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"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

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Friday, April 6, 2018


I wrote this on Thursday, but I didn't want to publish it until there was time for people to find out via means other than my blog.  Not that the folks who'd want to know read my blog, but I do try to be considerate.  This will be messy, but I'm disinclined to "fix" it.  I'm writing from the heart, and my heart is notoriously untidy under the best of circumstances.

Also, this is lengthy.

My Dad died last night.  This morning.  Just after Midnight.

I was not expecting that.

Well, I kinda knew it was more possible than not, since last week, but still.

I was hoping.

Last week I found out he was in the hospital.  My Uncle B was coming home from Costa Rica.  My stepmother S was on her way back from Sri Lanka.  I though Dad was in Sri Lanka with her.  I don't know why he wasn't, but I'm guessing he really wasn't feeling well or he wouldn't have missed that trip.

While I didn't know much at that time, I knew that for those two to drop their respective trips and come back to the US, things were probably dire.

I managed to talk to him on the phone for about a minute.  He was tired, in pain, couldn't even hold the phone for very long.  I told him I love him.  Several times.

He had surgery, and chemo, because cancer was the root cause of all of this.  Fuck.  Cancer.

He was in pain.  My Daddy was in pain.  He wanted to go  home.  To be done.  He went into hospice care and two days later passed through the veil.

No more pain.  No more cancer.  No more Daddy.

Let me tell you about my father.

He was almost 79, I think.  He and my mom married in 1968.  My brother was born in 1969.  I came along in 1972.  When I was too young to remember, he and Mom parted ways.

I remember occasional gifts in the mail, at holidays or maybe a birthday.  I remember knowing that other kids had fathers, and one day making the connection that this stranger who sometimes came around was my father, that "Dad" meant him, and that while other children had someone at home by that name, I did not.

For a while, that was okay, because it was our normal.  You can't miss what you never had.  Mom never let anyone speak badly of him in front of us kids.  Whatever went wrong, it was between them.  Thanks, Mom.

For a while, I wondered why Daddy didn't want me.  I guess I wondered why he didn't want us, because there was my brother, too, but mostly I wondered why he didn't want me.  What was wrong with me?  What did I do wrong?  Why didn't I hear from him on my birthday, so often gone unremarked by my paternal parent?  Little girls want their Daddies.  That is our first relationship with a male, and it's what we model all future relationships on.  I didn't know that, of course, being still in the single digits in age, but later...

Over time, he reconnected with us.  Largely thanks to S, my stepmother, who shook some sense into him.  I always liked S, even when I was an angsty teenage shit visiting for the summer.  She taught me some things about relationships, probably without knowing she did it - about speaking your mind, voicing what's right even if it's not popular, about sticking to your guns.  Also she taught me that there's no such thing as a seagull.  No, there isn't.  Really.  There are Herring Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Blackback Gulls...but no Sea Gulls.  Anyway.

Dad was a boatman.  He belonged on the water.  He was happy as a skipper, whether the vessel was large or small.  He was good at it.  I loved being on the water with him.  I didn't know until a few years ago that he was in the US Army for a bit.  He grew "Portuguese Peppers" in the woods once, which I often felt bad about because they never seemed to fruit, and he was a good gardener.  When I was a bit older, I found out that "Portuguese Pepper" was code for a different kind of plant.  Hint:  it wasn't actually a pepper.

I'm pretty sure he's been on every continent.

He was wicked smart, funny, and all around a decent fellow.  I admired him, I liked him, I loved him.

Here are some memories I have:

Sitting on his lap in a truck.  He let me steer.  We were at the top of a big hill.  I was very young.  It was awesome.

Eating those jellied fruit slice candies, the kind all covered in big sugar crystals.  Or was it the mint leaves?  He shared them with me.  I liked to nibble the sugar off of them.

Spending a small eternity (or probably a week or two) on his sail boat, the Osprey, "helping" him and S with netting and banding birds somewhere off the New England coast.  Jumping off the boat to swim.  Eating cereal out of those wee boxes, using them as bowls.  This is when I learned that I do not like powdered milk, reconstituted or not.  I do like jumping off of boats and paddling about in the ocean.  Also, salt water doesn't foam up when you shampoo with it.

