Dad passed four years ago.

My Dad passed away four years ago this month. The date has actually passed… April 2nd is the official date, although my brothers and I joke that he probably actually died April 1st just to be funny. April 3rd is when I got the news, and unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) is also my adopted son’s birthday. Thus, the date often passes with me suitably distracted with birthday shindigs, and then I have to go down and apologize to the old man.

I thought this year that I’d post the eulogy that I wrote for him… just feels like a nice way to let everyone see the effect he had on me and my siblings. Though I suppose if they look closely enough at any one of us, they can see it for themselves.

My earliest memory of my Father is of him returning home from a hunting trip with a deer in the back of his pickup. The deer ended up in the big deep freeze in the basement, and it must have lasted a year. It’s kind of the quintessential snapshot of the provider… the Father going out to bring home the bacon… which on other occasions, he literally did, since we kept pigs in the early days as well.

Another very early memory is of my Father giving me a BB gun rifle, which Mom didn’t much approve of. Once he’d taken me out to the back forty and carefully taken me through a complete disassemble/assemble rotation, and observed my ability to actually hit the side of the barn, he left me with two simple rules. Don’t hurt myself, and don’t ever, ever, ever let him catch me shooting a bird or any other animal, or I would know the meaning of retribution.

These two images, on their face, seem incongruous… but they were perfect Dad.

On the one hand a responsible provider, willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his obligations and responsibilities as a Father and a husband. Bring home a deer, ride the back of a 4am garbage truck, then spend the afternoon working the turkey farm, only to come home smelling like – well, let’s say he’d rather be on the garbage truck is all. So that we could eat, and wear JC Penney’s jeans, and have a roof over our heads.

On the other, a supremely sensitive and honorable person, who understood the importance and beauty of nature, of sparrows, of cats. He did his best to teach me to appreciate a walk on the beach, to respect and enjoy the power of an approaching lightning storm. He would take us camping, and when the yellow jackets came and buzzed our plates, he would stop us from shooing them away, and instead teach us to take the time to marvel at how their tiny mouths cut away slices of our meat, and then he would set aside a piece just for them, in the hopes they’d be satisfied with that and leave us be. We were, after all, on their turf.

There are a million memories… not the big things, because he wasn’t a man of big gestures; but tiny, mundane, apparently insignificant things… the metallic taste of an apple slice plucked right off the blade of his pocketknife, a single chocolate covered cherry each night during the holidays, the smell of engine oil, two shirt pockets full of every utensil a man might need in the course of the day, a tightly rolled cigarette, a perfect part. These apparently mundane moments, when counted by the thousands over the 44 years that I’ve known him, and the thirty years preceding that that I’ve had the privilege to discover over the past two weeks, have become by virtue of their sheer number a significant thing, a big gesture on the part of my father that demonstrates, I think, what may have been the core of his philosophy.

He never would have called it a philosophy, of course. It’s common sense. It’s something that too many people have too little of. A man should not be measured by the crude exposition of dramatic public display… by his house, his car, his fame, his wallet. He should be measured by the quiet and honorable dignity with which he leads his life. By how he treats yellow jackets, and whether his children appreciate shoes. Going to work every day. Paying his mortgage. Saying thank you, and trying to teach respect.

These are not popular, sexy, dramatic things. These are just the important things.

My father was less than perfect. He knew that. It didn’t stop him from trying to be the best man, and the best Father, that he knew how to be. All the time, every day. Sitting in a trailer in the parking lot of the hospital waiting for my Mom to come home from radiology, and even in that house alone with his cat years after she lost that battle, clipping articles and rotating batteries, he was merely trying to be the best man that he knew how to be. Because the measure of a man is what he does when no one is looking.

I wrote a little something on the inside of the memorial card you all have… I’d like to read it.

You were as true and constant as a tide, as a sunrise, as a season. You were unrelenting in your certainty, comforting in your consistency, surprising in your sensitivity. You were a complex individual whose needs were fundamental, and whose expectations were that we should merely do our best in all things, respect experience, and listen carefully to the patterns of the world. As we look for ways to honor your life and your memory, the most fitting will be to simply live honorably.

