Since this is Father’s Day, I’m a seeing a number of “Father’s Day Posts” happening. You may have noticed on your FaceBook feed a number of pictures of people’s fathers. Some are the, “I’m missing you” since you died. While some are pictures of guys holding babies and a lot of pictures of guys with new tools.
I suppose I should write some kind of father thing. While I often quote my father, our relationship and my view of him was/is —
Father was 36 when I was born. I was that unplanned child who arrived when most men are dealing with teenagers and the first realizations that their bodies aren’t young anymore. My father was in the midst of a career, budding alcoholism, and the slow disintegration of his marriage. He wasn’t home much.
My older brothers taught me how to ride a bike, hammer a nail, and wash the dishes. Father mostly came home late, watched TV and left the child stuff to mother.
I didn’t really get to know my father much until he started in AA when I was 12. Suddenly he was home every night and interested in what I was doing in school and in boy scouts. He even went on a father-son campout with the troop. Just for the record, he was a horrible camper, but smart enough to let me put up the tent (after all mother had taught me how to camp).
Some time around 15 father seemed to decide that we needed do things together – you know quality father-son time – so he started to take me to AA meetings. It was all he did, work, go to meetings, and sleep in front of the TV. It was an interesting time in our lives and I did get involved with Al-anon for a few years.
While it might not seem like the best way to spend time with your son, it did teach me a lot about life, who I am, and how to live. I also learned how to deal with drunks and other ‘problem’ people. The lessons I learned then have been invaluable to my life. It was also a time that deepened my spiritual life and where I came to my understanding of God.
Father was generous with me. He was helpful, always there for me and the one person I could count on when I was in trouble.
However, he wasn’t that way with other members of the family. He ignored my brothers and was horrible to my mother. I was 18 when mother finally left and filed for divorce. He was combative and fought every part of the divorce settlement that he could. It was not his finest behavior.
At age 21, I moved away from home and father moved into a small apartment. It was during this time that I realized how much he emotionally depended on me. He called every day or two and was always buying me lunch or dinner. From the outside most people thought we had a great relationship.
We did, to a certain extent. He’d help me solve problems or give advice and I’d listen to him. Then I’d mostly do whatever I wanted. I never respected the way he ignored my brothers or his inability to live his life according to the lofty principles he espoused.
When I turned 28, there was a downturn in the computer business and I found myself without a job for a few months. Resources started running out and I was concerned that I’d lose my apartment. Father came to the rescue again and suggested we lease a house together for awhile so we could both save some money.
This worked for awhile and in time I got a new job. Life seemed to be getting better.
Then one morning, he knocked on my bedroom door and with half his face said, “I think I’ve had a stroke.”
My response was, “Shit.”
That started a period of twelve years of physical and mental decline for him. When he came back from the hospital, it was clear he couldn’t work anymore. On his social security he could just barely afford his share of the rent and I ended up taking on all the other bills for the two of us.
In time he recovered enough to realize what a burden he was to me and one day announced to me that he’d called the VA and county housing authority. Since he was a WWII veteran with a service connected disability, the VA accepted him as a patient. The housing authority told him that he qualified for subsidized housing and since he was a veteran was on a priority list. He wasn’t hopeful about the housing, thinking it might be years before he got in somewhere.
Turns out, just a few months later, they called him and an apartment in a senior housing project came up and it was his.
The day I moved him in, we sat on a bench and he said to me, “I like the place, but it feels like I’ve come here to die.”
How do you respond to words like that?
We both knew it was true and all I managed to say was, “Yeah, but that could be a long time.”
It twelve years of heart bypass surgery, strokes, gallbladder removal, more strokes, and complications from medications. It was constantly checking on him, buying his groceries, clothes, and fixing his computer so he could play solitaire. Then there was the home health care to arrange for, managing his money, and social workers to talk to.
He called every day and if he didn’t I would panic. Twice I came to check why he didn’t call and didn’t answer the phone – both times I ended up calling 911 and spending days in the hospital chasing down doctors for news.
During this time he gave me everything he had – all his time, all his advice, all his jokes, and all his loyalty. He even managed to soften towards my brothers and my mother. He would come to family holidays, church, and would be polite, pleasant, humorous, and even a bit apologetic.
He died a month before my wedding to Heather in a VA ward, in pain and having lost all of his memories and intelligence to the brain damage inflicted by stroke after stroke.
We were buddies. We depended on each other, but I always called him, “father” and never “dad.”
Father always introduced me as, “This is Andy, of me and Andy.”
Fathers and sons — it’s complicated.