Well, here we are. Day 10. I’m so glad this is over and at the same time I’m sad that once again Dad and I are at “The end.” I’m posting this from Dad’s gravesite right now, at the exact minute of the 10th anniversary of Dad’s death.
It seemed appropriate to let Adam32 wrap this up, since he’s the one who picked the site where Dad is buried, and he delivered Dad’s eulogy. He knew without question what Dad sounded like, and he’s the one who sat in Dad’s apartment with his body, feeling his chest go slowly cold and just touching his face and hands and chest, and marveling at how different he felt without those little imperceptible twitches of living skin.
Here’s the eulogy Adam32 delivered at Dad’s funeral, and Adam42 would deliver today.
I’ve had 14 years to prepare for today. 14 years ago Dad went in for a cancer surgery that he told me he very well might not survive. That was all I knew. I didn’t know what kind of cancer it was, I didn’t know what his prognosis was other than dad telling me it was very rare and thereby less survivable. 14 years and countless surgeries, ailments and ding dong ditches at death’s door later and I can tell you with no uncertainty; 14 years of near misses doesn’t prepare a person for a phone call saying “I think he’s gone.”
I’ve felt I knew my father well. I’ve spent nearly half of my life helping care for him in one capacity or another, and learned all the ins and outs of the way he thought. I could predict dad’s reaction to every situation, and provided him things before he vocalized that he even wanted them. Yeah, I knew dad probably better than any other person on the planet.
And then he died. Tari and I found pictures we’d never seen. I read letters I’d never read, and I’ve heard stories from so many people detailing my father’s life away from me. Before me. This was a man I’d never met. He was full of life and laughter. He was the person everyone unanimously said could be counted on at any hour of the day or night to help a friend out. Lose your job and sitting at a bar at midnight drinking your lonely sorrow into oblivion? Call Bob. Not only would he come buy you a drink and sit until sunrise listening to you vent, but he’d drive you home, put in a good word for you for a new job, and still make it to work himself by seven. These sort of compassions I’ve heard over and over again. Need a ride? Car broken? In jail? Call Bob, he’ll fix it. A man who laughed and smiled and wasn’t crippled with disease or crushing fear.
I knew dad would give anything for Tari or me, but I never got to see my father strong enough for that selflessness to extend to anyone he called “friend.” For me, if I was asked to describe in a single image the visage of my father when I was growing up, the painting would be of a paunchy, bald silhouette slouched back in a sturdy wooden chair shrouded in a dense cloud of dirty orange, nicotine-soaked smoke glowing in the afternoon sun; a half-finished suitcase of beer holstered on the floor beneath his left arm, a half-dozen cans spread across the table, and the nasal, shrieking voice of Tom Leykis thundering loudly enough to drown out any attempt at conversation. That was the dad I knew growing up. His advice ranged from the practical, “be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.” To the seemingly clinically paranoid, “Don’t wear shoes with white on them, because people in LA will stab you at any hour of the day for shoes with white on them.” Dad’s twilight years became a cautionary tale, a game of worst case scenario against the outside world, hermited in a dark condo next to the flood control. A condo that Tari and I spent countless hours trying to convince him SHOULD NOT be redecorated with chocolate brown carpet and burnt orange paint.
But the truth is, that wasn’t my father. Dad was a carefree, slightly thuggish boy, convincing his brother to swallow a life saver on a string so they could yank it back out and repeat ad nauseum. My father was a serviceman, fixing radios and playing practical jokes in the Air Force. He was an ambulance driver, rushing the helpless, and an occasional loaf of bread he’d mistaken for a severed head to the hospital. He was a beautician, full of charisma and charm and really great at an updo. He smiled all the time and made the ladies giggle. He was a garage door repair man, and so good at his job that even twenty years after he retired from the business, we’d still get phone calls asking if dad could come fix their doors. He was a postman, walking or driving the streets of the city he’d called home since the 50’s, and so loved by those people he served with, that today’s congregation is almost as thick with his friends from the post office as it is with family.
