me of a line from Wargames. At the end of the film, as Joshua has played himself in tic-tac-toe an uncountable number of times, he’s learned that nuclear war can’t be won. The friendly, vaguely british voice of the Joshua echoed throughout Crystal Palace and said, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” Maybe this experiment is my version of being forced to play tic-tac-toe against myself until I learn it is un-winnable to try. I wonder if I will learn that by the end of this the only way to find a solution to this is to never look for one.
You know what? It’s not until this moment I’ve thought of the line that follows the quote above. It’s Joshua’s last line in the movie, “How about a nice game of chess?” Joshua offers it as an alternative to the un-winnable game of Global Thermonuclear War. Until his Parkinson’s became too strong a tell, Dad and I used to love to play chess.
*You don’t really have to watch past the first two lines of dialogue if you clicked the link. I have no idea how to set a custom out point on youtube hyperlinks.
I don’t have much more in me right now, this essay has been a bit more emotionally taxing than I had anticipated. But I wanted to leave you with a wider picture of the years Dad and I spent in this chaotic dance. Let’s go back to that day Dad came up to stay with me and we took the picture presented at the head of this essay. Do you remember that I said he wasn’t really drinking the cranberry juice?
That picture happened because I told my father I didn’t have enough pictures of him, and I wanted some. He didn’t like having his photo taken since he got Parkinson’s disease. Then he saw something propped up in the corner of the apartment. He said, “I’ll take a picture with THAT!”
I don’t know if he thought I would give up, or if he wanted to see what would happen next. I like to hope he was serious, and he was challenging me. But whatever the reason, I immediately said, “Okay,” and then sat him in a chair, propped this thing in front of him, and hustled around the apartment to gather all the things I would want to make this picture awesome. This included a wine glass full of cranberry juice.
Once everything was set, we pulled the cannula out of Dad’s nose and I ran behind the camera to snap a photo of my father that he dared, I conceived, and we fired off without a moment’s hesitation or a word of discussion. Because I get my sense of humor from my father, and I’ll never stop being grateful for that fact.
Okay, friendship tomorrow. My friends, dad’s friends, how I feel we related to them. If you’re still here, thank you. If you are enjoying or getting something out of this, please let me know, I’m becoming self-conscious a hair.
Bon Appetite, Dad.
“You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil MUST be lead.” Stan Laurel (One of Dad’s favorite quotes)
My God the day got away from me. This one will be a bit brief, only because I find myself chasing a clock to midnight. Sorry Dad, you got back burnered a little. But we’ll go into that in a more real sense in a couple of days.
I had mentioned in Day 2’s post that my father would have probably picked on me if we were children at the same time, and that this was something I would discuss further today.
I don’t think Dad picked on me in a real way, I want to clear that up first and foremost, but I do think he had some issues understanding the power of some of the things he said to me. But I do know he would have been mortified to know how long they’ve stuck with me, even though he would have understood.
When I was around 8 years old I remember sitting at our imposing and round dining room table opposite my father, his head encircled in a wreath of cigarette smoke, talking about something. I honestly don’t remember what. But we got talking about how hairy he was. It’s a family trait amongst the fellas, the possibly sweet/possibly murderous eyes, and a healthy amount of body hair.
Okay, not really that bad by a long shot, but more than is the societal norm. The cruel joke in all of this is that Dad was reduced to a horseshoe of hair around the back of his head. He went bald, or at least balding fairly early in his life. I wish I remembered how Dad and I got on the subject of body hair that day, but I don’t. I only remember what he said next. “Well, by the time you’re 40 you’ll be bald and hairy and won’t be able to find a woman who loves you.” And then he laughed.
I did too at the time, but it was more because I didn’t know what else to do. That scared me. Was I going to be some big, hairy monster that would hide like Quasimodo in a tower somewhere so as to not offend the population? It’s a comment that stuck with me.
Sticks with me. I won’t lie, I still fight that sentence in my head.
