All morning I have been trying to figure out what I should post here for my birthday. It’s an odd numbered birthday–47–not cool like 21, 30, 45 or 50. But, good to actually be having a birthday. The day before my birthday during my senior year in college I had my interview at the first place I did broadcast news. And generally speaking, this day of the year is truly a spring day, not too hot, not too cold. Not so much this year. Those were the notes I was noodling around with this AM, trying to figure out what to write for you.
I took a break, replying to birthday wishes on Facebook, and tripped over this tribute I wrote to my Dad there, a few weeks after he died at age 66–just 19 years older than me now. I considered how quickly time goes by, I have a lot to do, a lot of life to live yet.
Seems fitting to post this, because without my Dad, there would be no me. This piece also says a lot about life, love and what really makes a family. Since I wrote this, my brother’s kids have grown up and they have added one more amazing child to this world. My mom and I just recently decided to sell my Dad’s cars as time has ravaged them badly and it is time to move on. But the core of this is still true, and reading it this AM, it all seems like just yesterday.
But it is today, my birthday, and my gift to myself, and to all of you is to post this tribute from 2011. Read, enjoy, share, repeat.
It’s like wisdom teeth
I’m amazed at people who think they know what I feel or don’t feel because of my father’s death. They saw the relationship from the outside, in the heat of the moment, through their own lens. One of my frustrations with my Dad was that he kept so much who he truly was or truly could be, held up inside. He felt he couldn’t or shouldnt express it and he held it down. When it is all said and done, I am more like that than not, much to my surprise. So for my own heart and for those who think they know mine, I decided to write this.
While there are no 100% typical relatonships, there are certain categories. I had one of the typical father son relationships with my Dad who died two weeks ago as of early early Tuesday AM. There is the “my Dad is my best friend” or “I desparately want my Dad to be my best friend” or ” People say we are oil and water that can’t mix, but in truth, we are just too alike to fit in the same place for too long”. While people think my father and I were 100% the last category, in truth, we were, at times, each category. The saddest thing for me, today, right now, is that we are the only two people who knew that.
The happiest years of my life were our years in Bremerton Washington. The sub, if I remember right, was in dry dock, maybe not. But my Dad was home during those years, not off somewhere, making my mother sad and making me miss him. Our house was happy little house, filled with people and parties. My Dad’s Navy buddies were playmates more than other adults. I was the age of Shelly’s JJ in those days, and I remember them so well. I thought of those days this weekend when JJ was tearing around my Mother’s house with the rest of the kids and a group of happy adults.
Not too long after, we headed back to my birthplace, our home port of San Diego. Things changed then, my father was gone more, my mom was unhappy and my father had changed. Despite the changes, I had good memories. Of hanging out in the garage while my father and “Uncle Vic” worked on the latest boat/car project of the moment. Of sitting on my father’s lap driving the Opel Kadette on a road bed under construction. My father gave me a state of the art (back then) cassette recorder, sony, with a leather carrying case. Though he never seemed to “get it” in my later years, he does seem to be the one who started my facination with all things recordable.
People tell me that during those years I actually “walked” to my father for the first time, I don’t know why I don’t remember that. I really wish I did. I am not sure why my memory cheats me there, I’m just not.
The years right after the Navy were the roughest for me. I prayed and prayed, wished and hoped for him to be home more, all I ever wanted, but he was so frustrated and restless. There were still good times. He worked as a physical plant supervisor for a company that owned the amusement park in San Diego, among other cool things. We had a very informal “take your son to work” day back in those days. Memory.
My Dad always seemed to be pushing me to be older than I thought I was back in those days. I look back on some of the amazing things he build/did for me, about 5 years too early. I have wept for the museum grade traiin layout he built for me that, TODAY, I would probably build a home around. Back then it was fun for awhile but didn’t really make sense to me. I was just as content with the train we put around the Christmas Tree in those days. It frustrated him, so there wasn’t an opportunity then to say “its cool, just put it away for awhile” but he sold it.
Then there were just hard years during our struggles with the hand and the life we were dealt. In 2002, my father started to really wrap his brain around his stuff. On his way home from his counseling appoinments, he would stop at my house and talk over a cup of coffee that sometimes would last the whole afternoon. Sometimes it would frustrate me, mostly, I was in shock and happy he would stop by.
Not long after that, we had another bad run of things. Mostly fueled by our views of the world and our approach to our lives and health. As a child he would torment me if I wasn’t working hard enough to take care of myself, and yet, he neglected himself beyond comprehension. He used to say, ” Excuses are like assholes, everybody has one and they all stink”. That was his justification for so many things, but, later in his life he was all excuses. Or so it seemed.
That is not to say there were no good times.
Just as often as my father was ahead of his time with me, he was behind the times. As a kid in the 70′s, I wanted a Lava lamp, I thought they were cool. My uncle Vic had one or two even. Nearly 30 years later I got one, and much to my Mother’s surprise, I loved it. It sits on my bedside table now. What I have never admitted publicly until this moment is that, when I am sad, or scared or worried, like when my Dad would be deployed as a kid, I turn that light on. I feel safer, I feel protected.
The other thing I wanted from those days was a little brother. Oddly enough, some 30 ish or so years later, my father brought one of those home too. He followed Dad home from Fort Drum one day and, basically, hasn’t left our family since. Last year, Derrick and Kim were married at our family home, and later, they had a little boy, Kaisyn. From the moment he was born he touch a part of my father that all of us, including him, I suspect, thought was gone. My father spent the last 10 months of his life being a grandpa.
I have spent more time with Derrick in the last two weeks than all the other years combined, I think. In that time, I realize that Derrick and I are truly brothers because, we share the best of who my Dad was, just as sons tend to do. My childhood wish was for a baby brother of my own, my adult wish for my father was anohter son who could share in all the good things my father was because I couldn’t. The upside is, Derrick and I, have each other to lean on now, as brothers tend to do.
I have also spent more time in my father’s garage than I have in decades. As Derrick cleans and sorts, and thinks…I am there. Asking questions and spending time that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t do with my Dad in my adult life. I suppose with Derrick and I, there is no pressure, no expectations, no fear. It is our adventure, and, a tribute to our Dad.
As Derrick and I contemplate putting my father’s beloved GT back on the road for me to drive. I know my father is pleased, wherever he is. I can hear him say “you wouldn’t go over to the shop when I was alive” and all the related ball busting that follows, and I would want to ring his neck for not just letting things be okay. But, where he is now, he is pleased. To know that his sons-bio, adopted and grand, will be at that shop putting his beloved little toy back on the road to be driven and admired. And if for some reason, it goes off the tracks, we’ll move on and be just as okay as we are now, probably even better. My father and I couldn’t do that in life, but, in reality, my father set it up for it to happen now. And for that, I love him.
I have no regets where my Dad is concerned, I am content that he is in a better place. I am fairly sure he is shocked that GOD is not a fan of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of his lot. I am sure he is even more shocked that he is welcome at GODs table (if there is such as thiing) and that all of us pray for him to be welcome there. I hope that, in death, my father has the same sense of clarity me as I have of him right now.
A good friend of mine said that my relationship with my Dad is like an itch that is always there, that you really notice when its gone. I think that is too light where Dad was concerned, it is more like wisdom teeth.
They are part of you but people tell you they don’t really fit. You know you will better off without them, but they hurt to get rid of, so you live with the discomfort and the debate, until one day, they just have to go. They aren’t just in one spot so it is process. When they are finally gone, you know it was for the best, but there are holes in your head that ache while they heal, and there are always gaps where they once were that nothing else would, could, or should fill and they will be there for life.