My dad died April 16, 1988. Father’s Day pretty much stopped at that time. I do recall once being asked by a colleague why I never spoke of my father. Somehow I assumed she knew that he was dead. When discussing my dad, it’s hard to separate myth from man. Twenty-plus years of not having someone around moves them into the shadowy recesses of your mind.
After he died, I become most acutely aware of the fact that I’d forgotten the sound of his voice. I could see pictures of him, I knew his style of clothing, I remembered his collections, I knew his gifts, and I knew his faults. His voice, however, was gone. Lately, when I want to remember my dad, I listen to old country. Not quite Hank Williams the first country (although we do have that) or Carter Family Country (which Igor acquired in the “divorce”), but 1960s country — George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn. They give a voice to the one which had disappeared.
In thinking about my dad yesterday, I was struck most by the fact that he didn’t ever ask for much. I don’t know if it was because he bought all he wanted (a hoarder/collector was he), that he had few needs, or if it was his concerns that we not spend money on him. The last gift I really remember buying him was two country shirts from a catalog. He couldn’t decide on blue or brown, so we bought both — western styling, white piping, pearl snaps, and flowers. It’s interesting how many country western singers wear decorative shirts. They were the gifts on his 46th birthday. He didn’t have a 47th.
My dad lived a hard, complicated life. His is the life story found in movies, where usually there is redemption at the end to make up for the pain, isolation, drama, and physical toil. I would like to say he had that, to some extent. He was sober for the last 6-7 years of his life. He and Mom started going out and doing things together. They took a vacation to Oklahoma without us. They would make dinner and wash dishes together.
My only regret with my dad was that I didn’t hang out with him the night before he died. I had other plans. I remember telling him I could break them, but, in his usual style, he told me to go ahead. There would be another time. Of course, there wasn’t. Life’s like that, huh? You always assume there’s tomorrow. Of course, by now there have been 8,030 tomorrows, all without him.
Not everyone loved my dad. He could be difficult. He had his flaws. Certainly living with an alcoholic (before everyone decided it was a “disease”) wasn’t easy, for us or extended friends and family. However, I can choose to be happy with the good times we had with him as my father.
So here is my favorite story…
When I was 16 I went with my buddy, Cassie, over to the fairgrounds to apply for summer positions. Now, honestly, I didn’t want a job. Cassie, however, did. When we finally got to the little shack, we learned that I could apply but Cassie couldn’t. It didn’t matter that she would SOON be 16, she wasn’t yet. That’s my memory — it may just be that she couldn’t work nights and there weren’t many day jobs. Regardless, I found myself in a 10-day state fair work situation running an ice cream shack. It was OK. They made tons of money because a) they overcharged and b) I didn’t weigh the cones. I served a portion equal to the cost.
One night as I was cleaning the machines out, someone from Jefferson Airplane came over and wanted to buy ice cream. It was after 1:00 in the morning, may even have been 2. Regardless, I said NO, because I didn’t have any. The person pointed at the machine and said I could get it from there. I pointed out it was no longer ICE CREAM, it was LIQUID. The person persisted –someone’s birthday, yadda, yadda, yadda, money is no object, $20, no $40 — what about in the back. By this time I was exasperated and forcefully said NO. THERE IS NO ICE CREAM AVAILABLE. Finally, after what felt like 10 minutes of arguing, the person left.
When I walked out to meet my dad at the gate between 2:30 and 3:00, I had a huge tub of frozen soft serve for him. It was in a king-sized mayonnaise container. Dad LOVED soft-serve. Sure, I probably could have sold it for a handsome price. However, it was for my dad.