what a fucking day

February 27, 2009

Yeah. Seriously. We had layoffs today. Across the company. I’m ok. For now. But for more than a handful of folks it was not ok. Not ok at all. It was grim. It was brutal. My heart is breaking here.

Seems everybody’s on Facebook these days and hardly anyone is blogging anymore. On one hand, I like being able to see what’s going on with Jim or Bec or Chris, on the other hand, I miss being part of a loose blogging comnunity.



February 25, 2009

My dad when he was maybe 55 or so

Originally uploaded by proteanme
I really love this photo of my dad. The cigarette was ever present up until about 8 years ago. But what I like is the way he’s posing and that he actually looks like he’s smiling for the camera, which is rare. Joe Breach gave me this photo and it makes me wish I knew my dad like Joe did.

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how it was

February 24, 2009

Where did I leave off? What was going on before my dad died? In some ways it’s like everything changed, but in other ways not so much. I know myself well enough to know that I could tuck it all away and just go on. If I had a super power it’d be detachment. I’d be detacher. Vets call it compartmentalization, which sounds nicer. This year I’ve been working hard at having conversations, so to speak, with all the things I’ve compartmentalized, to try and get at some integration, but this shit here with my dad dying seems daunting.

Sheez, dude, quite the inheritance you left me. That’s what I want to say my dad. And you only left me with my gut here to sort through it because you were the fucking Yoda of compartmentalization. So here I am learning a whole new language that sounds a lot like talking to myself.

We had this kind of elaborate memorial for my dad that in truth lasted all day. It went like this.

We had a family visitation from 9 to 11am before the service. Some people came just for that part. Mostly, it was guys who worked with my dad and then had to get back on their job site and Joe made sure to introduce us to those guys.

Some of the the grown kids and relatives of Colleen (the woman my dad married after my mom), showed up too. They stayed for calling and the service. I saw them come in and sit down and I knew it was them even though I barely know them.  In fact, I only met Colleen twice, including an all day venture with her and one of her daughter’s to Feast of the Hunter’s Moon. Or at least I think that’s where think we went, unless it some event that had something to do with Tecumseh, one of my dad’s life long heros. The only thing that stands out for me that day was the daughter singing along with Elton John to “Someone Save My Life Tonight”. That and her insistence we stop at Kmart so she could cajole my dad into buying her a fake rabbit fur coat.  But I think she had a pretty good father-daughter relationship with my dad, which of course brings up a whole fucking boat load of conflicted feelings for me. Sometimes I just wanna hate her because it hurts so much to just go ahead and hate my dad a little. And it very well could have been this daughter I talked to after the funeral because she said she remembered taking some kind of trip with us one time. She was so sweet and nice to me after the service, just wanting to remember some part of him with us. But I don’t know how to integrate her story of a dad like guy in with my story of a shitty dad.

The other known wild card, as far as who we knew would show up at the funeral, was the family of the woman with whom my dad had an affair. We all went to church together and two of the sisters came to the funeral. One of the sisters was so friendly, like we were all one big long lost family. And although that was unreal, it felt well intentioned and in some bizarre way it was really nice. But the other sister, she didn’t say one fucking word to me or my sister or my mom. My dad lived with her and her husband for a short time after my parent’s divorced. He had a room with a mattress on the floor, his foot locker by its side and his cello in the corner. And it was always a mess. Like the epitome slovenly teenage boy. I dunno what was up with that sister on the day of the funeral. Except apparently her husband, who my dad had worked for on and off for a long time before he worked for Joe, he treated my dad like such crap, that some people who knew the both of them stopped being that guy, her husband’s, friend.

Ever since my dad died I had been working on something to say at the service and the night before I’d spent hours trying to distill it down to what I thought was the most poignant story I could share, but when he service started I seriously thought fuck it. Even though I knew it was a once in a lifetime thing.

The service started with Catholic rituals. My dad had been attending Catholic services the last couple years of his life. I think he was looking for some redemption and maybe hedging his bets. Plus, since he stopped smoking and drinking, he’d stopped going to the bars that had served as one of his many surrogate families over the years. There was a whole group of folks who came to the service who knew my dad from Connors, which sits behind Future Shock in Broadripple. For a long time, if you went looking or my dad, you’d wanna check there first. There or Union Jacks or the Stone Mug. And before that there was The Friendly, up in Zionsville.