In high school I physically dreaded P.E. for two reasons: I was pathetic at most sports, and I was terrified I would be put on the “skins” team of a shirts v. skins game. I usually would fake a stomach illness when I found myself on the wrong side of that coin flip, or if I was lucky enough to be in a class with a friend on the other team, I’d convince him to swap. I don’t go to the beach, I don’t swim in pools, and I can’t wear tank tops. I’ve never gone skinny dipping and I’m so uncomfortable in my own skin I can’t do something as simple as hang out in a jacuzzi with friends. I’ll sit on the side, fully clothed, and talk until I feel like I’m just creepy. And then I’ll excuse myself.
Take a look at that photo above again. I KNOW it’s not true. I could side by side the photo with a photo of me and see how different they are. But you know what? That photo is how I feel.
I’m 42 now, two years past Dad’s prophetic, throw away date. How am I doing? Well I’ve never been married. I don’t have any kids. The longest relationship I’ve had in my 42 years is just over 5 years. On the surface it doesn’t look so good. Maybe we should change the perspective some.
I’m not bald. Thinning? Sure. I could build a phase 2 of some tiny, theoretical housing development on the lengthening expanse of my forehead, and there’s a little bit of scalp that pokes through my crown. But I’ve got my hair. Strike one. I’m hairy. Nearly a body double for my old man. Complete with the nice and manly hair on my forearms that has overstayed its welcome and crawled up my triceps, across my shoulders and then cascading down the front and back like black cotton candy. I’m even greying in the chest in the same way he did. You hit that one out of the park. Sure my longest relationship is 5 years, but it’s 5 years AND COUNTING, and she’s amazing. Pretty sure she loves me, too. Sorry pop. Another strike.For a while I thought I had “beaten” him by not fulfilling all his prophecy. And then I started thinking about another story he told me.
When he was in the Air Force, he found himself with some down time on a hot summer day and made his way to the enlisted men’s pool. He was doing laps when an older woman (probably honestly a little older than me, but context is everything) walked in and laid out her book and towel on a chaise near the pool. She asked my father what he was doing there.
He said it was the enlisted men’s pool, and he was an enlisted man.
She said, “go cover up, you’re ruining my appetite.”
He reminded her it was the enlisted men’s pool.
She said, “Not today,” and introduced herself as a general’s wife. It seemed the officer’s pool was being drained and cleaned.
She then ignored my father and summoned some nearby MPs who were escorting her, “Will you boys please take this hairy animal somewhere he belongs and out of my sight?”
He was then escorted by two armed men, out of the pool area he had every right to be in simply because he was too hairy for a general’s wife.
This story was one of the things I would cling to while I was growing up as proof that I was going to be a monster.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, when I had begrudgingly accepted the good, bad and societally unacceptable parts of my physique that I saw the story for what it was: My father was crying on his 8 year old son’s shoulder.
It was everything he was afraid of. It was the mirror he held back on himself. Sure, he was comfortable taking his shirt off at the beach when I was a kid, but it was also the 70’s. Lots of things were hairier back then. But I don’t think he was ever really comfortable in himself.
I look at that photo of Bigfoot again. And I understand it again.
He hadn’t meant to cause the stress for me that he did. He needed someone to commiserate with. Unfortunately he chose someone who wasn’t yet in the same boat. I wish he had told me the story about the pool when I was a teenager. I would have understood it so much better I think. I COULD have commiserated with him. I could have taken power from it. Had I been older, I could have been a good friend to listen. As it stands, I’m a pretty bad friend. It took me until years after his death to understand because I couldn’t see past myself. But our timing was off.
Poor timing was an odd theme in our relationship, up until his death, and now I find it to be a trait I’m carrying with me. I’ll get into that tomorrow, I’m already over my word count and past my due date.
Part 04 will be coming later today.
Goodnight pop. I hope you’re somewhere carefree and happy, shirtless and basking in the sun.