When I think about it… I could see who he was, if I had just looked. Every career he’s carried had one thing in common; he helped the helpless, even if it was in a small way. He kept pilots communicating, he carried the weak to help, he made you feel beautiful and special, he made the simple task of parking your car easier and more secure, and he finished off his career doing the same thing he started with, he kept people connected.
Dad’s most tragic sin was the distance he kept from the people he loved. I think everyone here has a story they could tell about dad’s isolationist tendencies. Some moment they’ve bumped up against that thick headed and stubborn wall dad erected around himself. To my sister and I, the dad we came to know these last fifteen years was something of a paradox; at once hungry for affection, and fighting it at every turn. He was so afraid of dying in a convalescent hospital alone that the two months he was in one following his hip surgery I don’t think he got a good moment of rest.
But dad, you didn’t die alone, and you weren’t in a convalescent hospital. You were home, in your bright and sunny apartment, able to keep an eye on the city you’d called home for half a century through windows that ran the whole of the wall and looked over the valley. And the people who made sure that everything you needed was tended to. Willy and Christian, two men of such compassion that they refused to sleep anywhere other than on the floor beside your bed so that you would never be alone and that anything you wanted, you would have immediately.
The Sunday night before he passed away dad had a great night. He was lucid and he could speak well enough for us to understand him. He made jokes and laughed. We listened to Ray Charles and told stories for hours. The man who lived the last 30 years in such fear and trying to figure out how you were going to screw him was gone. I thought he was really loopy from the medication. He was so full of unabashed laughter. But now, after hearing this last week of stories, I don’t think it was the medication. I think, for that three hours, I got to meet my father for the first time. I will always see those three hours as the last and greatest gift he gave me.
At the end of the night he finally asked for something I think he wanted to ask for his whole life. He he said, “Do you know what would be really great? If someone could just hold me.” So I did. And for about fifteen minutes dad just patted the back of my head and cried softly until he fell asleep. Dad passed away on a Sunday morning. After the divorce, Sundays were the days that Dad, Tari and I would do something together. He’d always have us call him at 8 in the morning to make the plan for the day. Dad passed away at 8:15. We would usually meet at 11 to do…. whatever our plan was, almost without fail. The mortician arrived for dad at 10:50. Dad had one last Sunday adventure for me. He left us at at time when he wasn’t alone, but wasn’t surrounded by his family or the people who had come to care for him, it was the only way he could protect us.
So what have I learned from the lessons of my father’s life and his death? Well, I don’t think dad’s done teaching me, but so far I think I’ve learned as much from dad’s mistakes and shortcomings as I have from his strengths and soul. Here’s what I’ve learned, I hope I got them right
• Live life without fear. Fear steals your life quicker than any death.
• Love without compunction
• Experience everything you can in life.
• Tell all your stories, or better yet, write them all down. The narrative of you is a book someone will want to read later on.
• Listen to all your parent’s stories, no matter how many times they’ve told them or how bored with them you might be.
• Always be available for a friend, the best things to be remembered for are being that dependable rock of a person and being a great listener.
• Laugh unabashedly. Laugh at everything. No matter how sad a situation is, there’s something funny in it. Find that funny, it’s so much better than being sad.
• And perhaps most importantly, be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.”
I miss you too, Dad. And I love you too. Happy Anniversary. Today I’m going to play extreme croquet with the guys who came to your funeral, and then I’m going to my very first quinceanera. And then I’ll be having a really cheap beer and a cigar with you in the back yard. We’ll watch a little Laurel & Hardy, and we’ll listen to some Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. And then, before I go to bed, I’ll finish up with perhaps the most trite and overplayed father/son song in history: Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle.”
Around day 03 I was talking with my girlfriend about the experience of this endeavor, and I mentioned in passing something that was bothering me a little, and now bothers me a little more and more every day I write these posts. My memories of Dad are slipping.