At first, I’d been pretty hesitant about the Catholic priest. Didn’t find him to be very sensitive and had to have a very frank conversation about that with him, but once the service got going, I was glad we chose to it. Priests can handle a crowd and we all needed some subtle handling to remember my dad together.

At some point during the week it dawned on me that the priest had mentioned there would be two readings, if we wanted to read something, which we didn’t, and that we could in fact include some other folks in the service. I’m so glad I thought of that because it made all the difference to me to see these two folks who meants a lot to my dad up there and reading because he meant a lot to them.

The priest gave a short sermon about resurrection and then my family spoke. My mom went first, and it was tough on her, but as my sister said, she gutted it made it through. My mom mostly told told stories about my dad from when they were dating and got engaged and first married. My mom was having such a rouhg time of it that both my sister and I went up to be with her, which is what we planned for ourselves, in case one of us lost it.  Mostly, my sister and I were afraid of laughing, because we’d found ourselves laughing almost hysterically a number of times since my dad died. And the night before, when my sister had practiced telling her story, she kept cracking up at the end. But she dug her finger nails into her skin to get all the way through the sweetest story about remembering my dad playing the cello. Gosh, it was so sweet. Add it also served as an introduction to the cellist.

Geoffrey Lapin had played cello with my dad back in the day at the Butler symphony and he asked if he could play at the service. We asked him to do the opening of the Bach Cellow Suite No 1 in G Major. It was beautiful and tear jerking. The church got so quiet. My mom and my sister cried and I tried to be the guy you lean on in that instance.

The service finished with a military honor guard. That was a somber and haunting ritual. March in. Unfold the flag. Call out for a round of gun volleys. Gun shoots and then taps play. Taps on that trumpet was the most mournful thing I’ve ever heard. Fold the flag and present it the family, that would be me. My gog, that was the most serious interaction I’ve ever had with anyone. To be looked in the eye and thanked for my father’s service to his country.

That was it. It was over and we said hello and good bye to a bunch of people. Like a reception line at a wedding. And so many people were crying. Except me. I was happy to have done the right thing. Seriously. I don’t know how to explain that part. People I didn’t know were showing us photos of my dad and hugging us and saying how much they will miss him and I was just thanking them for coming and telling me their story, which seemed so important to them. It’s like this, I had lost my father, who’d never been much of a father to me anyway, but they had lost a friend, and a friend who’d been a good one to them.

We thought all of that would take us a lot longer than it did and that when we got done, we’d have just enought time to head right down to Crown Hill to bury my dad. And deal with the schmuck who sold us the burial plot. If there was a low point of the day, just having that guy aound was it. My dad would have hated that guy, and for good reason. He was like the cliche of a car salesman, except he was selling funeral plots.

But people didn’t stay around that long after the service. So there we were, awkwardly, with time on our hands, which is where these wonderful friends of my dad’s ended up befriending us. We had this really lovely lunch with a couple of long time friend’s of my dad’s. They were sweet and sentimental and generous. And they just took us in, which I won’t forget. We invited them to go with us to the burial, which was just perfect.

The burial was low key. We had no plans except to deliver the ashes. We ended up with a loose ritual that consisted of each of us putting a flower on his wooden urn and saying something to effect of good-bye, except I didn’t have anything to say. Then ight at the very end of our goodbyes, Patrick, Joe’s brother, who’d been like my dad’s apprentice for 15 years or so, pulls a stocking cap out of his pocket and sets it by the earn. And man, that was about at right as right gets, becasue my dad always wore a stocking cap on the job, and almost always wore it off  of the job too. We asked the schmuck to bury the hat with my dad.

Actually, Patrick is kind of a tricky one for me. Not in person, mind you. In person, he’s this sweet, nice guy, who loved my dad. And I heard Patrick’s name over the years. And I knew that Patrick was getting my dad odd jobs since he broke his hip and couldn’t work Joe’s crew any more. So I liked Patrick before I ever met him. But the thing is Patrick is my age and he got to grow up with my dad in a way I never did. Because Patrick was in his early 20’s when he started working with Joe and was assigned to work side by side with my dad. In fact, Patrick called my dad, “Daddy Bird”. His kids got to know my dad like they would a grandfather. It’s hard to spit it out, but I’d guess he was kinda like a son to my dad. And I wanted to be kinda like a son to my dad. But Patrick did him right with that hat there at the end.

