Monday, April 20, 2009




My Dad died Friday. He was 69.

He was at home. He had battled ALS – Lou Gehrig's disease – for the last several years, and had been in hospice for several months.

The last time I saw him was a few months ago. I had brought a camera with me, but when I saw him, realized that using it would be wrong. He deserved better than to be remembered that way.

He knew it was coming. At the last visit, he made a point of showing me a pile of old family photos, and inviting me to take the ones I wanted. I took several from back when he and Mom were still married.

Toward the end, the blog was the major way he kept up with me, since he had lost intelligible speech to the disease. The last time we tried to talk on the phone, his wife had to put me on speaker, and she translated him for me as best she could. This for a man who once had a voice so rich and gentle that he did public service announcements on a local radio station. Until the disease took speech from him, he never really lost the Tennessee accent, despite living almost fifty years in the Northeast.


When I think of him, though, I don't really think of the last thirty years or so. I think of my first ten, when he was still around a lot, and before the tensions grew. I'm older now than he was then, which seems both obvious and inconceivable.

I remember wrestling with him in the front yard once, laughing as I flipped over his back. He seemed impossibly large, though he wasn't. He took my brother and me to see the local minor league teams play. He thought of himself as a gifted photographer, for reasons known only to him, and I remember him posing us for all kinds of ridiculous shots. In the very early years, I have clear memories of him dancing with Mom in the family room to the Fifth Dimension on the record player. I remember hearing the electric typewriter at night from the dining room while I was trying to fall asleep upstairs.

He was once a night owl, and he always snored like a champion, so he frequently fell asleep almost as soon as he sat down. It used to drive Mom nuts. I once pranked him by putting my Batman talking alarm clock behind the easy chair as he slept, and setting it off. I thought I'd be in trouble, but Mom enjoyed it more than I did.

He took me on several ill-fated camping trips with the cub scouts. I'm not sure which of us hated them more. We could make it rain just by camping.


I remember vividly the day they told us they were divorcing. I can describe where everybody sat. It was the summer before I turned 11. I wasn't much older than TB is now. My brother wasn't much older than TG is now. He told me once that he has no memory of them together.


The years after that were harder. I was the latchkey older kid, so I had to watch my brother until Mom got home. They both remarried, her briefly and him permanently. All that change, plus the usual nerd-goes-through-adolescence stuff, made for a bumpy ride. Sometimes I was able to be reasonably decent about it, and sometimes not. We did the 'joint custody' thing, which is tough in the teen years when you'd really rather be with your friends. To this day, I get a little weird sometimes around packing.


Dad meant well, but some things just weren't in him. He could be courtly, and I don't know if I ever heard him raise his voice. But there was a defeatism in him that could drive me to distraction. There's a brilliant scene in the movie Parenthood where Steve Martin imagines his adult son in a clock tower, shooting at a crowd. Steve Martin grabs the megaphone from the cop to try to talk his son down, and the son shoots it out of his hand. Trying to be encouraging, he yells “good shot, son!” That was Dad. He was maddeningly quick to assume the worst, and to accept it. And the whole “understanding the other person's point of view” thing just didn't take, somehow. Some of the blind spots were so ridiculous that it was hard not to assume malice. But it wasn't malice. He was just blind to some things that most of us consider basic, like grandchildren. The abrupt bull-in-a-china-shop cluelessness never seemed to fit with the gentle and courtly manner. He was always nice to whomever happened to be in the room at the time.


Now he's gone, and I'm a father. TB and TG barely knew him. Much of what I try to do as a father is defined, in part, by awareness of what he did. Having seen the 'divorced dad' thing up close, I want no part of it. And while God knows I've got my flaws and my blind spots, defeatism is not one of them. I will not teach my kids to settle. To deal, yes. To settle, no. There's a difference.


Now he's gone. And for all the ways he left me perplexed at some of the things he did, he was my Dad. He did what he was capable of, and some of it was very, very good. He was once the gentle giant who sat with my Mom on the front porch on a warm night, his hand on her back as they watched the sun set. Maybe nobody else remembers seeing that, but I remember.

No matter when or how a parent passes, it's too soon. I'm sorry your relationship with him was uneven, but it sounds like he did the best he could. In the end, isn't that all we can expect?

Someone wise (i.e. I don't remember who) said that we have two chances at a parent/child relationship. I'm sure TB and TG have already gained from the lessons you've learned from your father.
My condolences to you, DD. I lost my father just a month ago. It's not an easy thing.
My condolences, DD. You've written quite a nice tribute in his memory.
I'm sorry for your loss.
My condolences, DD. I'm sorry for your loss.
Our condolences.

That was a really moving obituary.
What a beautiful tribute. My deepest sympathy to you and your family.
Beautiful remembrance. I'm so sorry for your loss.
I'm sorry for your loss. I was moved by your thoughts of him in all his complexity.
I'm so sorry for your loss, DD. Your tribute to your father was beautiful.

My father died three weeks ago. My condolences to you, too, Dr. Crazy. What a terrible way for us all to begin spring. The best we can do, I think, is just let ourselves be moody and surround ourselves with friends and family . . . and be patient with ourselves in mourning.
I feel for you and your family. I also lost my father to ALS just a few years ago, and the two of us had a tumultuous history as well. Like you, I found comfort in letting go of my expectations for what I believed I needed him to be for me. It helped to see him, his life and our relationship through a lens of humanity and imperfect people doing what they know to do.

