May 16, 2010
My sleep has been plagued by unwelcome reminiscing of the last days spent with my Dad. My dreams have been disturbing when I’ve been able to sleep. All in all it’s safe to say that losing people is traumatic no matter what the scenario.
Sometimes I find blogging to be an outlet. This is one of those times. I could share with you about my Dad’s fall. Or recount the long days and nights spent on the trauma unit. I could talk about the last moments of his life. They are a part of a tape that sometimes chooses to replay itself in my mind.
But thankfully they’re only a part.
That is why on this day, which marks the 4th year of my Dad’s departure from this life, I’d like to share, not about how he died, but about the way he lived. I’ll bypass his birth and early years and get right to the “good stuff” because he was truly an amazing man.
His memorial service, which ended up being strangely enjoyable, was a joint venture. My siblings and I planned it together. There was far much more laughter than tears as we shared from our fondest memories. I can only hope that when my time comes the people who know the lighter side of me will help plan my wake. I’m pretty certain my Dad was laughing in the portholes of glory.
I remember my pastor chuckling, while sitting next to me on the platform, when the song “Cry, Cry, Cry” by Johnny Cash began playing. He learned things that day he never knew about the quiet man who handed bulletins out, with great pride, on Sunday mornings.
Afterwards he told me that he wished he’d have known all of those things while my Dad was alive as they would have made great sermon fillers. I laughed and reminded him of the time that my Dad had announced, in the midst of serious concern as to why my hubby had fallen asleep at the wheel, that he was pretty sure Greg had been drinking. Of course he made certain to add that when I found the bottle he’d be happy to take it off my hands. I shrank about an inch in embarrassment, as he breezed out the front door chuckling, but quickly recovered as by then I was used to it.
That was my Dad. Totally authentic and unashamed. We never knew just what he might say or do. On occasion his actions made us cry but more often they provided comic relief. Unfortunately I have lost the file which had the collection of interesting facts we shared about him at his service. That’s okay, though, because there were plenty that we left out.
I’ll share a few with you that often make me smile:
• Duct tape. My Dad loved it. He used it for almost everything including the rips in his work pants. Never one to invest in patches, he just taped the holes shut. He taped a lot of other things, too. And from time to time threatened to tape our mouths shut if we interrupted his television programs. Fortunately he never followed through. If duct tape failed to do the job there was always super-glue. It’s hard to say how many times he glued his teeth back onto his partial with it.
• Boxer shorts. We made it our life’s mission to find the flashiest boxers for him. Much of that was due to the habit Dad had of strolling through the kitchen, towards the bedroom, after his evening shower clad only in boxer shorts. It mattered not who was present. Many times our friends and or neighbors were visiting when Dad flashed his boxers. Of course it was more noticeable because of the little ditty he always sang as he walked by. And if that wasn’t enough all summer long they hung out of the legs of his shorts. He was a fashion disaster with his boxers hanging out, the white tube socks he insisted on wearing with sandals, and simply didn’t care. On special occasions he'd cast aside the sandals for a pair of "willie shoes." These were $5 K-mart slip-ons. When they got holes in them he'd make them his work shoes. It was often difficult to distinguish between the two--but we never let on.
• Music. We’ve come to the conclusion that our Dad knew every song ever written. His taste in music varied but he had a song for everything. It was not unusual for him to overhear one of us complaining and start singing “Cry, Cry, Cry.” Songs with stories were his favorite because they gave him a lot of material to work with. For instance when he was being nagged his retort might be something like “why’s everybody always picking on me.” Not said but sung along with the rest of the tune. Goodbyes came in the form of “Hit the Road Jack” and our romantic heart breaks were soothed by him singing something like Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks.” If we had a dollar for every time Dad startled one of us by bursting out in song all of our mortgages would be paid in full.
