Early Thursday morning I got the call I’ve been anticipating, and dreading, for the better part of ten years: my dad had passed away a little after 5:00 AM. It was one of those things where the vibrations of my phone woke me, and when I picked it up and saw it was from my Folks my heart sunk. I just knew, you know? It was my mom; she’d been trying to call me for an hour or so, but my ringer was off. I regret that I hadn’t been available right when it happened. Julia and I quickly got up and joined her at their place up Six Mile; one of my sisters was present (the other lives in Iowa), as was the coroner. I held it together until I got there, greeted my mom and sister, then went into the bedroom where my dad was still in bed. He’d died peacefully in his sleep, which we are all thankful for. I stood in the dark and touched his foot through the blankets. I could see him in the darkness well enough, his head back, mouth slightly open, hands folded at his chest, and I didn’t turn on the light. I sobbed pretty hard for a couple minutes, then joined my family to wait for the arrival of the funeral home people to take him away.
I don’t know what else there is to say at this point. I will be writing an obituary, but this isn’t it. I could sit up all night writing about him and still not cover everything I would like to say. At some point I will look for more photos of him that I might have, but there aren’t many. I’ll get my hands on the pictures boxes at their house and scan a few. He was a damn find looking man in his day, and people deserve to see that.
This blog has lasted as long as it has largely because of him, and of my mom. I know he enjoyed reading of my travels. He particularly liked the photographs of wildlife, and he often asked me to come up and photograph the menagerie of critters my folks have had at their place. He liked to cuss and grouse about the animals, and the hassle, but if I were to say one thing about him, it would be that I know he loved every critter more than he would ever admit.
He was a complicated man, and there are stories I’ve heard of his younger days that I’ve tried to pry out of him with varying degrees of success. His relationship with my mom — a marriage of 50+ years — was complicated, and his relationships with my two sisters were, at times, rocky. I had my minor disagreements with him here and there, but I know I speak for all of us that, even at his most ornery, there was never any question that he loved us all. His knowledge of the area, and the number of people he knows, never ceased to amaze me. There are traits in me that I recognize from him. Some I embrace (“You be goddamn careful!” or “Don’t slip and bust your ass!” or “If you get pulled over, just act ignorant; you should be pretty good at that…”), and others I try and keep under control, or surprise me when I catch myself (impatience, stubbornness, etc.) acting in ways I’ve wrestled with him over more than once.
I have a pile of regrets that try to haunt me, but I’m doing my best to ignore them. I felt we had a great relationship. His health had been steadily deteriorating over the last ten or twelve years, but he would also bounce back, sometimes miraculously, and we often had discussions of the things we would do when he “got better.” At the end, though, I’m certain he was ready to go, and went willingly. There won’t be a funeral or anything like that, he didn’t want one. I’d been to his mother’s funeral with him a few years ago, and he was too ill to get out of the car and serve as a pallbearer. He was quiet that day, but also expressed how much he hated the “whole fucking thing.” Many years before I’d also accompanied him to the funeral of his father. I remember when the procession headed from the church to the graveyard, I was riding with him. We took a detour to a bar in town, and went in and had a drink together. One of only three specific times I can remember doing that. He told me, “I don’t care that that son of a bitch is dead.” He laughed, mirthlessly. “The poor old bastard is better off. He never did a goddamn thing for me, and I don’t care.”
Well, Dad, to your credit, and against all odds considering the world you were raised in, I care about your passing. You did everything for me, and I won’t forget it. I’m proud to be your son, and I’m proud to have given your name to my son. I’ll miss the hell out of you.