“Listen Kathy, I came to terms with this years ago. Daddy left us. He left us to start a new family, he didn’t want this family, so he left. Quit beating yourself up over him.”
Daddy died October 1, in his sleep, alone in his bed. We received a phone call, well a voice mail to call. We were pretty sure what that meant. We’d been estranged, pretty much no communication for past two years. Dad and our family. The ‘step-family’ swooped in a while ago. They were in, we were out. Nothing new.
For a while now, I’ve been spending time going over the past with my dad. The good, the bad and the ugly.
October 1959. I was 11, just starting puberty, my brothers were 10 and 8. Our little family moved to South Lake Tahoe. Dad was a blue collar worker. Mom’s collar was secretarial white. Dad was a builder, he could do anything. He figured he could make his dream stash in a small country berg that was destined for great things. To look at it now, the Lake is about the only thing up there that looks like it did 50 years ago.
We were quite the dysfunctional family as I remember. Fights, money troubles, women troubles. Two years after moving to Tahoe, Daddy took off with another woman to live in Oregon.
Junior high graduation came and went. He showed up for an hour. For the remainder of our young lives, my brothers and I received just about nothing from dad. No cards, no love, no birthday cash, no memories there at all.
Basically that relationship never changed over the course of our lives. Dad became and Grandpa Russ and Grandpa Russ was no different than Daddy Russ. Sometimes we saw him, heard from him, other times we didn’t. There were good times, short family trips, mini vacations, stories shared, new children, grand-children, great grand-children brought into the world. It all seemed so normal.
Two years ago, I told my dad that my sister-in-law was planning a big surprise 60th birthday party for my brother. Dad wanted to go! He was excited! I was excited! And though he’d had some recent impairments, lapses in cognition, judgment, memory, I told myself, we can do this. I’m an RN, a professionally trained, educated, psych nurse, he’s my dad.
Well, after three Emergency Room visits in three different cities, trains, planes, and ambulances in three different states, we made it home after never getting to the birthday party. Out of his home environment, Dad completely lost it in a series of confused, psychotic and violent episodes. We dragged home bewildered and lost.
As a young man, Daddy survived three years of prison camp in WWII after being captured on Wake Island. He later helped build the port in his tiny fishing village. He traveled and loved and was loved. My travel bug I’ve gotten from him.
As I said, since his death, I’ve gone over all my dad’s mistakes enough times to see all the things I’ve done wrong. He was just doing his best. I was doing my best. His dad left his mom when he and his two brothers were little boys, off to sail the world as a merchant marine.
When I learned he was dead, I didn’t want a service. I’d said my goodbye long ago. Overnight a change of heart set in. We did need it, my kids, my self, we needed to say our goodbyes. So we had a small, home garden family service. My brothers didn’t attend. They had their own goodbyes to do, in their own style. So, on a bright and beautiful fall sunny Sunday, it was time to say a few things about Grandpa Russ.
“Remember the fresh salmon he brought to us when we were up camping in the Oregon woods?”
. . . “Or the time he chewed out the restaurant chef for not buying local fresh crab?”
. . . “I only remember how grumpy he was.”
. . . “I remember when he ‘disappeared’ with Grandma Mollie for a couple days when they were both visiting their first grandson. Long after they had divorced.”
. . . “How about the time he took us out in the Pacific in his fishing boat? And Pauline got sick, throwing up over the side? Hah hah hah”
Come together in a circle, hands holding hands, soothing threads of ‘Amazing Grace’ in the air. Peace, gratitude, chuckles.
…“Okay, let’s see how the Niners are doing!”
A final word about my dad’s dying? I wish I felt worse than I do.