We’ll do our best to make you proud.

footnote: I’ve since learned that the deer that came home in the pickup was a roadkill, that Dad had been sent (as a County worker) to clear from the road. That’s how poor we were… and that’s how important it was to him to put food on our table — no matter what.

Awkward Stage

We all go through an awkward stage, trapped somewhere between “got it all figured out” and “gave it all up”.

We like to think we only go through it as kids, as teens trapped between childhood and adulthood, longing to hang onto the simplicity of toys and imaginary friends and Saturday morning cartoons over a bowl of Super Honey Crunchy Nuggets with enough extra sugar to make the leftover milk too thick to drink without a spoon, and anxious to taste the freedom and opportunity of adulthood that we perceive the world is spitefully holding just out of our reach. We are exactly in between two better places to be.

In reality, we go through lots of awkward stages, a series of awkward stages, a plethora of awkward stages, one, long, painful, excruciating, lifetime awkward stage.

I’m going through an awkward stage right now, trapped in a funhouse of mirrors where everywhere I turn I see myself reflected back just slightly twisted, almost me but not quite me, a little wider here, a little thicker there, a little more transparent here, a little in the dark there.

I look behind me and I see myself in my son, all feet and hands like a Great Dane, trapped in the body of a man with the emotional maturity of a turnip. That’s the boy I was, trapped in amber, and as many times as I’ve said to myself “I wish I knew then what I know now” I can’t seem to get the young seventeen-year-old me that lives on in my son to accept the gift of what I know now. In fact, he refuses it like a bad meal and sends it back with his nose wrinkled, and so instead of being the more well informed me he has the opportunity to be, he is the obnoxious and self-righteous and irresponsible me I was all over again.

I look ahead and I see myself in my father, all Velcro shoes, stacks of newspaper clippings and heavily invested in the company of a cat. I am more receptive to his hand-me-downs than my son is of mine, perhaps because he’s mellowed with age and is making more sense, perhaps because I’m less my son than I am my father, but I also find that he’s no more receptive of my hand-me-ups than am I of my son’s. In other words, he won’t hear my advice to remain active, go on a date, take a trip, get a tattoo, pierce something, do just one of the things I hope I’ll still be doing when I get where he is rather than simply walking a daily route around the family room double-checking the volume setting on the answering machine and rotating the batteries in the remote control.

My awkward stage is pretty much just like my son’s, trapped between two unsatisfactory eras, and much like he can’t wait to get to my wonderful magical world of adulthood where life is all about driving and endless sex and drinking and staying out as late as he wants spending the hundreds of dollars per month he’ll make on anything he damn well pleases, I’m trying desperately to get to the freedom and flexibility of the golden years, where life is all reduced prices on movie tickets, free frozen meals delivered right to your door by volunteers with bags of groceries, and free money from the government in the mail every month.

What I can count on is that I don’t get to stay here, so I better not be getting too satisfied with how things are right now. This awkward stage is only tolerable if there’s something better coming along… being a cranky, tired, slacker teenager is only tolerable if we’re convinced that life as a grownup is all freedom and opportunity. Being a cranky tired slacker middle-aged guy is only tolerable as long as we’re sure that getting older will bring us freedom from the tyranny of the time clock, the freedom to wear black socks with sandals, the freedom to steal batteries. So don’t you dare tell me that ain’t the way it’s going to be, because then I’ve got nothing to look forward to, and like my son I’ll just be pissed off and stuck in between.

It appears that wherever we are, it is exactly halfway between two better places to be. Life is just one long awkward stage, desperately fleeing a crappy dissatisfactory past in search of a better situation that’s just a reflection in a twisted mirror where things are actually further away than they appear.

The only little joy I get is in knowing that my son will one day look back and realize how lucky he is at this moment.

If I was more insightful and less focused on being sure I don’t miss out on my own son’s disillusionment, because real dads wait for that day like others wait for the sweet sixteen, I might realize that my father, the me I’m going to be one day, is feeling exactly in between two better places to be, looking back at himself in me and wishing he were either here now or ten years older and plugged into a machine that does his chewing for him with a nurse to rotate the batteries in his remote.

But catching myself thinking how lucky I am right at this moment would take my focus off my own cynicism and perpetual dissatisfaction.

And we can’t have that.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.