What do you write when your Dad dies? Typing out words can never do justice to a life well lived. When you are in the moment of death you cannot see clearly enough to distill a person down to his essence, and even if you try, a person is only your perception of him. We all came into our Dad’s life at different times and in different capacities and therefore, he is a different man to each and every person he came into contact with.
My Dad died at age 94 and I knew him for 54 years. In the early years I mostly remember him at 4:30PM daily. That was the time he came home from working a 10+ hour day at his auto repair shop in San Francisco and the time that dinner was always on the table. Then he’d retire to his bedroom and I’d see him again the next night at 4:30. So dinner time was a big time for me to bond with my Dad. He hated vegetables and I did too so I never had to eat them when he was around. He loved pasta and we all loved pasta–even though he used to make funny jokes of my Italian mother (mostly they had to do with crappy FIAT “Fix It Again Tony” cars). At the end of dinner he’d have vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, or for a real treat, spumoni ice cream. He’d go to his room, watch TV and often he’d watch something funny–and his loud giggle was infectious. Often he’d laugh so hard he’d start coughing and I thought we’d have to pick him up off the floor–like when he would watch It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Every time we would eat out at a diner or restaurant he would pretend that he had forgotten his wallet at the end of the meal and would tell me to start getting ready to go into the back to wash dishes for my meal. It took me only about 50 times to figure out he was kidding.
He was a mechanic so he could fix anything. I never once saw a tradesperson at our house–didn’t even know they existed. I thought everyone’s Dad fixed plumbing, electrical, poured concrete, fixed dishwashers etc. He designed the home I grew up in in Marin County and then eventually the home he lived in for over 30 years in Santa Rosa. This would be the same home he died in today, with my mother at his side. The same home my husband and I were married in. I told him in my last visit to him how proud he must be of this house he had built–what a beautiful job he had done on it and it must be so wonderful to be surrounded by something he put so much into building,
I have great memories of spending so much time with him at our mobile home in Clear Lake. I was too young to believe it was a lousy place my parents were dragging me to–my older sisters were always groaning when they were forced to go to The Lake when they really wanted to hang out in the neighborhood with their friends. I loved it up there and a few times I went up just with my Dad. There was the time he was supposed to take me in his Mach 1 but at the last minute my Mom said I shouldn’t go and he ended up wrapping that car around a pole on an icy road–I always looked at the smashed photo of that car thinking how that huge dent was my near death experience. At Clear Lake my Dad taught me to fish for crappie, how to scale them once caught, how to water ski (double and slalom) and how to stay very quiet when the nests of ducklings were all hatching in the bushes around our patio and then how to guide them down to The Lake. He was meticulous with keeping the boat clean and taught me how to steer it–even some days when The Lake was choppy and Mom didn’t think I should take the wheel. He’d have his 8 track tapes blaring on the boat when I skied–and I swear if I close my eyes I can hear Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie or Sweet Caroline playing while I waited to give him the thumbs up “GO” sign to pull me out of the water. Once he put me on the back of his little Honda motorcycle and we went to church at Cobb Mountain. My Mom was not so happy when she found out he had done that. He also took me and my sister Terri to the hardware store in Kelseyville and I fell while screwing around and blood poured from my temple–my Dad took me back to the mobile and of course my Mom was furious he hadn’t taken me to the hospital. I’m so glad you didn’t take me to the hospital, Dad. Now I have this awesome scar that will remind me of you every time I look in the mirror!
As I got older he came to all of my graduations–High School, Community College, Sacramento State and UC Davis. It was always so blasted hot and I always seemed to choose some of the hottest places to go to university so he could not have been happy to have been dragged to all those boring ceremonies. Every single one of them I remember him saying he was proud of me and giving me a wink. I haven’t mentioned but he had blue blue eyes and so do I. That always made me feel like I was special because I had my Dad’s blue eyes. When I’d come home from college he’d always press a one hundred dollar bill in my hand as I would be getting ready to leave saying “Don’t tell your mother I gave you this” although I believe my mother always knew he was doing it. He’d give me that sideways glance and another wink.
One of the greatest times of my life was when my family came up to Tinhorn Creek to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. I was so honoured they would come all this way to celebrate such an occasion. I still remember telling the crowd of concert goers that it was their 50th anniversary and then watching my Dad and Mom take to the grass for a dance. So proud of the place I helped build was where they chose to spend their anniversary. My parents celebrated their 67th anniversary this past July.
On January 2, 2005 my parents surprised me and my husband by flying to Salt Lake City just one day after we had adopted our daughter Melody. She was just 3 days old. They spent the next few days in a hotel with us until we got her passport and were able to take her back to Canada. My Dad hated snow and the cold and that is about the only thing that could get him to spend time in Utah in the winter–not my new daughter but my Mother asking him to go–he would do anything for my mother if it was important to her. He did anything for his grandkids. They would sit in my parents’ kitchen and listen to stories the way I used to listen to stories from my grandfather. My nieces and nephews are all so blessed to have been surrounded by his love, and my mother’s love and to see their love for each other.
In 2009 when he knew we has starting to lose his memory he gave me his 1957 DeSoto which I still own and the picture is still the avatar I use on my social media accounts. People say I should have a photo of my face but I always send them my blog post on what that car meant to my Dad and what it means to me when they suggest that.
It just so happened that my Dad had Alzheimer’s for the last 11 years of his life and my mother never left his side in all those years. She always said that he had taken care of her and now was her turn to do the same for him. But we all know that if it was the other way around, if my mother had been ill my father would have been by her side continually until she passed. This is the tribute to their love for each other. As for me, I knew when he was diagnosed that it was going to be an opportunity for me to get to know my father in a different way than had he lived without the disease. The very best thing about his illness was that when I would travel down to California to visit, and I was leaving, he no longer would press money into my hand but would say to me “I love you” and get teary eyed. This was not something I heard often from him, but Alzheimer’s brought this vocal sensitivity gene out in him. I’d then put the last stuff in my car and again he would say “I love you” because he had forgotten he had already said it. Once I got 4 “I love you’s” before I drove away and I thought to myself–what a privilege to be able to experience that. I wouldn’t trade that day for the world now.
So Dad, on the first night of my life without you alive, I can report to you that your “girlfriend” Melody is doing just fine. I still live in Canada with Kenn and love it. It snowed today, how is the weather where you are? No, I no longer own the winery but you would still be so proud of me. I took the DeSoto for a drive this summer. Last week I asked Mom if I could have your shade hat–I hope that is OK–it makes me feel like you’re with me. I love you, Dad. But mostly, thank you. An exhaustive thank you for all you were for me. For all you did for me. For all you lifted me. For your winks, your laughs and your advice. Thank you for showing me a life well lived. We’ll watch over Mom for you, don’t worry.