January 25, 2005

My father, without a trace

Here’s an excerpt, from frog, via Nyarly, and paraphrased by me: How do things [people] disappear like that, leaving no trace of themselves? How can the way disappear, and your memory of the way back, and your understanding of where the things you love and need are in relation to yourself?

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of my father's death. He had a fatal heart attack in his sleep, and when my mother went upstairs that night to brush her teeth, she raced out of the bathroom to check on him because she had a strange feeling that everything was not quite what it should be.

She was right. For public consumption, my father had a fatal heart attack, at age 59. This should not, perhaps, have come as such a surprise, given that he had his first heart attack at age 54, and proceeded along with a diet consisting of such brunch winners as scrambled EggBeaters (tm) and fried sausages. But my dad had also had a drug- history problem, which I will not discuss here.

Suffice it to say, in the years between heart attack #1 and #2, it was easy to hide his heart problems in some black hole in my memory. For when you see a heart patient, he can look quite robust of health, and it is only within the arteries that the problem is visible. It's not like a cancer patient's outwardly wasting away. Or, maybe you just see what you want, what you can manage, despite the internal destruction.

By today's standard's he was far from a perfect father -- no one was teaching participatory male parenting to a generation born in 1931. (Then again, my attitude is, my dad never changed a diaper, why should I?) On the other hand, he saw his role as provider and protector, and from my vantage point, he did a good job. Sure, he made some promises he couldn't keep -- but that's human. That's the point where you recognize a parent as a person, imperfections and all. My mother and brother saw him differently; their relationships with him hinged on differences in attitude and acceptance, and the family as a whole wasn't always pretty.

Still, 14 years later, no one in my family can speak of my father, except in the "funny stories about things daddy did" category, and even then, the talk is infrequent. It is as if he disappeared without the proverbial trace.

For years I've been reminded of a few sentences from Laurie Colwin's first novel, Shine on Bright and Dangerous Object:

"It is awful to know that your catastrophe involves everyone else. It allows you no safe haven: there is no one available for comfort, since the people you most want are in mourning too." Perhaps my brother and mother cannot speak of him from grief, or that is the thought with which I attempt to console myself.

Meanwhile, a part of me died along with my father, and it is on occasions like this that I most remember, and most acutely miss, my Daddy.


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