We finished off remembering my dad that day by going to a very nice dinner at my dad’s cousin house. And although this cousin is only the contemporary of my dad’s who’s still alive and she’s 90, lots of other family members showed up. And when I think of my dad, they are the ones I think of, even though in truth he was much closer to the guys he worked with. We also invited Joe and his wife and the two sons of my dad’s old best friend, Delbert Dale. They’d never known this part of my dad’s life, so it was a bit of shock, the wealth and class my dad had come from. But for me it was a bit of home. A needed and fitting bit of home. Still on Saturday I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I’d blown my dad’s cover. Because I doubt my dad ever intended for all thse people to meet.

My dad’s family observes a naming tradition. A very common practice of nomenclature whereby a child is given a family name. In my lifetime names were shared by living members, so we had Big Faye and Little Faye, Big Patty and Little Patty, Donald and Donnie, Margaret and Mig, and so forth. My cousin is continuing said tradition in her family. So I had the pleasure of remembering my dad by playing with next Truman, my dad’s name, and the next Fenton, my dad’s cousin’s name. Truman is about 4 and Fenton is about 1 and we all both a nice suprise for each other.

If you’ve made it this far. Thank you. thank for reading and witnessing. It’s what I need. At the end of the day on Friday, I kept thinking about how we did the right thing for all these people who obviously cared for and loved my dad. And that’s what I’ve thought since then — that we had the right service and the right events and people felt right about it. It wasn’t until today I realized I needed that to. I needed to be get these people togehter and remember my dad with them and I needed to be part of something that was right and full of love because being my dad’s child has always been a murky and lonley affair. My sister and I were restrained to small rolls that were never well defined. It was hard not to feel like a walk on with him. Sorry dad, but it’s true. I didn’t want to be a walk on in his death, but I knew he wasn’t our’s to bury.


back at the other side of the country

February 23, 2009

Wow. Portland. Transition is always .  . . well, it’s just a place outside of the routine. You’re neither here nor there. And I think that’s right, even if it’s uncomfortable. We buried my dad. It shouldn’t be easy to come back here and just pick up where I left off.

My dad. He was this really interesting guy, who was a great friend, a hard worker, a bad ass carpenter, a talented musician, and inquisitive and curious intellectual, but not a good dad. Nope. And as as always, it’s my job to figure out what it means to be his child.

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last night in indiana

February 22, 2009

Last night, at least for the time being. Whew. Seriously. Whew. It’s been an intense week. Intense.

I feel grateful for a number of things — to have made some new friends with friends who loved my dad, to have spent time with some of my old friends and family, and to have put together the right kind of memorial for my dad. Thank you mom, Joe and Toy, Brenda and Gary, Bob, Richard and Barabara, John, Kim, Jeff, the Miller clan the Jamieson clan, Colleen, Becky, Ty, Silvie, Rachel, Kathi, Father Bennet, and Bill Kehl. And of course my sister. We’ve been in it together from the get go.

My mom, my sister and I all said some things at the funeral.  I wanna share what I said here.

First, thank you for being here today. It means a lot to me and family and I think it would mean a lot to my dad too.

I got to know my dad best over the last 12 years when I think in his eyes I had finally grown into the kind of adult with whom he could share the events that most shaped his life, that being his experience in WW2. My dad could recall his first day of combat in heartbreaking and elaborate detail. So you can imagine the kinds of stories he carried with him for the last 63 years. And that’s mainly what we talked about – war , plus sometimes running or his cats or work or what he was growing in his garden. It was a consistent conversation until this past summer , which is when my dad told me about trying to teach himself horse whispering. He told me there was a horse at this job he’d worked on with Joe and my dad was pretty sure he could talk to the horse. And even more sure that the horse understood him. At first I thought to myself, of course, this is a perfect story for a guy who not only who spoke a little Arabic and Chinese, but who had also taught himself Navajo and Quiche. And without a doubt that that was probably part of it, but only part, because there was something in the way he talked how you have to watch the tail and where the ears are pointed that made me realize there was more to the story.

