June 14, 2007

Father's Day Weekend

Hallmark Holidays… I don’t love ‘em. I never have. They leave me with an unsettled feeling of distress around these trite and precious holidays that has carried on throughout my life. As a child, it started with Valentines Day. Valentine’s Day makes children feel insecure about which of their friends likes them enough to send a valentine, or more devastatingly, which ones dislike them enough to send the ‘message of omission’ from their valentine distribution list. In adulthood, Hallmark fosters insecurities in fully grown adults who aren’t actively in a relationship on Valentine’s Day. Send a valentine to your parents or someone else you love…they suggest. Fuck off! Don’t tell me how and when to love! I realize that I’m a scrooge about these holidays, but what can I do? They vex me.

So in the holiday chute this weekend is Father’s Day. I’ve got it easy. My father has been dead for almost as many years of my life that he was alive. Miss him… you betcha. He was fucked up and totally flawed, but a really good dad. I’m not, and never have been the sort who turns a dead loved one into Saint Dad, Saint Mom, or Saint Anyone.

That said, my dad was the kind of father who taught me to change the oil in a car while we listened to Dodgers games on the radio. He taught me to drive and speed-shift a standard transmission and made sure that I didn’t get behind the wheel of an automatic until I was well into my twenties. He cared enough about the people my sister and I would grow up to be to not allow a television in the house. He made sure that we knew how to conduct ourselves at the card table and could cut a ball in at the pool table and considered these social skills that everyone should have. He didn’t give a shit about golf and neither do I. Our house was brimming with musical and literary resources that ensured that no matter what crazy adolescent whim had grabbed our attention, we could speak intelligently among respectable folks. He didn’t baby us and made sure that no one around us did. When he took us out for family portraits, nothing got done until we understood the concept of depth of field and the basic functioning of a camera. We sat down to dinner every night and stayed put until the salad was eaten, anything else served with it could be a leftover, but we all stayed until the salad was done.

He also drank too much, until he stopped, smoked cigarettes and ‘the dope’ every day of his life. Well, he stopped with the cigarettes when he got really sick. He also loved the ladies and they generally found him irresistible. Dad had some game with the ladies and being in a relationship in no way got in the way of that. It was the undoing of all of his relationships with good women. He was tall, handsome and strong and had some of the best legs that I’ve ever seen on anyone. He was a robust figure of a man and any of my dates were rightly intimidated as hell of him.

It’s hard to imagine that something as small and insignificant as a pea-sized tumor could kill such a force of life. But that’s exactly what it did.

There were 11 months, two brain surgeries, full body muscular atrophy, vocal cord paralysis, a feeding tube and a television entering the house from the time he was diagnosed to the day he failed to wake and everyone cried for a really long time. The last thing he asked me to do for him was to cut his finger and toenails because his coordination no longer allowed him to. Which I did and it was then as I knelt before him trimming his toenails that my heart knew it was over. My head wasn’t quite as wise. I still harbored the “positive thinking” mentality that drives the “denial” stage. It’s hard to face the death of your first hero with open acceptance.

As death goes, it was a successful death. Dying people know when the jig is up. And if you’re lucky they’ll tell you in subtle ways as they make sure their “house is clean” before they go. The day after he died he had an appointment with a lawyer to finalize his will. He had written one out longhand and signed it with a witness, which helped matters, but by the eyes of the law, his death was treated more or less, intestate. It was a TREMENDOUS pain in the ass. Especially since dad’s way of sticking it to the man was to not file income tax returns for 10 years. Let me tell you. In the end, the IRS gets their money. Don’t think for a second that they are forgiving or sympathetic to personal tragedy. They couldn’t give a shit.

But as I was saying… a successful death. The day he died, my sister, step mother and I were all able to look at each other and say, “no regrets” and mean it. We were there for him, and with him as he became ill and deteriorated and finally died. Everyone who mattered had the opportunity to make peace and set up the pieces so that it was safe for him to leave us. Which he did with grace. It was an honor to participate.

