Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Goodbye Dad

Life with Dad had it's ups and downs. At times it was like walking on thin ice. Other times he was fun to be around and then there were times where he was just Dad, the guy who came home, read the paper, watched a show and went to bed.

My Mom and Dad and Grandpa with me riding
the Horse with No Legs. Is that a song?

When you are young you just see your parents before and after work and have no idea what their life is like in between. We didn't see the details of their daily existence, just the results. Some evenings were good, some were bad. Eventually the evenings were leaning more towards bad than good as the economy also shifted to bad and having a lazy teenage son laying around the house acting like he owns the place didn't help any. Dad and I were not getting along. I made plans. Community College graduation was close and I already had a good job. I was saving. Saving for that U-haul.

Me, Dad and Uncle Rog

I moved out of the house and down the thruway as soon as I could get away. I was young and trying to figure out what direction to take in life and where to live it. Getting a job in Rochester removed me from the daily family drama of my parents living with three teenage disco girls and a dog that bites people in the ass if they try to leave. I imagine it was a fun place now that I was gone and I pretty much just kept it to Sunday phone calls and the occasional visit. I did not see much of the family and I hoped that my absence might improve my relationship with Dad. It did a little bit but you see, my Dad and I had an eight hour relationship time limit.

After being together for about eight hours one of us would say something or do something to piss each other off. It could be anything. One that comes to mind is the Pete Rose Hall of Fame issue. My Dad talked about Pete deserving to get into the Hall. I casually asked, Didn't he bet against his own team? There was a slight pause and then Dad replied with, "What the hell do you know about baseball!!". Enough to know a cheater when I see one. And just like that conversation was over and replaced with occasional glaring and avoidance. It was usually some silly disagreement that set us off or an off hand comment said in jest that was received the wrong way. We could easily co-exist in the same space for four hours. After four things get dicey and no way we can go beyond eight. It just didn't work.

Dad sitting down the kids and I for a chat.

In a way Dad and I were opposites. Dad loved baseball. He played it all his life. I thought baseball was boring. I played it too. Dad was not impressed and neither were my coaches. I spent a lot of time in right field watching birds and catching grasshoppers. Dad watched a lot of football. I built a lot of model airplanes. Once I wanted to impress him by watching a game on a small black and white TV up in my room. I think I even had a helmet on. By the time he got home I had built a fort of chairs and blankets around the TV and turned it into a secret airbase for jet fighters. Dad asked me about the score. Uh, I uh.. He also finally realized that he had a nerd in his family and would just have to deal with it. He did, in a way.

As the years went by, the 8 hour rule still applied. We saw less and less of each other. As we grew older my life got more hectic as Dad's slowed down. My weekly phone calls became bi-weekly and then monthly. Dad's conversations with me seemed like a chore for both of us. Sometimes we hit it off and laughed a lot and sometimes it was a grunt for a hello and a "talk to your Mother" moment. Sometimes he didn't pick up. My visits became even less frequent and sometimes we didn't even make it to 4 hours before conversation stalled. The whole relationship was going south.

Still trying to impress my Dad even in my 40's I got the brilliant idea of taking him to a Boston Bruins game. Yes, the one solid thing we still had in common and it involved sports. Dad and I were hockey fans. We loved the sport and we loved the Boston Bruins. I will never forget a game the Bruins were playing against the hated Montreal Canadiens long ago. We were on the couch in front of the TV and stressed out about a very close game. It was a tie game. It was a playoff game. With just seconds left Boston scored on a rebound from a shot by Bobby Orr and as I lept off the couch Dad did a somersault roll from the couch to a leap in the air in front of the screen! I thought it was the funniest thing I ever saw. It was good to laugh with Dad. It did not happen often but when it did it was usually memorable.

Planning this Boston trip might be the craziest thing I ever did. What about the 8 hr. rule? He might want to strangle me before we even get to Albany! I bought the tickets not knowing if he would even want to go but he agreed. Wow! Now what? This could be a total disaster!

