There comes a point in everyone’s life that they think OMFG I look just like my father, or mother, as the case may be. We catch ourselves using some of the same phrases we hated as kids, saying things like “We’ll see” instead of no way kiddo, “I‘ll give you something to cry about”, or the ultimate in fear mongering, “If you don‘t keep quiet I‘m gonna turn us around and go back home.” Well Dad I have to tell you, this hurts me more than it does you because yesterday I caught myself pointing that finger of distain you were so good at. Holy shit I’m mimicking my parents bad behavior. But let me tell you that shit ain’t nothing compared to that day you look in the mirror and the face looking back is no longer the handsome rebel rouge but a carbon copy of your old parent. I would say its deflating but my stomach is as big as my Dads was and it is showing no signs of deflating. A combination of genetics, way too much beer, munchies, and constantly swallowing my pride. I remember thinking once that the bags under my fathers eyes could count as carry on luggage and the wrinkles in his not so tight fitting skin were not character lines but fault lines. Thing is his look somehow found its way over to me. And of course the hairline, or lack there of which has gone way beyond receding has gone topless. Now on my license I’m required to list my hair color as transparent!
This getting old and looking like Dad shit is enough to turn me into a grumpy old man except I don’t have the energy it takes to be grumpy all the time. Trips to the bathroom, which are like a recurring bad dream at night, leave me short of breath, and every morning all my weary bones complain in a crackling and creaking language called osteoporosis. But such is life I’m not the only one infected with the “It sucks getting old” virus and like most everyone who reaches the age of reflection I wonder about my mistakes, where could I have done better ,what things could I have changed. In the end its just flat out too late, what’s done is done and history can’t change. Fostering regrets are fruitless growths that like weeds can destroy the memories of a beautiful garden an at this point in my life I spend a lot of time in the garden and have no use for weeds. I know I’ve had my fair share of mistakes, made some poor choices, wandered down some questionable paths but WTF, it is what it is and many of the bad choices are now some pretty goddamn funny stories. Life is what we make of it and not a single thing we do can change what’s passed.
I’ve lost both my parents and had to view their stages of death like some morose real life film. With my Mom I witnessed the horrible ravages of cancer as it slowly decayed her mind and body while ripping out the hearts of our family simultaneously. My Mom and I had many issues with each other but we finally saw eye to eye a few months before she took ill. My Dad died from cancer as well, but it was much quicker and more merciful as well as occurring many years into his life. One of the odder effects aging had on him was his renewal of his long overlooked religious rituals and beliefs. I assume he was hedging his bets, stacking the deck in case he was wrong about the significance of religion and if he really did meet his maker wanted a few years of church on his resume to heaven. He was seeking validation, not only with God but with his children. As his time came closer he had a rare opportunity of connecting with his children, something he wasn‘t especially apt at as when we were growing up.
His reflections found all of us reflecting as well, I can’t speak for my four older brothers or my younger sister but many things I reflected on as to my Dads fathering was weak at best. I always loved him but to me he wasn’t the greatest Dad he could have been. Not saying it was a crap way to grow up or he mistreated or abused me but as I reflect on my childhood I realized my Dad was negligent to his own kids. Never once had a catch out back with me, never took me fishing, never even gave me the sex talk, those were all jobs of my older brothers. My Dad spent most of his adult life building his community reputation convincing near about everyone not living under his roof that he is the perfect father. Ward Cleaver crossed with Steve Douglass and Andy of Mayberry and me as Dennis the Menace. Actually one of my older brothers was the menace, I was more like Beaver Cleaver I guess. Our friends and neighbors would proclaim how lucky we were to have him as our father and how perfect our lives must be. Upon reflection he was a helluva father figure to the neighborhood kids but spent little to no time with his own. I think the most attention I ever got from him was on those few, very rare few….Okay maybe more than a few encounters with the long arm of the law. When it came to his son placing a mark on his precious reputation he flew into damage control, me being the damage.