• Sayings. My Dad had a boatload of sayings ranging from “kiss me baby my tonsils itch” to “don’t make me knock out your running lights” to “you make a better door than a window.” At times it was difficult to keep a straight face when experiencing his unique form of discipline. I’m sure each of us had some clever retorts running through our mind but we kept those to ourselves most of the time.
• Mannerisms. When my Dad got angry his eyelids would flutter. If he got really mad his nostrils would flare. If that happened it was time to vacate the premises. Also, he sort of danced when he walked, which was obviously due to all the singing he did.
Many of my Dad’s antics were confined to the home or car. In public he was a quiet man--most of the time. I do recall a few occasions when I wanted to find something to crawl under. Like the time he offered one of the referees his glasses during my son’s baseball game. Or when he told the woman who ran over his foot in the grocery aisle that if she would have “beeped her horn” he would have gotten out of the way.
He also took signs very seriously, especially, if they promised prompt service. At the doctor’s office he’d watch the clock and when 20 minutes passed he let them know. If another 20 minutes went by he was more emphatic. More than once they stuck him in a room so he would not start a revolution. He was a punctual person and expected others to be the same. Unfortunately, I did not inherit that trait.
Here’s a short list of some other things that I recall about my Dad:
• He was a terrible driver who thought everyone else was the problem.
• He had a short fuse but got over things quickly.
• He was very self-depreciating. (sometimes funny & sometimes not)
• He was extremely regimented. You could set your clocks by him.
• He worked hard and never played hooky.
• He attended all of my band concerts and other musical functions.
• He was a man of his word. If he said he was going to do it then you could take it to the bank.
• He was handy. From cars to plumbing there was no job he would not tackle.
• He loved sweets and falsely accused us kids of devouring them when it was really him.
• His hugs were very tight.
• He was a good judge of character.
• He listened for hours to our attempts at playing music of any kind.
• He was a baby magnet.
• He adored his grandchildren.
• He loved his wife and kids.
• He laughed a lot and cried more often than people knew.
• He was proud of his loved ones and, with a quivering lip, did not hesitate to tell them so.
I could go on forever and ever but this is supposed to be a blog not a book. I assume that it is evident by now that my Dad was far more than a father. He was one of my closest friends. When he did give me advice he was right on. If I needed help he was there. When I was down he’d offer words, be they ever so quirky, to lift me up. One year he sent me a card on “Friend Day.” I still have it. Although he was an unpredictable man at times without a doubt he was always there for me, for us, and for others.
And speaking of others, there were two young girls at our church that he was particularly fond of. He shopped for them on special occasions and kept a special stock of candy for them. When they heard that he had died they went to the principal at their school asking for a moment of silence in honor of their “best friend.” We were moved by that story and could all relate to it.
These past four years have been difficult. Just ten days before my Dad’s accident we had purchased condos to be built side-by-side. We already lived in the same neighborhood but were about to move even closer. We attended the same church where he greeted me, with compliments and kisses, every week. Completely spoiled by this man, who was by far one of my greatest fans, it's difficult adjusting to life without him. A life that is temporary, if you’ve read my other post on death, but forever changed.
A few weeks ago I woke up crying after a vivid dream. My heart ached and I felt sad but was determined not to allow it to set the tone for the day. For some reason cleaning is therapeutic for me so I set about to do a bit of tidying up before going out to take pictures.
In the middle of dusting the song “Butterfly Kisses” began playing on my iPod. It has great sentimental value to me. As a girl my Dad often put me to bed. We went through a routine of Eskimo kisses, butterfly kisses, and ended with a great big smooch. He’d always tell me not to let “The Sandman get me” on his way out the door. For years I thought The Sandman lived under my bed.
Some time ago he sent me a gift book related to the song. Normally I skip past it but that day I let it play. I cried, okay I sobbed, and then at the end of the song said this “Dad, I know I’ve got to let you go. I’m trying but it’s hard. I just want you to know I’ll always remember your love in the morning and butterfly kisses at night.”
And. I. Will.