I was pretty nervous when we got into the car. All I could think of was what words would come out of my mouth to set him off. I turned on the radio and hoped he would sleep. He didn't like the music. Damn, no oldies stations. We ran out of coffee, damn. It started to rain, damn. I had to hit the brakes and the car shuddered and the anti-lock brake light came on and also the check engine light. Damn. Is this a sign to turn around? I kept driving while Dad looked at me and then the dash lights. No problem Dad this happened before and it was nothing I lied. "Better get that looked at", he said. "The new Honda is nice. The Accord. My Grand Prix was a lemon. Terrible car." I was biting my tongue. I worked at GM. I drove a Grand Prix. Tic toc tic toc...

We continued on. Almost to Albany now. A truck on a side road to the thruway sideswiped a utility pole and the wires separated and there was blue arcing and flame on the pole. Holy smokes! Something is telling me this is a bad idea. Dad was asleep at the moment and there was no turning back now. I also really really had to use the bathroom but I did not want to wake him up. This reminded me of a time when he took me on a sales trip to Ohio. In order to make good time we skipped all meals both ways. I lived off a bag of blue mint candies he had for the ride. I can never eat those candies again. I laughed at his sleeping face wishing I had a bag of those mints if he said he was hungry.

As we entered Boston my Dad was awake and his eyes were wide as he pointed out various places around town and commented on my dangerous driving. By some miracle I found my way to our hotel and we parked and got settled in no time and without conflict. Hell I think we may break this eight hour limit.

Our hotel was near MIT and it is a long walk to the arena downtown. Dad asked how far a walk it is. Uh oh. Not far I lied, again. At this point it was dark outside and we started walking to dinner. We wanted to go to Cheers, the bar made famous by the TV show. Dad now understood how far this walk was but he was so fascinated by his surroundings that he never gave it a second thought. The air was crisp this fall evening and the holidays were quickly approaching. It was a perfect night for a walk.

With our hands in our jackets we walked down the long street, passing many old Brownstone houses worth millions and we were so close to them that the windows were too high for me to see into, so I was jumping up and down as we passed a window to get a look. I wouldn't call it peeping, more like just being nosey. Dad would laugh, "You're short like your mother". Yeah what's with that anyway? I asked. I have a head sized for a bigger body. I was malnourished or something. We laughed some more as we worked our way uphill, still joking as we passed beautiful home after home. Any minute. Any minute he's going to ask me if we were actually walking back home instead of going to dinner. Any minute now. Finally, "Hey, If I don't make it to dinner just roll me back down into the river." How about I bury you next to Samuel Adams? More laughter.

Dad and I Sumo wrestling

As we reached the top of the hill I continued on but soon realized Dad had stopped walking. I looked back and he was staring down the hill to the commons. Everything OK?, I asked. I couldn't hear what he said and when I walked back to him he nodded down the hill, "look at that."

At the bottom of the hill the commons were all aglow. The ice rink shined bright white. Girls were practicing their figure skating routines for a Christmas show all dressed in white and silver. The ice rink was surrounded by beautiful ice sculptures and the ladies ice danced as the Christmas music filled the air. Both of us were as frozen as the sculptures as we stared down the hill. No traffic. Nobody but us and all quiet except the distant sound of music. I looked at Dad and he had a smile unlike any I had ever seen on his face. It wasn't the smile from a joke, or a sitcom or a laugh at the bar. This was a genuine love my life right now smile. It was the smile I needed to see.
"That's something. That's really something.", he said.

The rest of the walk was easy. We were buoyed by the wonderful sight before us and had a little more spring in our step on our way to dinner. Dinner was good. Afterwards we visited Melville's upstairs and rubbed elbows with folks who Dad entertained with a few jokes and some stories. The hockey game was great. The Bruins won and I made sure Dad didn't do a somersault off his seat into the aisle when they scored.

We had busted way past our old 8 hr time limit. After that moment on the hill I never gave it another thought. That smile. That moment. That is what I needed after all those years.

That weekend happened many years ago but I think it was somewhat of a turning point in our relationship. We saw each other a little bit differently afterward and our attitudes towards one another improved.

Now that Dad is gone I look back and wonder how things could have been different between us, but then I realize that even if we had the chance for a repeat we would probably be the same two individuals we were.
Dad and I saw each other months before his passing when he was in the hospital and we had a lengthy talk. After many hours of memory filled conversation we both had no apologies or regrets. We were just thankful for the time we did have as father and son.

Rest in Peace Dad. Wherever you are I am sure you are sporting that smile you had on the hill and that is how I will remember you.

Cheers Dad.
posted from Bloggeroid