I went sort of underground for a while and lost contact with my family soon after my Mom passed away. When I finally reinstated contact with my Dad he was married and living in Florida, so he and his wife flew into New York to meet me. After a big hug he turned to his wife and said to me, “Meet your new Mom” Now if I were like say ten that might be appropriate, but I was in my thirties and had been on my own for quite some time and in no need of a mother. It just sort of underscored for me how out of touch he was with me and what the center of the universe was for him. But fuck it. No big deal, that’s the way my old man was so I just rolled with it, never fostered any anger or resentment, so I wrote it off as past practices and repeated history. That was his vision of how to be a successful parent, find a woman to do the parenting for him. All in all he was a good man, volunteer fireman his whole life, on the volunteer rescue squad every Sunday, and was what they called a “Well respected man about town” But truth is for me he was just a crap Dad, seldom took me anywhere with him, only showed interest in things if it involved him. Like I say, I always loved him, he wasn’t a bad man he just neglected his own children and concentrated on the community. When he reached the point where all he had left was reflection it began to haunt him and he wanted to make amends.
I know some of my brothers allowed him to talk, some didn’t , my sister surely did as he spent his last days in her house. I have never been one to hold a grudge, I find the weigh far to much to carry around all the time so I was very attentive hearing him reveal his laments of a failed fatherhood. He repeated phrases like “I know I wasn’t always there for you boys” or “I wish I had been a better father” I deflected most of it allowing him his confessions. I gotta admit though, it did seem like an opportunity to unleash decades of pent up frustration at my Dad for never being there for me, for not accepting me for who I am until I left his life for a few years, and for constantly attempting to steer me away from what I really wanted to do, write, or act, or something in the arts, at times even forcefully. My last four years of high school he spent telling me I would never make any money because I have no talent, and I should either get into business courses or face the fact I will be a laborer the rest of my life. I began to wonder if some of my poor life choices, my pension for self medication and such were not a direct result of his interference. Maybe if he had spent more quality time with me I would have made better choices myself. But no, those choices were all mine, I own them. I could have gone other ways but I chose what I chose not because of my own insecurities, not any brought on by either parent. Then again, what the hell, I had him in a position in which he would be forced to hear me out and these angers are much more deep rooted than I had previously believed. I thought about all the things I could say to my father, unleash on him all that he deserves, because it wasn’t just me, he treated my brothers the same way. Yea my brothers, all of which became devoted fathers with great relationship with their children. Everyone of us spent time with our kids, why couldn’t he? Then it struck me, maybe we were all such hands on Dads because our Dad wasn’t. So he inadvertently taught us more about family than he knew. And really, what did I honestly know about how he was raised, my grandparents were great as grams and gramps but I wonder if they were great as parents. You never know, maybe he had it worse than us. A decision had to be made, I was calling him up for perhaps the last time ever, the doctor said it could be an hour or it could be a day, but no more than four or five days tops because he had aggressive brain cancer.
I called my Pops for what I was sure would be the last time. Give him shit and feel better or let it go? I listened intently as he rambled on about all the things he felt he did wrong as a father and he hit on a good portion, but left out some important errors that effected me personally so when he finally stopped talking ready to listen I took a deep breath and said, “No Dad, that’s not true….. You were a… You were a great father, you loved us all and we all knew it. I wouldn’t trade you as my Dad for any other father in the world, you were perfect and I love you.” There was silence on the phone. Well not total silence, I could hear a soft sniffle and knew my Dad was crying, hopefully from joy and relief. During that silence I realized that for all the faults he may have had, he taught me something priceless. My father taught me how to be a better man, and I hope I passed that along to my son in my own way. My Dad gathered his composure, cleared his throat an said, “Thank you son, I love you too.”
That was the last words my Dad spoke to me. It was in stark contrast to the last thing my Mom said to me which was “Who are you? I don‘t know you!” But that was the cruel ravages of cancer that robbed not only my Moms life, but didn’t have the mercy to let her leave with the quiet dignity she maintained her entire life. Maybe he wasn’t the most perfect Dad, maybe there no such thing, but I am a loving caring father and that had to come from somewhere. Thanks Mom and Dad, you made me a better man.