So Father’s Day…

I don’t smoke. I gave it up at 26 after being a smoker for 12 years. It was easy. Yes, I feel lucky because I know how hard people struggle with this. I view smoking in men as a deal breaker. To me, it is a weakness and the hallmark of a sucker in this day and age when we know that its repercussions are. Yet still, occasionally I get close to the personal space of a man who smokes, and sometimes, it smells divine. Not the dank stale smell of cheap cigarettes, but a more subtle olfactory hint of a bad habit. Sometimes the bad habits have a lot of charm and when we least expect it, they are a reminder to be flexible. If you do smoke, don’t kid yourself, it’ll fuck you up. But do what you must.

Whether you have a family or not, just write up the damned will. It’ll save your loved ones a load of distress in the bitter end. And if you don’t have loved ones, get the hell away from your computer RIGHT NOW and go love someone. And as ‘spam email’ as it sounds, settle conflicts in your relationships. Live clean with the people you love and make sure they know you love them.

I’ve probably not mentioned here before that I am a hospice volunteer. I am able to give back in an area that most people find unbearable but I am at ease with. I’m lucky. Although I prefer not to lose the people I love and it breaks my heart to pieces, I’m really good at it. And when you are good at something difficult, it just makes sense to help others with it.

For Father’s Day, the above is my message to all y’all.


ellie said...

Oh damn! I'm blubbering. Have never read anything so beautiful. The honesty and love flow out of that writing.
I relate so much to how you feel about your Dad, he was human he had flaws but he loved you and your sister enough to invest time and patience in you. My biggest regret is that my daughter will never have that bond with her father because he has no interest, her Grandad, my father, tries to give her the positive male role model she needs but the generation gap is wide.
I am in total admiration of the voluntary work you do, having worked in health care most of my adult life I know how important your role is to a family facing the death of a loved one. I am humbled.
No greetings card could ever portray such deep love and admiration.

Rich said...

What a great and powerful post. I really could feel your words as I read them. It's also refreshing to read something that is coming from within someone with no BS. It's the straight dope on this.

Great post!!

Rich said...

Oh I know I will keep coming back to read this over and over. thanks so much for sharing this.

Dear Prudence said...

Great Post Fresh, I know some day I will re-read this, in the near future, as my dad's Alzheimers is progressing quickly and I will draw strength from you. Thanks.

Eddie Waring said...

I (we) have been meaning to write a will since the Father in Law died 2 years ago and his million dollar life insurance policy went to his bitch of a wife who was then murdered and it all went to her daughter from a previous marriage. None of his family got a dime. Not that this comment or your post was about money but out of love for my daughter and in the interests of taking care of her when I am gone, I'm going to do it next week.
Thanks for the reminder. This was one of your best posts. Great job!

savannah said...

this was beautiful/meaningful/incredible...thank you.

singleton said...

How you ever put all this into words, I'll never know....Everything...from your heart and into our world....words of wisdom, heartstrings, a love story....
Thank you for sharing and may the circle grow....

Miss Understood said...

That is one incredible piece of writing. I felt like I just stepped inside your head and your heart when I was reading it.
Totally amazing. Thank you.

Manuel said...

Jesus, I wasn't ready for that this morning. That was, well, just so beautiful.

I smoke, and sometimes I notice a wee look on my girlfriends face when I light another. It isn't one of anger or being cross, more of upset/disappointment. But damn it i'm so weak...

My dad is my only hero, my only true inspiration. After mum got sick he had not one but two pretty big breakdowns. But despite this he kept it together enough to raise my sister and I and never left us without. He has survived a couple of heartattacks and cancer. He is funny and wise and if i could be but a quarter of the man he is I'll be a good person.

I love him.
Thanks for this, if off for another blubber.....

Have the T-Shirt said...

Beautiful post. I lost my father over 13 years ago, but your post brought back those last years when he was ill. I still miss him like hell.

Fresh Hell said...

Hey Y'all, thanks to each and every one of you for slogging through such a long post. I am always grateful if in some way I'm able to soothe someone's soul.

Ellie: A granddad is better than no dad and from the sounds of it, he's probably going to better show your kids what it is to be a man.

Rich: Thanks for the Kudos. I like being able to honor and at the same time recognize the humanity of people. Warts and all.

Prudence: You are stronger than you know and I'm inspired by you.

Eddie: Good man. Get on it. I've heard so many horror stories similar to yours and had a couple of my own. It really makes an unpleasant situation dismal.

Savannah: Thanks for the kudos and thanks for the link on your blog. You're a peach!