My kids are now college age, and it's easy to see now the things I would have done differently when they were small. But things happen you just can't always anticipate. That knowledge also softened me, and has helped me find perspective on our past.

I wish you peace and comfort.
You have my sympathies at this time. Even when we've taken off the rose-coloured glasses, we can't fool ourselves that it doesn't hurt to lose a parent.

Preserve the memories and share them with TB and TG while you make new ones for them to carry on.
I'm so sorry for your loss, DD.
I normally lurk, but I did want to give you my condolences. Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts.
My sympathy for your loss.

Thanks for sharing a bit about your relationship with your father.
I am sorry for the loss of your Dad. You wrote a beautiful entry here.
Thanks for sharing. My sincere condolences to you and your family.
Sincere condolences, DD.

Also to Dr. Crazy & Shimmy.
My sincerest condolences for your great loss. I think the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our parents is to accept them and to accept that they did the best they could given their circumstances.
Sincere condolences to you and your family, DD.
My condolences, DD.
My condolences, and thank you for sharing a thoughtful and nuanced portrait of your father. I lost mine when I was very young, and there's a little part of me that always aches when I hear about other people's fathers.
Beautiful writing and memories to explain (what is for many of us) a complicated relationship with our Dad. Losing a parent at such a premature age, even if you are expecting it at some level is difficult. My condolences to you and your family.
I'm sorry to hear about your dad's passing. I'll be thinking about you and wishing you and your family well today. Take care of each other.
Very sorry for your loss. I am glad to hear of the richness of your memories, too.
Your writing here made me weep for you, and the complex kind of loss involved in the final departure of someone from whom we have long since departed, without ever ceasing to love and be loved by them -- whatever the complications of the relationship.
I'm sad to hear of your loss, and I empathize with your memory of the day they told you about the divorce. I think all children of a certain age range have that memory burned into their minds; I know I do. I hope you find comfort in your family and the good memories you have of your father.
You and your family have my deepest condolences.

It is a LOVELY tribute. Glad your dad had the opportunity to read your blog.
I'm so sorry. This post is beautifully thoughtful and honorable. I wish you peace and comfort.
I'm sorry to hear about your dad but I appreciate the insight into your relationship with him. The recognition that you still "get a little weird around packing" is perfect clarity.
My sympathy for your loss, DD.
My condolences. A beautiful and honest tribute. Thank you for such thoughtful and wise writing.
I'm sorry to read of your loss, but your extended post is a fine expression. My father died more than a decade ago and I still feel the hole. He died while I was in mid-dissertation, long before our daughter arrived. There was a gulf between us but love too and that's the memory that has lasted.
I'm very sorry for your loss.
I too am sorry to learn this.

Thanks for the post. You should have no regrets for sentiments left unsaid.
Thinking of you and your family at this difficult time.
I'm so sorry for your loss. What a touching post.
My condolences, DD. This is a kind and touching tribute.
Please accept my sympathy. You wrote a wonderful tribute to your father.
I'm sorry.
DD - peace to you and your family at this difficult time.
My condolences, DD. You've written a wonderful tribute to your dad and to the goals of fatherhood in general.
The post you wrote was a moving tribute to your father, but the life you live and the man you seem to be is a much more beautiful and lasting tribute to what a good father can do. I'm so very sorry for your loss, my friend, and wish I could ease your family's sorrow.
I'm so sorry for your loss.
Alas. You've written beautifully here about the both of you, and captured so well those memories that really do gleam out of the past, out of the eyes of the child who was there. A link to a poem for you, by way of condolence:
(James Tate's "Lost Pilot," in case it doesn't work)
My condolences to you, DD. I normally lurk, but I was touched by your moving post. I lost my father in September, after a long decline with vascular dementia and Parkinson's. Our relationship was also complex, so I strongly resonated with your moving description.

Wishing you peace and comfort.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I'm so very sorry for your loss.
Thanks for sharing your memories. Sorry for your loss, holmes.
My condolences to you and your family. That was a very moving tribute. It resonates with me.
I'm so sorry for your loss.
You've touched my heart, right there where my own flawed and loving Dad lives on. Thank you for the gift of this extraordinary eulogy.
My condolences. Know that in your time of grieving you wrote something helped me reflect on my own relationships with my parents - thank you.
I am sorry, for your losses of your father over the years, and the ultimate loss of him in death.
I am so sorry to hear about your dad. I found your post moving and heartening.

I lost my father many years ago. Our relationship was always a challenge in many ways, but I also loved him and admired some aspects of his character.

Love to you and yours.
I am so sorry, please accept my condolences. Take care of yourself, and let others take care of you.

This post is so lovely, so thoughtful.
I am sorry for your loss.
So sorry for your loss.
Memory eternal.
I'm so sorry about your dad. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts.
What a beautiful tribute. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I hope your good memories will remain with you.
I'm behind on my blog reading, but just wanted to add my condolences. ALS must be a hard way to lose a parent. I really appreciate the way you capture the complicatedness of our relationships with parents who are human beings, full of foibles, but whom we love anyway.
So sorry to hear about your loss, DD. That was such a nice, honest, thoughtful tribute you wrote too.
Sincere condolences. DD. And thank you for writing.
I am so sorry for your loss.
I fell behind in my blog reading this week and misssed this. I am so sorry for your loss, DD. This truly was a beautiful post.
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