Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fathers' Day

Take the Hallmark cards and shove them up your @$$

It's that time of year when most of us recognize those men who, for good or ill, call us their children. Not everyone feels fulfilled by their relationships with Dad. Some are aloof and detached, strict and silent overlords of the household; others are absent in body or in mind from alcohol and/or drug use; others are small-minded, weak men who force their will on their families through physical and verbal violence. These, of course, are the examples of the worst fathers, and almost the only examples you will hear about. The good ones are rarely mentioned (they don't give any reasons for complaint). And it's a shame. Good fathers deserve more recognition for their mentorship, hard work, and patience than a card and a corny tie on a Sunday in June.

My father died on Christmas Eve in 2003 after enduring six years of liver cancer, treatment, and medication. The Doctor's prognosis, written in December 1997, stated that "...this unfortunate gentleman has less than four to six months' survival time." Every year at Christmas we celebrated another year of his survival. Dad was not the type to sit around, languish and die. There was almost always something going on with him, and he did not truly decline and die until he was unable to care for himself, relegated for three months to the hospice.

If I ever regretted joining the Marines, it was not for the hard lying on short commons in some of the worst holes the military could ever stuff its personnel into, for example, here in this damp, mephitic rat-hole barracks on this damp, mephitic, rat-hole island, but for being unable to spend as much time with my father as I could. After my parents divorced, my sister stayed with my mother and I with Dad. Through middle and high school, I went through the usual angst and loathing of parental figures that many moody teens find their way through, and didn't fully appreciate the time I spent with him or the long and odd hours he would sometimes work to ensure that we remained just on the sunny side of the poverty line. It wasn't until my senior year, when we both realized that one way or another I wouldn't be at home anymore, that I began to get along with him as I had when I was little and forgive him for what I had long perceived to be his faults. As a child I went everywhere and did everything with him; this occasionally meant I had to fend for myself while he was drunk, but at least I learned self-reliance early in the game. To a five-year-old boy, Dad is infallible; when he was indisposed I made do with what I could without complaint or discomfort, having been a bit of a loner even early on.

From then on, after I had left and idiotically enlisted at seventeen, every time I was home he was an optimist. On several occasions his condition declined to the point where I had to come home on emergency leave; every time I got home, he would be overjoyed, and would tough out the crisis of the moment to pull another miracle out of the hat (in the doctors' eyes). He would credit me with sustaining him, and so would the rest of the family. I simply refused to let him sit and rot; it was a matter of convincing him he would make it and motivating him to hang in there. It was almost as if he was determined not to fail me, even if he was consistently at loggerheads with doctors who advised him to take it easy, to not exert himself, to do nothing, and allow himself to die.

There is so much more to be said of him. Maybe as I go along. Not enough to merit a biography, to be sure, but recollections come up once in a while.

For now, here is the Old Man himself in late 2003, posing with my sister. This was two weeks before he went into the hospice he would not return home from (although more than once while he WAS in the hospice, I would spring him out of there on the pretext of taking him to get necessaries from the house, only to spend hours driving him around, talking, and generally playing hooky from the charnel house he had to spend all his time in. Maybe someday there will be more on this subject, or perhaps a life-based short story of a fugitive from a hospice). But I ramble. Here's the picture:

(Update: Blogger is having a little problem uploading pictures. Maybe they'll unf--- themselves soon).

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