Tomorrow, July 3, 2009, my father will have been gone for 19 years. I simply cannot believe it’s been nearly 2 decades. He died from pancreatic cancer, in his house, in his bed, with all his family around him. I consider it one of the greatest privileges in my life to have been able to be with him every day while he was sick and to help make his last days a little easier and more comfortable.
I don’t think about him every day any more, but there is not a day that passes when he isn’t with me, because there are so many things about me that I got from him. My dad was tall (6’7″), and my earliest memory is of him. I remember that it was in the first house I lived in, in Irving, TX, and he had brought me one of those spinning tops where you push down the handle to make it turn. My memory is of looking up, up, UP at my daddy and him smiling and bending down to give me the top. It seemed like he was MILES away he was so tall. Even though I grew up tall, I never quite caught up to him, and I was always bummed that I didn’t reach 6 feet!
He was very talented in many ways.
He played the clarient and saxophone, paying part of his way through college working in a dance band, but sadly, once he married and had kids he never played again. I wished I could have heard him. When he got sick I bought him a special edition Pete Fountain tape that he played over and over in his room.
He also tried his hand at photography:
Once, going through some photos from my grandmother’s house, I found a whole box of TINY pictures, maybe 2″ square, that he had taken when he was in Japan in the army after WWII. He was too young to have seen combat, but he liked to tell the story of being tossed out of bed by an earthquake while he was there!
He was 5 years older than my mother. They married when she was 21 and he was 26, and I came along when he was 30, the first child:
Given the things my mother told me later, I don’t know how they managed to “wait” 4 years before having me! That’s my dad, mother, me, and my grandmother Helen (she of the funeral pie).
Being the first, oldest child has both privileges and pitfalls. In the case of me and my dad, it was definitely a privilege:
I loved riding up so high, but pretty soon, I was too big, because time flies when you’re a parent. Christmas times as a kid were always fun:He always seemed to know what I wanted, even better than my mom:
Even back then, I had a penchant for cowboy hats and “boy toys”. He never made me try to play with dolls, and lots of times enjoyed the games with me, too.
Fast forward a few years, and there’s a new playmate:
My brother came along, and I was excited. After that, there wasn’t quite as much “me only” time, but I was still “Daddy’s girl”, even after 2 more siblings were born, and we lived in a few more houses:
The wagon seems to have been a constant in our lives. Nothing was more fun than having Daddy pull us around, unless it was using him for a horse on the living room floor.
I have very few pictures of my parents together. After all 4 of us were born, my mother never wanted to have her picture taken because of her weight, but this is one of my favorites:
They didn’t have a perfect marriage, although I didn’t come to realize that until I lived with them after my divorce when my daughter was young, but the love was always there, and I think it’s evident in that photo. It’s an interesting experience to live with your parents as an adult, to come to know them as people and not just your parents.
My father was not a happy person on the whole. I know he had regrets and often lived in the past with feelings of “If only I had…” or “I should never have…”. Still, he was a good father who was never afraid to show all of his kids that he loved them and was proud of them, each in their own ways.
I’ll never forget how proud he was when my youngest brother got out of basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA:
And despite the turmoil that surrounded my first marriage, divorce and subsequent return to his house, he was always thrilled to be with his granddaughter, the only grandchild he ever knew:
About 5 years after he died, I had a very vivid dream about my father. I was walking down a country road, alone, but I knew that I was going to see my dad. I rounded a curve in the road, and out in a field, I saw my dad, from behind. From behind, my dad had a very distinctive outline. He was tall, but had sort of narrow shoulders, and I knew even from a distance that it was him. As I walked through the field, getting closer to him, I saw that he was sitting at an easel, painting. My dad never painted anything in my whole life except the house, once, and that was under duress. He didn’t turn around when I came up to him, but I knew that he knew I was there. He was also wearing his favorite red cardigan sweater that was so familiar to me. We talked for a while about painting and other things, and then I woke up. I had a very calm and peaceful feeling, like my dad had really been there while I was sleeping, watching over me. So, as I said, while I may not think of him every day, I know he’s always with me.
I love you, Daddy.