- 30 May
Well, that happened.
My father and I made different choices in life. I'm tempted to end that sentence with, "and that's all there is to it." but you and I both know from experience there would be no truth in that.
I can't say exactly when his influence began to wane, but I can say I was young. Still in my single digits of age, it was the habit of drinking and arguing that my tiny brain detected as something from which to withdraw. While a series of stressful incidents occurred over many years, there were and still are some Standard Operating Procedures which befall most boys - the end of tax-supported schooling, for example. The acquisition of separate housing comes to the fore after necessary parental questions are asked, such as "When the hell are you leaving?" This, of course, begs the question, "And what sort of a job are you gonna get?"
Not having models (my parents were neither informed nor inclined to offer knowledge or advice gleaned from their own experience or contacts; when two people drink and argue when they are together there is little time or urge to make contact with others) and not having siblings (I was El Accidente after 10 years of marriage), I was somewhat at sea. I took that long walk off a short pier.
I know. I see the tears welling up in your eyes. "'It was Hell!' recalls former child."
The prelude of pity you just read is fairly common, I'd say. It's dog eat shark out there, sink or swim. I know it, you know it, the American People know it.
So through the magic of Fast Forward, let us go directly to The Death of the Father.
He was ill for a long time. He was born to be a car salesman, at least that's all he ever did after the war, the WWII. He retired after 47 years of it and then sat down in front of the TV and waited for death. He probably didn't know that. He probably thought he was just waiting for Regis and Kathie Lee. A heart attack started it, then bypass, then strokes, an aortic aneurysm, carotid artery cleanout, some more strokes and pretty soon one starts to not feel so good. Death, wearing a T-shirt extolling the virtues of the Unfiltered Camel, lets himself in through the empty garage and sinks down into the other La-Z-Boy and watches TV all day. An old man's mood sours, his memory curdles, and his face gets that sunken appearance. At some point impending death becomes obvious, and that point is different for everyone. Soon enough it's clear to everybody that the guy's a goner.
A somber patience overcomes the distant friends and relatives. They don't have to put up with the smell. For the immediate family there is the white light of relief coming and they urge the man, in the most kind and loving way, to move toward it for everyone's sake, but mostly for his own.
Hospice comes to aid and comfort.
And then the man, this one at 82, dies.
For more than a decade, maybe two, most of the hard friction had smoothed out. Or at least things were as good as they were ever going to get. Inside me, however, a suspicion lurked, a doubt that this outlook, this apparent smoothing was perhaps not as real as I thought. I wondered if maybe a storm of grief was just over the horizon. You know, the deep shameful heavy embarrassing sobs.
Today, almost two weeks after his death there have been no surprises, no sudden attacks of regret or anger or denial.
Well, I suppose something unexpected did happen. As I contemplate his passing I also contemplate my own. Though he and I lived in different circumstances in different eras and each of us was outwardly very much a product of his environment, there is something ingrained and common about The Office of Eldest Man being handed down. There is an inevitable re-evaluation of the arc of one's own life and the value it has brought to the family and the ones who know us. From within the "in your face" nature of death emerges the "in your face" nature of life and it forces one to ponder the degree to which one will engage it.
So I feel as if I'm in a bubble these days, the sound-proof booth where I don the headphones to listen to life's music, and wonder about how much I can afford to forget myself when it comes time to call the tune and dance my dance.
"One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" -- FRANK SINATRA -- SINATRA AT THE SANDS
"Self-interest sets in motion virtues and vices of all kinds."
- La Rochefoucauld