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.


5 responses to “how it was”

  1. RU says:

    thank you for sharing all of this

  2. liz says:

    thank you for reading. serioulsy it means a lot to me.

  3. Mom says:

    Great description of the day – Truman – and your feelings.
    Thanks, Mom

  4. proteanme says:

    Thanks mom. It was quite a day.

  5. Deanne says:

    You have shared beautifully, thank you.

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