Growing up, Robert, Other Brother and I saw all kinds of sides of our dad. He was funny, energetic, ornery, absent, equal parts loving and rude with a dash of crazy (and I mean that as an actual diagnosis).
Dad was diagnosed with everything from Paranoid Schizophrenia to Bipolar to some kind of Personality Disorder. Who knows what the “correct” diagnosis was (or if there should be one at all).
All I know is he was full of life and drive and enthusiasm and was the best salesman around. He sold everything from china, smoke detectors (yes, these were sold door to door back in the day), insurance, real estate, pots and pans and, oddly enough for the most unhealthy man alive, vitamins.
When he was home he made some delicious fudge for our Friday night movie nights and when we visited our grandparent’s home, there was plenty of air guitar and singing to The Beatles. Dad gathered up any kids interested in being in a band and we sang our hearts out. (Off key, of course, as we cannot even sing Happy Birthday without dogs barking along with us and neighbors closing their windows.)
Oh but he was so frustrating! He and mom loudly fought about anything (especially when they drank too much which was pretty often) and they eventually divorced. Dad remarried a few more times (mom only once more) yet Dad continued to declare his undying love for our mom for the rest of his life. Sure, she considered filing a restraining order but he was pretty harmless. Fortunately, mom’s second husband, George, took a liking to Dad and would play intermediary between the two.
George, who was quite the handyman, would also help Dad out with various household tasks that Dad was ill-equipped to do on his own (you know, like change a light bulb).
The three had an interesting relationship and it is only fitting they are all buried in the same cemetery within a hundred yards of each other. Dad wanted to be buried right next to Mom but we knew she would never forgive us and would haunt us forever if we did that to her. Instead, we buried Dad just out of rock-throwing distance in case Mom got too irritated with him.
They needed their space here and, to be on the safe side, we ensured they had some space in the after-life too.
Dad infuriated me no end when he was sick. He was the worst patient in the hospital and I would follow behind him apologizing to the nursing staff for his rude and demanding behavior. To appease him, I tried to make him as comfortable as possible, even going so far as fulfilling his wish for satin pajamas.
Yep, Dad fancied himself Hugh Hefner even in the hospital and battling bladder cancer.
Dad called me to celebrate surviving five years being cancer free and I sent him a plant to commemorate the occasion (which he promptly killed). Eventually, he became ill again and was told he had kidney failure and needed tests to find out if cancer had returned and was also advised to go on dialysis.
He didn’t want either.
He continued to see the doctor only to get pain medications since whatever was making him sick was also causing him great discomfort. I insisted on going to the doctor with him only to be told that he absolutely did not want me to go. He was afraid I would make him get treatment after seeing the doctor with him and he didn’t want to be mad at me.
That was a week before he died.
Instead of us being in an argument, I visited him with Richard and Rachel. Other Brother visited with his daughter. Dad loved being with his granddaughters but was also in quite a bit of pain. He demanded more pain pills than what he should have and after a bit of discussion and wringing of hands, Other Brother and I let him take an extra pill or two.
Dad was in a lot of pain.
That night Dad wanted McDonalds for dinner. A double-cheeseburger, fries, shake and apple pie. Washed down with a can or two of Diet Pepsi and as many cigarettes as he could smoke.
Dad never was one to eat well or consider a healthy lifestyle. He sincerely believed that if he stopped smoking he would be so stressed out that he would die of a heart attack.
As smart as he was, logic was not his strong-suit.
Dad died the next day in the emergency room. I don’t think it was the McDonalds “last meal” that killed him although that probably didn’t help. That was one of the great things about Dad. He did things his own way, in his own time and did not care what anyone else thought.
He lived life on his own terms which was a double-edged sword. He was difficult and rude and downright mean sometimes but he also didn’t give a hoot what anyone thought about him.
He chose not to find out if cancer had returned and he definitely chose not to go on dialysis for his kidney failure. It has crossed my mind that if he really was mentally ill then maybe he should not have been able to make that decision for himself. Except he lived on his own, lived his life the way he wanted and was able to know that he did not want his only daughter mad at him at the end of his life.
Dad loved his family. Not just me, his only daughter, but his sons and brothers and sisters (one who had died in their youth) and nieces and nephews and his grandkids. Oh! He loved his grandkids!
Dad was complex and he was not perfect. He wasn’t even close.
As frustrated as he made me throughout my life I realized that I loved him anyway. Why?
Because he is my dad. Regardless of who he was and how he behaved, he was my dad. I want to believe that he did the best he could with what he had to work with.
I believe that we all may not be perfect and may make some stupid mistakes or negligent decisions but we want to try our best.
It is not about forgiveness. It is about acceptance.
Happy Father’s Day to both Dad and George. I know you are hanging out together, probably irritating the heck out of mom, but enjoying every second (and she is too but won’t admit it!).
Happy Father’s Day!