Months later, I finally understood what that “more” was. It was a familiar “more”, my dad telling me about teaching himself horse whispering, because that story picked up on a thread of a story that defined what life was like when my dad lived with us. By the time I was nine and my parents got divorced, in addition to a cockatiel, I had lived with two geese, two rabbits, a handful of baby chickens, three dogs, a cat that bore a litter of eight kittens, four hamsters, two aquariums stocked full of a rotating line-up of freshwater fish, a box turtle we found at our babysitters, kept for a week and then let loose in the woods behind our house, an ant eater, who stayed with us for one night, a coyote who stayed with us for two weeks, a yellow rat snake, a black king snake, a succession of nine baby boa constrictors who were all named George, and a couple of mice who, strictly speaking, weren’t pets, but no one had the heart to trap and kill them after they had escaped their intended fates as dinner for one the family reptiles.

It would be easy to chalk up this rotating menagerie, this exotic urban farm, to my dad’s eccentricities and affectations. It would be easy and tempting and it would be partly true, but if we do that we miss what I think is the larger truth. Because in talking about animals, I think my dad was trying to get me to understand that he was capable of connecting profoundly with life. When I think of the all the pets we had and I think of that horse who he was talking to, I believe that in his own way my dad was saying yes to loving life. And I think we are part of that too. We are sitting here in a room we could fill full of smart, funny, sweet and sad stories because we are part of my dad’s yes.

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boots on the ground

February 17, 2009

Been in the Hoosier state since Saturday. It’s brutal at times and comforting at others. Spent the first two days dealing with my dad’s house.  My dad lived like a hillbilly. A domicile for a character from Deliverance. I knew it was bad, but on the scene it was worse than I imagined. The fire gave it a nightmarish quality I hadn’t anticipated. I may or may not post photos. I’m not in a good place to decide how much I need to respect his privacy and how much I need to have this witnessed in a more public forum.

My dad had half brothers.  Strange. I forgot that his dad remarried after his parents divorced.  We never had much contact with that side of the family and I hadn’t thought about any of them until I found this letter in my dad’s dresser from one of his half brother’s telling him his father had died.

I’m feeling insular and detached. Not the best one two punch, but my mom is getting sick and my sister is having a lot of panic, so given that I don’t mind my particular brand of coping. I did meet my dad’s best friend and former boss. Man, this guy Joe is a total stand up solid dude from the heartland. Seriously. He looked after my dad. I’d say he loved him. And by extension he’s looking after us. In that sense, my dad is caring for us and for that I feel lucky, even if Joe only half knew we existed before my dad died.

It was a little unreal though at first, meeting him was, even though Joe’s response was restrained in its sincere and sweet “no shit, you’re Truman’s kids” factor. That part only lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes. And then for me, there’s the part where I kinda look my dad.  That was the first thing Joe said to me, “You do look like Truman. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad but you do look like him.”


the life part of life and death

February 13, 2009

Everyone in my family is grieving differently, although my sister and I share a little more common ground in that we both are my father’s children and that legally it has been our responsibility to take care of the business of his death. I have to stop sometimes and imagine my mom’s grief. My father was the only man my mom was married to and after they divorced they remained friends.  She knew him for something like 56 years. And she likely knows as much about his life as anyone, even as he part and parceled it out amongst various groups of people over the course of his 83 years.  In many ways she is like his widow. The last time we were all together as a family was to celebrate a milestone of being alive — my mom’s 75th birthday. My dad spent a good chunk of time with us during our short visit.  And that was sweet. It felt good, that family feeling.

I also celebrated a personal milestone this week. After putting in some crazy hours for the last month and a half, we launched a redesign of my work’s website.  Our brand has a new point of view and the photography is really the star piece. This is the first time I’ve seen my own design work go live such a big project. To be fair I worked in closely with the Art Director, but the concept was largely driven by me. And of course I wrote some ass kicking CSS/XHTML.  It was incredibly satisfaying work.  Incredibly. Satisfying.


why not

February 9, 2009

That was the theme for today because mostly I was feeling like what was the point of cleaning my house or putting away my laundry or taking out the trash or eating anything besides a bagel and chocolate bar if my dad’s still dead, and this girl I like is still be as sick as she’s ever been, and another important girl in my life is still laid off, and my friend still has cancer, and seven people I work with lost their jobs. What’s the point? But something some where inside said why not, ya know. Why not fold your boxers and make braised chicken with shallots and take the washed glass bottles out to the recyclable tub by the curb. And then  I even went so far as to clean out the bottom of my fridge.  It had been two years. I know that’s gross. This apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

Do I feel better -not really. But I don’t feel worse either. A zero sum game seems ok to me, though. In a Buddhist kinda way.