Singleton: Thanks for coming by and shucks... you make me sound like a decent, respectable grown up. ;)

Miss. U: I hope you didn't step in anything squishy, smelly and unpleasant in my head and heart. Believe me, they are in there as well. Seriously, I'm pleased that you enjoyed it.

Manuel: The beauty of humanity is that we are all so mortal and fucked up. I think that our flaws and weaknesses are what makes up a goodly portion of our charm. As frustrustrating as it may be to the people around us, I think it also is a big part of what keeps these important people steadfast by our sides. Live and love with an open heart. So you smoke... We all have vices. You also have an appreciation of the sweetness that life provides through your loved ones. You are one up to many on that point. You big softie!

T-Shirt: You never stop missing him, do you? After a while you just are able to find peace in it and get a rare and realistic perspective of dying and letting go. Not an easy process, but I think living with illness is often times much worse.

paddy said...

My Dad was the way he was like yours. Just like you and I.
I wish to be more but I can't... whether I endeavour enough? No I don't. Some will cry when I'm gone I'm nearly sure of that... like you and I cried, and our kids, they'll do the same.
Y Paddy

Old Knudsen said...

for once I am without words.

Kate Isis said...

All of the above and more. well done for making us all think.

Jocelyn said...

Slide the Kleenex box over here. I'm not crying, but my nose is running.

Terrific post, FH. The detail of cutting his nails is profound.

All that you said, plus three.

Sassy Sundry said...

Wow. This is a great post.

Most people usually focus on all the good or all the bad and can't see the full picture. I'm impressed.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I AM the step-mother in this story. Not figuratively, but literally! I was reading this, continuing to be beyond amazed at this person's story being exactly our life story. Well, duh...my wonderful, smart and oh-so-talented step-daughter wrote this! Talk about tears on Father's Day! These words are the most spot-on descriptions of a life with a flawed (aren't we all) and wonderful and loving man and father. My dearest El T....you have done your father proud. It brought back many memories for me as well as I sat at Dodger Stadium on Father's Day watching the Dodgers get their asses stomped into the ground by the Angels. Would have been a hella fun day with Alex. I suppose he was there anyway. Love you my darling girl. Mama in Santa Barbara misses your ever luvin' presence. Love from your Big Mama C

Art said...

Great post. Good for you for being a hospice volunteer!

Terry said...

Dearest Sobrinita,
Such a wonderful & real tribute to what really was & is...Don Walter is history & off on a new life adventure so I get to be the patrona of the Pipilacha once again. I am considering a Center for Living & Dying in a lovely little place across the creek...come on down & give me your wonderful vibes Amor y paz, Teresita

LarryLilly said...

If you cant love life in its death, then you cant really love life.

Years ago my dad died in a similar way, but he got all his affairs in order. I have always treated death as the same as life, its just the last frame of the video that ends, abruptly. You need to let them know you love them every day, because one day, it will be tha last day.

Great post, strong, sharp, acidic, but so like life, not candy coated bullchit, just the hard reality we try to soften, but we can never change.

ellie said...

make sure they know you love them

Advice taken and blank card purchased and the words inside came from the heart, he cried, I cried but the job has been done. I have wanted to tell him for such a long time but we just don't do it.
Thanks xx

AliBlahBlah said...

You rock. I think it's testimony to a great piece of writing when you read it and immediately think of all the other people in your life who need to read it too.

I agree with rich when he said this is a post to keep coming back to.

Fresh Hell said...

Paddy: Good dads are great to find. I count us both as lucky.

Kate: Thanks for coming 'round and thanks for your comment here and all over the blogland. You are very wise.

Jocelyn: Thanks. The nail cutting thing arose with my mother as well. It's the little things that speak volumes about mortality.

Sassy: I'm all about balance. It's the nature of things.

Big Mama C: You're the bomb. Always have been, always will be, and I love you for it. I'm a lucky girl.

Art: Thanks. I do what I can with what I've got.

Tia Tita: Gracias para visitando. Quiero venir a la pipilacha pronto. Amor y paz carinosa tia.

Larry: Thanks for coming around. It's a peaceful place when you look at death as part of life, not the end of it, no?

Ellie: That's so fantastic. Emotionally cathartic and a relief to express don't you think?

Ali: Pass it on. If it helps anyone sort their lives and loved ones out, I'm glad that my life lessons can help. You're a peach, Senorita.