On this Father's Day, I would like to take a little time to remember my own father. He passed away nearly sixteen years ago, a victim of colon cancer, and I still miss him.
Growing up, we had kind of a distant relationship. It wasn't horrible or abusive, I know so many people for whom "father" was synonym for "monster", but we were never particularly close. My parents separated when I was very young, and I only have three memories of the time in which I lived with him in the same house.
Memory 1: We had a dog named Alfie. I don't remember much about that dog at all - I don't remember when we got it, how long we had it, or when (or how) it went away. For that matter, as I think about it now it is entirely possible that we were just dog-sitting Alfie. In any case, I remember the dog following me around the loop that consisted of our living room, dining room, and galley style kitchen that let right back into the living room. And as the dog followed me, I remember my dad drunkenly signing "What's It All About, Alfie?"
Memory 2: We lived at the bottom of a keyhole shaped cul-de-sac, and occasionally there would be a block party in the turnaround in front of our house. All the neighbors would be outside, and the grass would become littered with brown Rainier Beer bottles and cigarette butts. I remember at some point I tried to steal a swig of beer from a quarter-full bottle that was sitting there, and it turned out to have a cigarette butt floating inside. I spit it out immediately, and I remember my dad laughing hysterically about it.
Memory 3: My dad wasn't present for this, but it involved him and is the single most potent memory of my childhood. It was the day that my mother explained to me that my dad was moving out and would not be living with us anymore. I remember exactly where I was standing - back then we had a rolling dishwasher that had a hose you would attach to the faucet in the kitchen sink, and when it wasn't in use it would sit in a spot between the kitchen and dining room against the wall and directly underneath the telephone, right next to the sliding glass door to our backyard. We must have been doing dishes at the time, because when my mom told me I was standing in that exact spot. I can still remember the exact pattern of dirt and stains on the wall and on the side of the cabinet that the dishwasher usually covered. I stood there and cried for what seemed like hours, as my mom explained that it was not my fault and that my father loved me very much, but that he just couldn't live with us anymore. It seems odd to me now that I loved him so much that his peaceful departure would lead to such a traumatic moment in my childhood, and yet I don't have any real substantial memories of him before that.
And so my dad became this guy that I would see on the weekend every month or so. For a few years we were geographically fairly close, the parent exchange happening easily on neutral ground in Seattle's U-District in the evening. Then when I was ten years old my mom got a job in Skagit Valley. We moved sixty miles north, I spent the rest of my childhood growing up in Burlington, and it became a Greyhound bus ride to see my dad. From my perspective, it was just me and my sister going to see our dad. It wasn't until many years later that I really grasped that from my dad's perspective I was the youngest of six children he had across three wives. He had spread himself very thin, and I never did appreciate just how thin until my adult years.
With all that being said, though, my dad always loved me. To my knowledge he never missed a weekend with me unexpectedly. I am sure that, life being what it is, there may have been weekends that got rescheduled - but I have no memory of ever being stood up by him. He was always there to talk on the phone whenever I wanted or needed to speak to him, and in his own way he did his very best to love me.
In my teenage years I blamed him for a lot of things that really had nothing to do with him. I come from a family of alcoholics, and I was the one who went to the opposite extreme. I was so terrified of drinking -- as a teenager I thought sure that if I took just one drink that I would never be able to stop. My dad, on the other hand, was a functional alcoholic for his entire life. He was never violent, certainly never around me, but he was pretty much always pleasantly buzzed every time I saw him. With my abject terror of alcohol, that made me very uncomfortable around him a lot of the time. But again, he was never angry or abusive towards me. Quite the opposite, he tried his best to understand me despite us having so little in common to talk about.
Just before my son was born, dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was the year after he had retired from Boeing, and he had been making a real effort to improve his diet and get more exercise. He went to see his doctor for a checkup, mostly to show off how much weight he had lost, and it was during that exam that the doctor sent him straight to the hospital for more extensive tests. Within 24 hours he was diagnosed, and had surgery to remove eighteen inches of bowel. I went to see him at the hospital, and he looked pale as a ghost. I had never, ever seen him so weak.
The next summer my (then) wife and I went down to Arizona for a week to visit with him, and to introduce him to his grandson. It was an odd, uncomfortable week filled with very long and silent pauses between my dad and I. We both longed to have a real heart-to-heart conversation, and neither of us knew how to start. Even so, we had a few good shared moments together and I am grateful we got to spend that week in his home.
That fall, less than a year after his diagnosis, he was gone. Oddly enough, I received the news of his leaving in almost the same location in our current home as I did in my childhood. I took the phone call standing in the space between our kitchen and dining room, was informed of my father's passing, and I pretty much collapsed right there. I didn't recognize the odd symmetry of the moment until much later.
Looking back, it is amazing how much my father shaped my life. I really do see a lot of him in myself, and I think he would be very proud of how my life has turned out. I can certainly see his face in my own son. I wish I could have known him better while he was alive.
I love you dad. Thank you for everything.