I read some poetry today. This girl asked me to send her some poems. I swear it’s a task she thought up for me as much as for her; it’s as if she’s saying don’t shut down, man. I’m an expert shutter. She wrote me a letter. At the end she said, “be brave.”

Yesterday it was sunny and RU, who loves to walk as much as she loves the elusive Portland spring, got me to go on two walks. A coup for sure. She even got me to smell spring. Her plate is full these days, but I don’t know how I’d be getting through without her.

Friends are sweet and check on me and tell me I’ll be ok. A couple friends at work take walks with me and let me rail when I’m pissed, or just look at them across the lunch table and say “what the fuck”. People call and invite me over to eat or take me to dinner. And they listen when they should or talk when I don’t wan to. Whatever works. I’m lucky to know such generous hearts.



February 4, 2009

I’m fucking tired, man. Like a junkie coming off of bad and potent fix. The last two weeks have been full tilt, what with all the details and conversations and decisions about my dad, plus this massive project at work. Reminded me some of the Youth Shelter, which reminded me that I got it in me to be a bit of a crisis hound. Instant meaning, ya know. Instant meaning and instant bonding. At least until today. Today I hit the home stretch on this big web project and I sat at my desk for a good 10 hours or so without making or taking one phone call about my dad. And frankly at the end of it all I felt all hollowed out. Weird, man. But something to remember, because this has probably just been round one. Gonna be a whole different ball game going home. Geez, what’s up with my sports metaphors? I mean, do I use these all the time or am I channeling some good-ole-boy speak in prepping myself for coming home? My dad had prefected his affectation of a certain kind of good-ole-boy. Was damn near authentic. If you hand’t known him for a long ass time.

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these days aren’t numbered

February 3, 2009

I quit counting. It’s not really my nature to track like that, anyway.  My dad’s been dead two weeks.  At some point I’ll stop counting the weeks.

Today I had this weird surge of adrenalin. The sun came out after almost a week of fog, which was part of it. And I got back on my bike after almost two weeks of driving and riding the bus, which likely added to the mix. This year I’ve learned that little things like that do add up and mean something to me, so I don’t want to play them down; they are important. But I got a foreshadow of this feeling last week. And I dunno how to quite explain it but to say there is something amazing being revealed to me, and it is that I know myself.  I know myself in this way I wasn’t sure I did or even could, and in this way that only time was gonna tell me if I was right.  Maybe the closest analogy would be to having a child and finding out that the thing you were rolling the dice on was true — that you would love being a parent

For me it was that I reached out to my dad about 12 years ago. I’d quit my job a the Shelter and was in a place of being wholely untethered and I wrote him this very short letter, basically saying I only know a handful of things about you and I’d just like to know you better while I can. Actually Heidi encouraged me to do this. And when he called on the phone to reach back, she also encouraged me to return his message, his “this is your pappy” message, even though I was freaking out because I had no context for the exchange. I remember our call. It was short. He told me “I’m working on a response”. And then on x-mas that year he gave me a 14 page, hand written letter. I’ve mentioned it here before. It was intense, mostly about the war. Since then we’ve tried as best we could to go about the business of making ourselves known and of knowing each other, something I don’t think we could do until I was an adult.

But back to my original point about self revelation, the endeavor of getting to know each other was something I was rolling the dice on, in that it would make a difference to me when he died. I was betting that the right thing to do for me was letting go of the need for him to be my father and detaching from the desire for him to make amends to me for not being a regular and dependable part of my life. In fact, I was agreeing that we wouldn’t even talk about that, the obvious part of why we were even trying to get to know each other, he being my father and me being his child.

Sitting here now, I know I rolled right. I bet the right hand. It’s incredibly, incredibly comforting because with lots of other relationships, ‘m not sure I’ve known myself as well. And business of predicting the future. Tea leaves and horoscopes, man. But with him I knew myself in it.

Maybe I’ll go home and find stuff in his house that will shake me. Maybe. Dunno. But I don’t think it will be about the last 12 years as much as it will be about the 35 ones preceding them. I’m not gonna speculate on it too much. I trust that I can manage. Plus, friends are a call a way, and in this instance, some are less than an hour’s drive away.