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.