I’ve talked with my mom since starting this and she’s offered me some insight from her perspective. And that’s one of the great things about the community of family, we can share stories and perspectives and keep our memories honest. With how reclusive my father got in his life, it rarifies the number of people who can offer those insights, so I’m seeing more and more value to this series as a way to keep my memories of right now honest. But there’s something worse than that.
I’ve looked at photos of Dad while I’ve been researching this, and I don’t remember him looking the way he did. Usually they are closer to end of life photos, where his appearance changed a lot, and quite quickly, but it still took me back a few steps to see photos of my father that looked foreign to me. I’m glad I have these photos, so I can keep my memories of what Dad looked like honest. But there’s something worse than that.
I’m beginning to forget what Dad sounded like. Well, let me be more specific; I have his voice very clearly in my head. I could pick it out of a crowd of a thousand people. But there is no way to know if my memory of my father’s voice is accurate or not. Dad’s voice as I remember it could be only a piece of what he sounds like, with the rest filled in by some generic, catch-all male voice, like one of six preset character voices in a video game. The scary thing is a voice can be discussed amongst people, but the nuances of it that make it real are specific to the listener and impossible to describe.
I have lots of 8mm film of him, but that has no sound. I’ve got precious little videotape of him (he died before the tapeless formats became the norm), and of that videotape, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a camera to play them.
I know that somewhere in my garage, on either an 8mm or hi-8 tape is at least 2-3 seconds of my father’s voice. And that might be it. There might be some of his voice on the originals from my sister’s wedding, but I don’t have those anymore, I gave them to the couple. I don’t know if they have them. I’ll need to ask. But this is the thing that is most terrifying to me, that I’ll lose what Dad really sounded like forever.
So please, if you have footage of your parents and grandparents, capture it digitally. Save it on a durable drive. You’ll want it someday. Some day you’ll be as thirsty for the sound of someone’s voice that you’ll drink even a syllable over and over again.
And for the love of all that’s holy, if your children or grandchildren want to videotape you, don’t tell them no. Don’t get self-conscious that you have wrinkles, or the twitch of Parkinson’s disease, or less hair than you used to have. The gift of you being you in that moment is something that they will treasure far after you’ve passed on and have no more ego to defend.
I hope I find even a sentence of Dad’s voice.
P.S. This is the photo of Dad I mentioned earlier that gave me pause.
Until tonight I knew that lyric as a Ray Charles song. It’s a song Dad would listen to a lot. He’d listen to Ray Charles a lot, not just this song. Ray, Mahalia Jackson, Ben Webster, Louis Armstrong, are you sensing a theme? He loved Frank Sinatra, hated Dean Martin, had an appropriate 1960’s socially acceptable racism in his genuine sense of love for Sammy Davis Jr. But this one song has stuck with me after his death and typifying how I feel Dad thought about his life.
The photo above is from my sister’s wedding. Mom and Dad were 10 years divorced at this point, and this day was only the third day since they separated that they were seeing each other without the presence of a lawyer. It was a wonderful day for us all, and one that we had honestly not thought would ever come.
But that was my sister and I underestimating our mother. It’s a mistake we didn’t often make after the wedding. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post about Mom, for gad sake, go back and read it. Share it. Click the link in it. Share THAT. The woman is a superhero.
I didn’t know what to write about tonight. My girlfriend had a lot of wonderful suggestions, she said to talk about what he would have thought about today, things that make me think of Dad, or things we liked that we both could have shared in. I liked all those ideas, but it was what she said after that I stuck with, “Don’t worry about it, something will hit you.”
And something did.
To start, I answered one of my questions posed in the very first post in this series. Sadly, I already knew the answer. It was obvious, I just had never thought through it before. Would Dad and Adam32 have been friends?
In hindsight, it’s a stupid question to ask. They were, of course, beyond friends. Adam32 is the person my father trusted with his power of attorney. He was the person my father asked the opinions of regarding decisions as serious as to whether or not he should go on hospice or not. He trusted Adam32 with his life, and by extension his legacy. That the question had to be asked shows how far removed from that time Adam42 really finds himself.