“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” -Otto Von Bismarck (according to GoodReads.com*)
That quote by Bismarck, if it truly is from Bismarck, sums up rather eloquently the position I find myself in trying to reach an intellectual consensus on my thoughts regarding yesterday’s post. While at first I could pass off this notion of 10 days to talk about my relationship with my father on the 10th anniversary of his death as gimmicky, I’m a bit concerned now that I won’t have any answers after so little time.
I find myself standing in a senate of voices, comprised of friends, family, movie characters, characters from literature, philosophers, and of course my father and Adam32. But unlike the half-circle amphitheater of the Roman senate, mine is more like courtroom in Superman. Just a circular, down lit, antiseptic disc of white surrounded on all sides by giant, disembodied holographic heads shouting their cases at me. A din of opinion focused solely on who I am. And at the center, I stand alone in a groovy kinetic sculpture of hula hoops as they hold their mirrors of bias out for me.
I’m still trying to cut through the tide of opinions and make sense of it all. This endeavor is turing out to be less straight-forward than I had hoped. Maybe I need to take things back to an even playing field.
That’s us. Dad and the two Adams. Roughly the same age, dad a little older. But I think I’ve always skewed younger than dad.
We were born 40 years and one day apart. Dad on November 15th, 1933. Me on November 16th, 1973. We both had round faces with half-moon eyes that look sweetly innocent or capable of unspeakable evil depending on your interpretation, a trait we would carry into adulthood. And that’s where the similarities ended. Dad came from a family of siblings deep enough to run a co-ed basketball team with an ample number of subs, while I have but one sister. His family did the whole “Grapes of Wrath” thing out of the Arkansas dustbowl when dad was just a boy, while my mom still lives in the house I was brought home to from the hospital when I was born.
Dad was something of a loud mouth and a punk, I was quiet and shy with aspirations of being a loud mouth punk. Dad alternated between brilliant and dumb as a box of rocks, and would later in life boast about “winning” contests when he was a kid to see who could keep a beam of light from a magnifying glass cooking their skin the longest. He would always go first, and all the other boys would give up immediately after his heroic time. I still remember the look on his face when I told him, “Dad, you burned yourself for the amusement of other children who only pretended to play the game.” He was not pleased.
I alternated between cunning and gullible. I was a quiet instigator, and would come up with schemes that I’d have others do while I watched, but would also fall prey to simple traps. Dad got into scuffles, I reasoned with bullies. I was known to put myself into trash cans up through high school, stare a bully in the eyes and say, “There is no dignity you can take from me that I won’t take from myself first.” I had a lot of mustard and mayonnaise stains on my pants, but I never took a punch and never got robbed.
As he got into his teen years Dad continued to walk what Spinal Tap once defined as “the fine line between stupid and clever. His mother, a diminutive firebrand of a woman named Myrtle, would wield authority over the household of towering teenage boys she found herself up against with the use of a broom handle. My father decided one day when he was 15 that she would have no power without the broom, so he devised a plan to take it. He was being a particularly salty punk, and Myrtle cocked her broomin’ arm back threateningly. Dad used his reach advantage and snatched it from her hand, cocked it back behind him and said, “who has the power now?” My grandmother Myrtle responded by evoking the power of crusty Ozark Cherokee and in a single deft move snatched the broom back from him and began to beat him mercilessly about the head and shoulders with it until he dropped to the ground and apologized. He crossed the line back into clever and never tried to take the broom again.
To juxtapose that, at this same age I was a member of the Latin Club, the Marching Band, and began to wear ties and short sleeves to school because I felt someone should be wearing ties. I lived more for my own oddball style of self-amusement, but followed every rule to the letter.
I don’t think my father would have liked me as a boy. I think I would have either been convincing himself to burn his hand with a magnifying glass, or more likely, he would have been intimidating me into servitude.
I haven’t ever put that together before, that my father would have likely been one of my biggest bullies, but it does speak with some volume as to what I’m going to write about tomorrow.
Perhaps a voice is cutting through the din after all.
But the answers are still lost in cacophony.
I miss you Dad. Thanks for spending the time with me.
