What he missed…

Dad died in April, 2002.  Or maybe it was 2001?  No, definitely 2002 because i remember talking with him about the attacks on September 11th.   It does require thought now to pin down the dates because i have started to lose lock on those sorts of details.  i don’t think it means i’ve stopped missing him, just that it was a pretty long time ago – and maybe my memory is starting to go.

The latest family scuffle got me thinking about all of the things that Dad didn’t get to see because he was the first one to check out of the Trailer Park.

– LC, my niece DQ’s first husband disappearing with half his gun collection after leaving a rather threatening note.  Dad also missed the arrest, trial and four years of jail time that LC served for the crime that triggered his sudden departure.  That was a good bit of trailer park drama.  At the time of Dad’s death, he considered LC as his son, and greatly appreciated how hard he worked to take care of the house for him and Mom.

– My divorce in 2006.  At the time of Dad’s death, EJR (my ex) had moved to our vacation place, had started his own consulting business, and only came home when i was scheduled to travel – but we were still married.  Dad liked EJR from the first time i brought him home.  i was 19, EJR was 26.  We were visiting so i could tell my parents that i was moving in with EJR, and that i would no longer need (or accept) financial support from them for my schooling.  When Dad died, he and i were the only two members of our family who had not been divorced*.  Ooops.

– Mom’s bypass surgery.  Other than a brief hospitalization for pneumonia (while Dad was going through chemo), Mom had generally had no health problems until after he died.  Which is pretty amazing considering her diet of processed food, gravy, salt, potato chips and ice cream.

– Grandchildren graduating from high school.  My daughter graduated in 2004.  Despite the fact that there are four older grandchildren (DQ, her step-sister JS, and the two oldest daughters of my brother), none of them had actually managed to attend a high school commencement ceremony.  All of them eventually completed high school, through either correspondence or equivalency degree.  Mom went to The Girl’s ceremony, though.  And when The Boy graduated in 2007?  The only reason he participated in the ceremony was for Mom. 

– The least-athletic child he had completing a half-marathon.  That’d be me.  My feet are still pissed off about that…

– My sister, T’s, selection as Dean of the Graduate School at her university.  As much as Dad valued education?  i think he’d have been proud.  Mom and the rest of the family don’t know enough about academia to appreciate the achievement.

– The Girl (aka “Danger Monkey) and her world travels.  She started with her ‘sailing around the world’ adventure in 2007, followed by a stint in Morocco in 2008 and her semester in Beirut, Lebanon last year.  He’d have enjoyed her travel tales.

– DQ’s “wild phase” and subsequent marriage to an 18 year old, BJ.  DQ was in her early 30’s at the time.  Before BJ, she dated a 300 pound high school senior who only stopped beating DQ up when Mom intervened.  But the marriage to BJ has been ok.  So far.  He’s a good human being, just has bad taste in women**.

– My sister, S, dealing with a pesky breast cancer nugget.  Oh, yeah.  Me, too a few years later. 

– After 3 packs a day for over 60 years, Mom quit smoking a month before bypass surgery in 2008.  Dad quit cold-turkey shortly after the U.S. Surgeon General changed the warning on cigarette packages from “Smoking may be hazardous to your health” to “Smoking is hazardous to your health” – some time in the 1970’s.  He never complained about Mom’s smoking, though.  He’d have been happy that she quit. 

There’s more.  More than i can cough up while sitting at my gate at the airport, waiting to catch another flight.  Sure.  There were some good things.  Things he’d have enjoyed.  Moments of fun.  i certainly would have appreciated his counsel over the last few years.  

But i don’t know…  The more i think about it, maybe he checked out at a pretty good time…

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* Even my lesbitarian sister had a short ‘starter-marriage’.  She married a Palestinian taxi driver she met in San Francisco after knowing him about 3 months.  Somewhere around the height of the first Gulf War.

** i say the same thing about my ex-husband.

Less is more…

Dad wasn’t around much when we were growing up, yet he managed to have a tremendous influence on me.  Mom was the logistical foundation for my childhood, but had far less influence on the person i am today…

On a typical day, we’d have an hour with him – at most.  Early mornings were chaos.  Six of us in a small, three bedroom house, with one bathroom.  Four children attempting to get ready for school, and every one of us jockeying to get to the toilet before Dad went in for his morning constitutional.

There was no ventilation.  As the youngest?  Guess who often got the short straw.  This is the closest i came to child abuse…

Forty five minutes of that hour was spent at dinner, which was a raucous multi-party shouted conversation, held amidst food being passed, thrown, and snuck under the table to the dog when Mom wasn’t looking.  Dinner was more about words than food*.

That was when he ‘held court’ with us.  Some nights he clearly just wanted to decompress from his work day, but others?  He’d sit down and bait us with a conversation starter – “Is there life after high school?” directed at my elder siblings, or “Why is MAD Magazine** so funny?” directed at the lot of us…

After dinner, he’d wander off to his bedroom with the evening newspaper.  Listening to a ball game, or talk radio, he’d pretty much stay there most nights.  Summer evenings would find him outside, doing yard work, or reading a book in his redwood chair… 

During my junior high years, my sister T and i played softball in a local recreational league.  While Mom handled the carpooling arrangements with the other Moms to get us to the park on time, Dad never missed a game.  Showing up, watching.  Tracking our success and failures on the field.  He’d leave after the games, letting us head off with our friends until it was time for the pick up.  Unobtrusive, but clearly paying attention.

In hindsight, i think it was that “paying attention” part that paid the dividends.  He watched all of us.  Met us where we were developmentally.  Working patiently as my sister, S, learned to play saxophone.  Lending guidance to my brother as he bashed his way through his latest HeathKit electronics project.  Coaching my sister, T, through trigonometry.  Teaching me to use woodworking tools in the garage after i’d sliced a good part of my finger off with a planer…

As he was dying, he retained a deep understanding of where we were developmentally.  The conversations i had with him were completely different than those held with my siblings***.  He was not confused about his purpose in life, and felt he had succeeded.  Rescuing Mom and her two young children from nasty circumstances, he didn’t hesitate to tell me that T and i were ‘bonus’ purpose. 

Musician, philosopher, engineer, teacher… He was truly a renaissance man before his time.  But of all the things he was?  i think he put “Father” at the top of his list.  He was a natural…

It took me a few decades to figure all that out.  The pixels of his life were slow in coming together.  There’s more, and i’m resolved to get it written down.  This blog – for all the faffing about and silliness – is really about him.  He’s the only reason i got out of the trailer park.  And the only reason i keep checking in to look after the residents…

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* Thankful for the words since Mom wasn’t much of a cook.  “Shake and Bake” pork chops with applesauce and corn, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and peas were weekly meals.  She burned dinner rolls so badly once, we went in the yard and played baseball with them after dinner.  She was kinda pissed about that, but they were inedible…

** Dad frequented bookstores on the weekends, and once a month brought home the latest MAD Magazine, which we fought over like rabid dogs.   i later found out it was a deliberate attempt to teach us the joy of satire, and train us to put popular media in its proper place…  My ex-husband and i later passed this along to our children, via weekly family time watching The Simpson’s…

***  He told me that i was the only one who would listen as he talked about death.  He was ready for it, they weren’t.