Now that I think about it, we’ve really answered the question about whether Adam32 and Adam42 would be friends back on day 06. So that leaves one thing: if Dad and I knew each other today, would we be friends? That’s a tough one.
I can tell you what I can pretty honestly say about what he’d like. He’d be interested in my job. He’d LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE my girlfriend to a point I should be slightly worried. He’d hate popular music, he thought music in the 90’s was, “caterwauling noise,” he’d probably not take to Fun, Rhianna, or Kanye. He’d probably like the popular music return to some gypsy jazz roots, but he’d say that hipsters, “just don’t get it,” and are, “half-assing life.”
He’d wonder why anyone would pay two dollars and forty cents for a cup of black coffee just because it had the word “organic” in front of it, and as much as he’d really love the proliferation of microbreweries, he’d laugh at anyone paying more than a dollar-fifty or a beer. My father was enormously frugal, and when he was alive, he lived his time in an often shocked time-warp.
He once bought a bag of socks for ninety-nine cents. Not a pair of socks, but a BAG. A goddamned BAG OF SOCKS for ninety-nine cents. If you’re younger you’re probably assuming that’s a normal price. Trust me, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
Dadn’t thought on the whole matter was, “What could be wrong with ninety-nine cent socks?” The line has become a joke between my sister and I that continues today.
What could be wrong with ninety-nine cent socks? Turns out the answer is, “a lot.” No two were the same size. One of them was, as my father put it at the time, “fits like it was cut for a German Shepherd’s foot,” while another was, “designed with gorillas in mind.”
His grandchildren would have much thicker skins if Dad was alive. The salt he peppered his jokes with became increasingly personal as he aged, I can’t imagine how he’d be now.
He’d be disappointed that I worked so much, but happy I had a job. He’d have spent at least 10 days at my office by now, sitting bored behind me asking, “is this really what you do?” Then I’d show him that I knew how to composite his eyes to be smoldering white-hot orbs and make his Parkinson’s-wracked fingers shoot lightning and he’d be pretty okay with it.
He’d be glad I lost weight, but he’d be irritated I was so weak. He repaired garage doors for years, and had giant Popeye forearms my entire childhood. That weakened when he became a postal carrier, but he was still out walking a route for a full day 5 days a week. The only thing that slowed him down was the cancer and Parkinson’s.
He’d be impressed I have a work ethic. He’d then complain about hipsters and milennials and misquote something he’d seen on daytime television about how they are lazy and self-oriented.
He’d love that I was swing dancing again. He’d make me pick him up so he could go watch us swing dance, and listen to the live bands play every week we danced. He’d come hang out in our room for the duration of Camp Hollywood on the balcony of our hotel room and talk to people. He’d probably also make a few admirers of the female variety, he was surprisingly smooth for someone who had no interest in dating after he and my mother separated.
He’d love my girlfriend’s dedication to an early bedtime, call her a “real woman” for drinking her coffee black, and would probably at some point tell me, “it’s about time.”
My sister’s wedding, waiting with Mom and I while my sister gave birth to his first grandchild, and holding that baby were three of his favorite days. He’d be asking the girlfriend and I when we were going to give him a child so he could decide who makes prettier babies.
He’d let me know I was older than he was when he had me. I’d tell him that Mom had me and he’d tell me to go screw off.
He’d have learned to smoke cigars by this point just so he could sit and smoke cigars with me when he came to visit. (and he wasn’t allowed to have cigarettes anyway)
He’d love that drink scotch but think I’m being cheated by the prices I’m willing to pay for a good bottle.
You know what? I think I get it now. It’s a ludicrous question to ask, would my 10 year deceased father and I be friends? You can’t separate who I am without acknowledging that I’m his son. You can’t define who he was, both good and bad, without branding him as my father. If he hadn’t gotten sick he’d be 82 now, and I have no idea who that man would have been. He doesn’t exist in this instance of the universe.
If he hadn’t gotten sick we wouldn’t have shared the relationship we came to have, which was stronger and more evolved than it had ever been in our lives. We would have found our equilibrium as adults sure, but it would have been a lot more dancing around and not as profound.