*It is strongly against my nature to post a quote that I have not first verified, but time is short.
10 days from now, March 12th, will mark the 10 year anniversary since my father passed away. It’s been looming a bit on the horizon for me, and I wanted to make sure I commemorated it in a way befitting the meandering course my relationship with my father took up until the day he died. And the now 10 years that followed.
I think about those things quite a bit, our relationship up until that overcast Sunday morning he passed away, and the 10 years that have followed. I think on who he was, how he became who he was. I linger on who I was, and how I became who I was. And inevitably I settle into thinking about who I am, and how fundamentally different I am from the 32 year old version of myself who had just lost his father.
I often wonder if 42 year old Adam would have tolerated 32 year old Adam.
As this date has gotten closer I’ve discovered that I increasingly wonder if 32 year old me would have liked the person 42 year old Adam has become, and I wonder if Adam32 would see his father when he talked to Adam42.
And how much would he see?
And in those things he sees, would they be those things he loved about his father, or those things he didn’t? What has Adam42 learned from the experiences of Adam32, and the years since? Did he keep promises to himself to evolve, or is there a genetic predisposition to collapse into some of our father’s less desirable quirks?
And then, most importantly, I think about Dad and wonder what he would think of Adam42? Would THEY have been friendly? Or are they too similar to ever be friends?
As it happens, there’s only 3 people in the entire universe who can answer those questions. Unfortunately, of those 3 people, one is dead and another is ten years removed by a linear perception of time.
So that leaves me, Adam42 left to answer those questions and many more. And what better way to commemorate my father than to try and make sense of those questions. Perhaps an answer can be found. Perhaps not. But I invite you to indulge me in the hunt.
For the next 10 days I’ll post daily on some different aspect of these questions, the life of my father, and in a very real sense his death. I’ll unpack some boxes buried deep in the back attic of my mind and try to answer honestly how the three of us would have felt about each other? Is the nucleus of Adams within the probability cloud of Bob’s electron shell a stable atom, or would it decay into nothingness?
Giddyup, pop. We’ve got some adventuring to do.
Post Script: You’d be proud of me Dad, I waited to start writing this until the VERY last minute, just like I did with your eulogy. So now I gotta scramble every day for the next ten days to meet my own self-imposed deadline. I partly blame your questionable decision to shuffle off this mortal coil during what would turn out to be a very busy season for me. We always were a bit of an uphill battle, weren’t we? I’m excited for this, Dad. I hope I do you proud.
I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with Jim in his therapy facility. I was on the ground in Washington for only 24 hours, but I felt like I experienced a month of life and I managed to do so much more than just visit my dear friend and running mate in the hospital.
I babysat the kids for a few hours, and got to see how much his two year old had grown since I last saw her at a month old. I got to see Jim’s mother, who has held the job of keeping the kids happy and normal while mommy and daddy are away at the hospital; and with an 11 year old, a 5 year old and a 2 year old that is no simple task. I can assure you she has done it beautifully, and done it at the sacrifice of being by her son’s side as much as she would like. None of us who wish Jim well should ever overlook the contributions of those people who are so tirelessly supporting the family.
Two other such people are Casey’s sister and father. They flew in, from Minnesota and California respectively, to help Casey get prepared for Christmas, and just to check in on the family. They took Casey out to do some basic shopping for the family and managed to get 10 large boxes of Christmas decorations put up in just over two hours. They also made a cracking pulled pork, I can’t stress that enough.
I was fortunate enough to stay the night in Jim’s room with he and his wife. She sleeps on an inflatable mattress next to his hospital bed, the place she’s been since he was first hospitalized, and does so with plucky aplomb. She’s adopted the new normal their lives have found with the same forward-looking tenacity of the 13 year old girl I met so many years ago while working together at Camp Frasier in Irvine nearly two decades ago. She’s always had an enviable ability to slog forward through any situation, with the finish line always in sight. I’d call her a strong woman, but she’d beat me senseless for doing so, so I’ll simply call her what I feel she is: a pretty cool chick.
