Yesterday would have been my daddy’s 70th birthday. I think he would have been both horrified and tickled at turning The Big Seven-Zero. Birthdays that ended in zeros always freaked him out a little. They made him feel older than his age – certainly older than he acted – and he always got a little squirrely on Zero birthdays. But he also loved technology and was one of the first people I knew with a Palm Pilot, and I think that he’d really be using the shit out of a smartphone and a tablet were he still around.
Ten years ago on the 17th he went into the hospital for the last time. On the 18th, his birthday, the rest of us went to the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I thought it grossly unfair that this movie that he’d spent a year or more scouring the internet for photos, clips, teasers, spoilers, cast information, leaked behind-the-scenes photos… he’d never get to see it. He loved those books and passed that love onto me, and we’d spent the last year being excited and hoping Jackson would do it justice. Now it’s a decade later, and while I’m excited to see photos and stills and behind-the-scenes videos of The Hobbit, it’s just not the same.
A decade. That’s almost a quarter of my life. Part of me wants to shake my fist at the sky and call shenanigans for whatever forces of the universe conspired to make my daddy leave the party too early. But part of me wants to thank my daddy for doing such a good job of raising me to be a complete person, one who can get along and still function after he’s gone. He didn’t leave me with unanswered questions. Well, other than “how come at 40 my dad seemed to know everything, and at 40, I don’t seem to know shit?!”… maybe he didn’t know shit, either, but he sure did talk a good game. And of course he had help in raising me, what with Bill and Doris and G-ma and Papa and Aunt Gay and Uncle Joe and Rusty.
The first ten years of my life he was DADDY. The man who tells stories and helps me get dressed in the mornings and takes off bandaids and takes care of my chicken pox and makes all the bad things go away. The second ten years of my life he was UGH, MY DAD, with the long hair and the crazy wife and really, buying a farm in the middle of nowhere, what the hell. The third ten years of my life he was MY DAD THE MAN, and I got to know him as a person and as a man filled with self-doubt and humor and love and bruises and he was as simple and complex as we all are. I got to know his dreams and his regrets and his confusion. And then he was gone.
I used to wonder, when it first happened, was it worse to lose a parent when they’re still in that stage of being able to do no wrong? Or worse when you’ve then gotten to know them as a person? Or worse when you have to watch them wither away at the end, when you’re old too and can feel that finger moving on to you…? Having met people who have lost parents at all three stages, now, I don’t think any one of them is worse than the other. It all sucks. And people who tell you it gets better are lying lying liars. It doesn’t get better. You just get numb to it. That’s not better, it’s just marginally easier to carry.
One time I surprised daddy by coming home for a science fiction convention, that year I lived up North with Quinn. I casually walked into the house – you could see the kitchen from the front door – and since I could see him there, I shouted out, “what’s for dinner!?”. He was halfway into telling me what was for dinner when it registered who he was talking to, and he came running over to wrap me in a big bear hug. “My daughter! My baby girl!” At the time I was like, jeez, dad. Now that I am friend with parents whose kids are leaving the nest, I understand more of the joy he must have felt at my surprise visit. I can still feel that hug in my mind. I’d give a heck of a lot to feel it in person again.
By the way, Uncle Joe wrote something about daddy yesterday as well. You should read it.