By the time he died, Dad and I weren’t father and son. We weren’t even brothers. That sick and old man was in every way an extension of me. An extra-physical organ of my own body. Our co-existence was brief but spectacular.
I was wrong. Adam32, Adam42, and our father aren’t an atom. Adam32 doesn’t exist anymore, and Adam42 can’t exist in the same world as his father.
By the time my father met Adam32, they were a bonded pair. They’re not an atom, they’re quantum particles. When Dad died, it was like one of those quantum particles getting caught on the bad side of a black hole’s event horizon. He disappeared forever, and Adam32 screamed off into space to become the Hawking radiation that is Adam42.
As Hawking radiation I won’t last long either, but life is short, isn’t it? Too short. Whether you’re 25, 32, 42, 72, 92, 102, our spin on this unstable little blue rock is awfully short in the scheme of things. As Hawking radiation it’s also my job to make my presence, and by extension the presence of my lost companion particle, well known. That feels about right.
And as a quantum particle, I exist in a number of states simultaneously. That would mean Adam32 still exists in me. It would also mean I’m in some ways my father, and they both only disappear when I try to observe them. They collapse into me as the devil and angel on my shoulders, familiar and yet far away voices in my head.
I think they probably alternate jobs.
I’m okay with this arrangement.
Shit. I’ve got two more days to go.
I’ve always loved that lyric. It was coincidentally the quote I chose for this day a few days ago, but becomes more timely since the passing of George Martin, the longtime producer of The Beatles. Also coincidentally he produced a tribute album several years ago with celebrities singing Beatles’ tunes, and they’re mostly somewhat lackluster, but for this song he had Sean Connery do a dramatic reading. And it was quite powerful for me. It might have something to do with the fact that Dad was often compared to Sean Connery later in life, or perhaps that he is the one and only James Bond and I was raised with his voice in my head.
All these posts have been done in one way basically, I would think of a quote, or get lead to a quote that interested me, and write on that subject completely by the seat of my pants. But as I’ve said, today was different. I had today planned out from the beginning. Or at least I had the bones of today planned out. I’ve been talking a lot about the guy on the left side of that photo, and also quite a bit about the fella writing these posts. But today I knew I wanted to talk about the pretty blonde girl on the right of frame. That’s my mother.
And today is the 10th anniversary of when she was diagnosed as “cancer free.”
That’s right, three days before we lost Dad, we were celebrating that we weren’t going to lose her anytime soon. And that seemed to be Dad’s button on a running joke.
He had a penchant for inadvertently stealing her thunder. She’d get diagnosed with cancer, he’d go into the hospital a couple of days later. She’d finish radiation treatment and he’d get put on hospice. She’d be given a clean bill of health, he’d die immediately after. As my mother and I were sitting with my father’s body in his apartment, waiting for the funeral home to come pick him up she said through some tears, “You couldn’t give me a week, huh Bob?”
I’ve talked a lot about mom, and she wouldn’t want me to rehash the way I have been with Dad, but I urge you to read this to find out more about her.
As it turns out she’s been reading these posts, so I guess I was WAY WRONG when I said she doesn’t internet very well. I found out this morning when she sent me an email talking about Dad and me and my sister. It was beautiful and heart-wrenching. I’d love to share it, but it’s not mine to share and would require too many annotations to make sense. But I don’t have the words to compete with what she wrote this morning. And I’m not going to try to.
She’s an amazing woman, and I’m damned lucky to have her in my life. So PLEASE, click on the link posted above and honor her on this day. Share it. Celebrate those that not only lived, but who do so with grace and style. If you know her, drop her a line of congratulations. She’ll probably be mad at me later for embarrassing her, but suck it, ma. I love you and I’m so damned happy you are around.
As for you Dad, I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Today’s about Mom. You owe her that and a thousand percent more, so shut your trap about it.
Besides, you’ll get to steal her thunder again tomorrow.
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.