The first anniversary of my father’s death was a few months ago now. I was supposed to visit him the day after he died. He died at home overnight in his sleep. I learned a lot about life from my father, and I don’t think I’ve written enough about him. So today I’ll try to fix that a little.
My dad was super bright. We all think that of our parents, but in my case, this is true. He graduated at the top of his class from UCLA engineering school in 1959. He worked on early computers and built a career around building the next neat thing. While my brother got all my mom’s literary inclinations, and my sister got all my dad’s mathematical savvy, I got exactly 50/50 from my mom and my dad. That, plus being the son of an engineer has made me a little odd, but I’m sure I’m not so different than anyone else.
But, clearly, I got two things from my dad that have helped me throughout life. My sense of humor and my work ethic. He was always taking the time to joke and have fun, something I feel the world doesn’t do enough of these days. He sent me to school on hat day in the second grade wearing a Monty Python handkerchief hat. He told me to say, “I like cake.” I didn’t even know what Monty Python was yet. I think back of doing the same to my son, and it still makes me giggle. I’m not sure if my work ethic came from watching him always work, never show up unshaven, or if it’s something ingrained in my DNA, but it didn’t hurt to have a father who knew that hard work pays off and taught me the same.
One more thing got me through life, at least so far, and that’s a gregarious personality. I’m not an extrovert, my dad was. But, I got that part of him that does show up when I’m around friends. My dad could walk into a room full of strangers and leave with life-long friends. He was so intellectually curious that he could converse on any subject. I, on the other hand, am intellectually curious, but nowhere near as bright as my father, and didn’t get the laser focus he had (my sister got that) so while I love to learn, it takes me a lot longer than it did for him, so my pursuits are relatively narrow by comparison.
He was a kind and gentle man, and always gave me help when I needed it. Growing up, he wasn’t around much because he was working, but I never felt slighted by it. I may have had a period where I wished he was around more, but that’s because I honestly enjoyed being around him.
In his later years, we drifted apart somewhat. He had a new family after he and mom got divorced, and he took in his wife’s ridiculous daughters like they were his own. They were lucky to have him in their life, but I could never see what he saw. Again, a tribute to his nature. Still, until dementia set in, he called me each and every holiday, every family birthday, etc. I knew the end was near when those calls stopped coming. That was about two years ago.
We take so many things for granted in our daily lives, it’s hard to really come to terms with the loss of a parent, and worse when you made a life choice to move away from your family. I did that 18 years ago, and it was the best decision for my wife and our children, but it has put me on the fringes with my family. I don’t go back for holidays because it’s a really difficult time for everyone, here and there. I’m in Texas, and they’re all in California still. But I tried to give my kids the same or better than I had growing up, and getting out of California was the best thing for all of us. Their lifestyle would have been a lot different had we stayed in southern California. While hindsight is 20/20, it’s hard to know how things could have turned out differently if we had stayed. My life would be drastically different, that’s for sure.
But even this lust for space, for rural living, was ingrained by my dad. When we first moved from California to Illinois when I was 8, we moved to a very rural subdivision. It was kind of a best of both worlds situation for me. It was a subdivision with defined streets and a lot of kids in the neighborhood, but it was also very rural, so I got a love of living in nature, hiking, doing outdoor things that would have been different if we had stayed in Redondo Beach. I owe my relative well-roundedness to my father. While I had no say in the matter, moving three times from 8 to 14 formed who I am today. It made me learn how to fit in, and how to get along with people quickly. I also learned a lot of fundamental truths about people that still hold true today. It’s safe to say I owe it all to my father. That wouldn’t be overstepping even a little.
I’ll never be the man he was, but I never wanted to be just like him. I knew early on in life that I didn’t have his intellect or capacity. His mind was incredible. He could do complex calculations in his head up until the last year of his life. I still struggle with certain simple math items on certain days. Again, my sister was the beneficiary of the math mind my father had. I think it just made him more of a hero to me, someone I could look up to and never be as good as. It gave me a target to try to achieve in life. Now, with that gone, I have my own targets to try to hit. I miss him. I miss the joking, the career advice, the gentle thanks and appreciation, and generally the time I got to spend with him. It’s never enough, especially after they’re gone. Thanks for everything, Pop. I hope it’s better where you are now.
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