Summer days on Martha's Vineyard, stretching out into forever.  Taking the John boat down to the beach.  Learning to catch crabs with a pig's foot.  Refusing to pluck ducks that he'd hunted.  His wizardlike ability to find arrow heads on the shore of the pond.  Being a little grossed out when he'd pull an oyster out of the water, open it, and slurp it down.  Wishing he would teach me to drive a stick shift.

Bird banding on Penikese, riding back to the Vineyard on the bow of the boat,  feeling the waves burst against the hull and spray me.  Stiff with salt, going to a store by the dock and getting lobsters for dinner.  The party after, people laughing and talking and eating and scaring the tar out of me with fireworks.

Him asking me if we should or should not pick up a hitchhiker.  They're common on the Vineyard.  I don't think I ever told him to pass one by.

Riding in the bed of the truck, up on the side, wind making a mess of my hair while he drove.

Helping him change a wheel bearing on his truck.  Learning to drive a lawn mower and cutting the grass in the field.  Learning how to prime and start the motor on the John boat.  Going to the huge garden and digging potatoes, picking vegetables to cook for dinner.  Making pretty salads for Dad and S to take to a party or for our own meal.  Peeing on the poison ivy.

Osprey and Scrimshaw, two of his boats that I loved.

Fried clams at the Menemsha Bite.

When I got married, we decided to have a Renfest kind of theme for the clothing.  Dad and S were game.  It was marvelous.  They danced at the reception and I loved seeing them together.

Telling him that he was my favorite crusty old fart, getting a laugh for that.

Our holiday phone calls.  We rarely spoke or visited each other, but I tried always to call on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We might not talk for the rest of the year, but on those days, we caught up.

Talking to him about addiction, about dealing with, loving, an addict.  It was one of the most adult conversations we ever had, and he never made me feel stupid about it all.  The conversation about mental illness, my mental illness.  His striving to understand, and loving me regardless.

Spending Thanksgiving with him and S on the Vineyard when the Evil Genius was just shy of two.  Ohmuhgoodness, that sausage-brandied apricot dressing!  He and S asked me to make the cranberry sauce.  I'd never done that unless it meant opening a can.  They trusted me to make it right.  Pretty sure I did.

His voice.  My brother sounds just like him.  It will be eerie, now, talking to him.

No matter how angry, bitter, disappointed, disillusioned, or hurt I was about who we were to each other, how we were with each other, what we did or didn't have...I loved him.  Whatever he thought of me, he never made me feel bad for being...me.  Strange, silly, sometimes stupid, sometimes a bit too optimistic and too little realistic daughter, once I realized that his absence in my childhood wasn't about me, it was about him living his life, a life that simply didn't involve kids because it was too much, too out there in the world, too alien to him...I got over myself and realized that I could love him and it was okay.  And love him I have and will continue to do.

Hail, Flip.  Hail the traveler.
May your journey through the veil and into the next life be an easy one.
May you leave behind all memory of pain, sorrow, anger, and loss.
May you carry with you all memory of happiness and love.
May you be met with joy and fellowship by those who went before you, and should you return to this life once more may we who knew and loved you do so again.

I will miss you, Daddy.  I will miss knowing that you were somewhere on this old Earth, knocking about, birding, sailing, raising a little hell, exploring, loving life.

Hail, Flip.  Hail the traveler.

Dammit, Daddy.


Christine Swailes said...

You wrote from your heart here, the words flow beautifully. You were paying attention.

Alchemical Amazon said...

You were both so fortunate to get to know each other eventually.
Some never do, and if they do, they may still not have the willingness to be honest and accepting. You were blessed.

I'm sorry he was lost to you this way.

Holly said...

I never knew my Mother. I especially resonated with this part of your story. But, thankfully for you, you found your way to each other so that the color he added to your life canvas can be clearly seen. For that, I am very grateful. This post of yours? It is wonderful. And, would make him proud. Again. For I know he was always proud of you. May you Pater go forth shining and may your be held safely in the net of all the love and memories he leaves behind in his going.

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