It was about 2 pm when I arrived underneath a thick cover of ash grey clouds that threatened at every moment to open up into a light autumn drizzle, and kept the early afternoon lit with the diffuse light of early evening. The artist in me loved the lighting scheme, just a little melancholy and possibly forbidding, but the prospect of the sun’s resolve to punch through the darkness. As Washington residents, I’m sure it was simply another day for Jim and Casey, but for this Southern Californian it was far more poetic.
Jim’s room is spacious for a single, like a dorm room with one bed and desk set removed. The room is populated with get well cards and Muppets naturally, with the occasional Star Wars action figure donated by his 5 year old son to keep an eye on daddy. There’s a small fridge and a private bathroom, a recliner and a picture window with a nice view that looks over the facility’s courtyard.
Jim’s eyes were alive and smiling, even though he has some temporary facial paralysis on his left side from the stroke. He was sitting in a wheel chair, his left arm resting on an attached tray, across the midline of his body. His children had painted his nails on his affected hand a wonderful shade of Kermit green when he first went in to the hospital, a visual cue to help him remember to engage that side of his body. It had been a couple of weeks and that nail varnish was chipped from wear while Jim idly stroked, poked and prodded his affected hand with his right hand. It had become habit it seemed, partly to keep the nerves in his affected side stimulated, and partly I feel due to the same impulse we all have to casually poke at a limb that’s fallen asleep.
I watched Casey do a bed transfer with Jim while I sipped my coffee feeling a bit useless and noted to myself that for a wee speck of a thing she’s staggeringly powerful. We talked about how he’s been, what his therapists are doing with him, and lamented the food. It was mostly just jibber jabber, three old friends catching up while one of them reclined in bed, unconsciously poking at an uncooperative hand. Then a quick couple of hours later, I was called out to watch the kids back at the house so Casey and her family could have some time together and do some shopping for Christmas, and of course give Jim’s mother some very rare uninterrupted face time with her son.
When I returned from my quick jaunt babysitting and shooed Jim’s mother away to the house for some pulled pork and beets, I got my first alone time with my best friend. We talked about the future a lot. The financial uncertainty, and the options they have, and decisions there are to make. We talked about how amazing the family has been. We talked about Casey getting laid off in the middle of this exercise through the American medical system. And then I asked a question I had been dreading to ask, because I didn’t know how he would answer; “What is the hardest thing about… this?”
It’s a loaded question with so many rightfully selfish answers that would be reasonable, understandable, but hard to spin. Walking, sitting up, picking up something with two hands are just a few examples of possible answers. I was ready for one of them. I wasn’t ready for the answer I got, but in retrospect it was the only one I should have expected from someone like Jim.
“My kids. I miss my kids.”
Jim, as most of you must know, has been the primary caregiver – stay at home dad if you will – for his three children since Chloe was born 11 years ago. He’s spent the last decade wiping noses and bottoms and catching frogs and coloring; while getting a culinary degree, working in wine shops, and learning the intricacies of wine making. He suddenly found himself only seeing his three children in short visits here and there. Without his children, Jim was finding himself without three of his best friends.
A group of well-wishers had donated a new iPod to Jim while he was still in intensive care to replace his old and broken iPod, and not only did it give him his music library for the boring times, it gave him a window to his children through Skype. He lights up around his kids, even on a screen, but it was palpable how much he wanted to be around them in person. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that answer from him; possibly because I don’t have children of my own
It doesn’t easily sleep three who aren’t – special friends – but it is possible.
To be continued later tonight when I get home.
You will never change the faith of another by labeling their faith as stupid, you will only entrench them deeper in their beliefs.
Here’s a thing about me:
I pee a lot when I’m stressed.
I pee a lot when I drink coffee.
I drink a lot of coffee when I’m stressed.
One very bad day, these traits will reach a singularity, my conscious mind will go in stasis, and I’ll become an entity that only exists as an uncontrollable and constant urea vector.
That should be a fun day.