If I think about it very hard, really concentrate, I can remember maybe half a dozen times when my father laughed, I mean really gut-belly-make-your-ab-muscles-hurt-the-next-day LAUGHED. My mother…I can’t even remember how many times we could have roll-on-the-floor hysterics over nothing–sometimes 3 or 4 times a day, but daddy, well, he was just “serious”.
Today, I believe he would be classified as “dysthymic” or someone who is basically depressed at a low level all the time. Most of the time, instead of things being funny, he was put off by them, even disgusted, or just brought down. Many of the things he taught me had to do with how horrible things might go wrong–From “Always park your car under a light (or else)” to “You should try to take the road home that doesn’t make you turn UPhill as often because that will wear out your transmission faster.” I mean, who THINKS like that? My dad did.
Sometimes mom and I would tease him, try to get him to laugh, but he really could not see what we thought was so funny, and in fact, acted like he was really put off that we could “let go” so much and just laugh till we cried over “nothing”. Apparently, it was undignified. When I was younger, I couldn’t understand it–why WOULDN’T you laugh at something funny, if it wasn’t hurtful or mean to someone? Later, I would chalk it up to his being a “PK” and being brought up by (my perception) his “stick-in-the-mud” parents. Still later, I realized it was all part of his make up, something that he might have been able to deal with via meds or therapy, but he was of the generation (and personality) that would rather have died than be “analyzed”. In fact, he did just that.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2000. They gave him 3 to 6 months. He died in July. I am not saying that he wanted to die, but when I think about it, I don’t think he really minded having an EXCUSE to die, if that makes any sense. And while I mourned him and grieved his passing honestly, I truly did not feel bad for him, because I knew that where ever he was, he was no longer carrying that burden that was his life.
Sometimes, being parented by an inveterate optimist and a complete pessimist, I felt just a wee bit schizoid, if you can imagine. And there are times when I definitely feel my father’s depressive traits trying to creep in. But my mother trained me well in looking on the bright side, and I believe it is my own inherent nature to be hopeful. I have suffered from what was probably clinical depression when I was younger (all that angst and drama of youth), but now, as I get older, I find myself feeling MORE enthusiastic and MORE eager to go forward and see what life has to offer around that next bend in the road.
My father would be 82 years old this year, had he lived, and he would have HATED it. He HATED the thought of getting older, getting “feeble” etc. Even though his mind was on point until the day he died, according to my mother, he was already feeling depressed by being “old” at 63. I mean, for me, that’s only 9 years away! Good lord! Nine years these days is barely 2 eye blinks. I can’t WAIT to see what’s happening when I’m 63, can’t WAIT to see what trips and adventures G and I will be doing then. I think that’s the biggest thing I got from my mother–the sense that life really is an adventure and even if you’re just sitting on your living room floor having a finger-food picnic and watching an old movie, it’s an opportunity to view the room around you in a different way and find something new to appreciate. As I get older I realize more and more what a gift her example of how to live was for me.
Which is not to say I didn’t get wonderful things from my father. He was honest and compassionate. He was definitely the kind of person who would stop to help someone on the side of the road. And, in his own way, he could be quite funny–he had a very sharp mind and a quick wit, but you only saw it in flashes and then you had to be quick or it would fly right over your head.
Yesterday I got another “goodie box” from my sister-in-law with many photos and mementos that I had seen before but several I had not, which as with this post, were things that took my breath away. One of them was a copy my grandfather’s obituary, which I probably saw at the time, but being 22 and all that involves, didn’t pay much attention to. As I read it last night, I realized that my grandfather had 3 other siblings, 1 brother and 3 sisters, that I know nothing about. I do remember hearing about his brother rarely as I was growing up, but I can’t remember ever hearing about his sisters. Most of my “family tales” involve my mother’s side of the family, as she was, of course, much more verbal about her relations. So, now, there’s this mystery surrounding an entire side of my family. How many children (cousins) did these siblings have? How many kids did the kids have? Where are they now, etc., etc. I doubt if I’ll suddenly launch into genalogical research, but still, these questions intrigue me.
The other particular item that caught me was a picture of my father as a young man:
At first, I didn’t even recognize who it was–this guy was cutting up and having fun–with a DOG, no less. Then I realized–hey, that’s DADDY! I have to say, my heart just swelled up at that picture. He looks so happy in this photo. Not to mention young! And the dog! Who was the dog? Was it his? His family’s? The dog certainly looks equally as happy as my dad in the shot, so I have to think it was my dad’s dog. He never talked about this stuff, never really told us stories about his childhood unless they were rather dreary and moralistic. I guess he was trying to “set an example” or something.
I love this picture. I love it almost as much as the one of me and GS2 that I posted just last week. I think I’m going to choose to remember my dad this way, so I will remember that people we think we know really well often have sides to them that they may never let us see. And never to take anything about the people I love for granted.
Even 19 years after his death, my father is still teaching me things. I hope I will always be open to learning these continued lessons.