Today marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death.
One year ago today, while the rest of the state was reeling from the first of two of the worst tornadoes we have seen in years, I was sitting in a nursing home in Forestdale holding my father’s hand as he slipped away.
If you’re friends with me on Facebook you may have noticed my profile picture going through a series of changes. Over the past week I’ve treated my face like a Wooly Willy toy, slowly whittling my beard down to it’s present state.
Back in March I decided to mark this day by growing the moustache my father always wore. It’s a gesture of respect and remembrance. An attempt to see if I couldn’t see my dad one more time. This time in my own face.
After he died I wrote about it in my old blog. At the time I was angry. I was angry for my loss, I was angry at my dad and I was angry at the world for supporting the circumstances of his death.
Dad died ridiculously early. This past November would have marked his 63rd birthday. He died of cancer, the recurrence of a bladder cancer he thought had been dealt with back in 2006.
In that post I railed against the choices my dad made that led to his getting cancer. He smoked the better part of his adult life. Lung and upper respiratory cancers are not the only cancers among smokers; there’s bladder cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, cancers of the cervix, kidney and liver.
Dad also lived off of processed foods. Over ninety percent of his diet came out of a box, a bag or a can. If you’re a client of mine you know this is the exact opposite of my dietary advice.
He was a computer programmer by trade and by all accounts a damn good one. By choice he spent most of his time sitting in front of a screen, working. He was active as a youth, playing sports and working on my grandfather’s farm, but the workaholism that permeates the men of my family got the better of him. For him work meant sitting in front of the computer and it was not uncommon for him to spend ten to twelve hours a day doing just that. After his first bout with bladder cancer and the introduction of a urostomy bag he became even more sedentary.
Of course, all of this set was the perfect setting for cancer and ultimately his early exit. Of course, I tried to explain how he needed to make changes, how this lifestyle was unhealthy, but even I was unnerved at how dramatically so.
When I wrote about this last year I was mad at the world. I was mad at a society that perpetuated the myth that fake food was perfectly acceptable, doctors who paid lip service to “living a healthy lifestyle” but could offer no concrete example of what that actually meant, and a medical system that took cholesterol issues, Type II Diabetes, and ultimately cancer as inevitabilities of age, at best, and opportunities to sell more pharmaceuticals, at worst.
I was also mad at myself. Mad that I hadn’t made a difference. Mad that I had let the ridiculous convolutions of a father/son relationship prevent me from doing more, being more. I grieved over losing him, over the awkwardness of parenting my father and being forced to take the adult role as care giver and advocate, over the fact that only now in the last six months of his life did we begin to understand each other.
My father was a large, dark man. He was serious and intense. He was capable of great levity and those moments stand out as bright contrasts. They were intense flashes of laughter and humor against an otherwise somber background. His divorce from my mother hit him hard and ultimately I think he never recovered. I think he felt a stranger in this world and never felt like he fully belonged.
As child I feared him. The divorce was traumatic and only served intensify that fear and make it harder to relate and understand him. As a father he felt it was not right for him to pursue my brother and I. He remained available but would not force himself on us. As adolescents and young adults this just served to widen the gap between us. Ours became a relationship of obligatory holidays and an occasional necessary bailout.
Gaining my father’s approval was a primary motivator in my life. Either in the active pursuit of it or the outright rejection of the entire concept. It wasn’t until he was almost gone that I learned I had always had it. Irony of ironies, the one thing I spent my youth in pursuit of was, for him, a foregone conclusion.
In the year since his passing I have called on him almost every day. It’s a sad truth but I think of him more now that he’s gone than I did when he was alive. Maybe that’s due to the intensity of the last six months of his life. We spent a lot of time together, he depended on me and it was my job to make sure his needs were met. In the end we finally got to know each other.
Whatever the reason, he’s now my guardian angel and the standard I measure myself by. I try and be realistic. He offered me examples of what to do and what not to do. He was a man of integrity and values. He was his own man. He was my dad.
Ours was a complicated relationship. Without him I wouldn’t be the man I am today and I miss him.
I love you, Dad.