A Father's Day Remembered
The doctors said there was nothing more that could be done beyond very extraordinary measures. After a series of physical setbacks, his frail body was shutting down in the summer of his eighty-seventh year. His desire was for no further treatments and, hard as it was, the family was now asked to respect that wish.
Plus, there was a gut-wrenching irony to add to all the heartache. It was Father’s Day. All his children and grandchildren had gathered at his hospital bedside. In the middle of the celebration, he announced he was tired. Moving a last gift aside saying it would be opened later, he closed his eyes…
He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 and was the youngest of five children. Because he crawled around the floor as a baby, he was given the nickname “Bug” and he remained “Bug” to his siblings throughout his life. His mother died while he was young, and he was then raised by his sisters who doted on him. He learned to read at an early age and thrived in school. Like many of the era, he was the first family member to go to college – earning a Ph.D. to boot - working nights at a steel mill to pay for tuition. It was the beginning of a life-long passion for reading, education and learning.
He courted my mother, wooing her with his wit and tenacity. They married well. Their nearly sixty-year marriage was a partnership of affection, friendship and common interests. Again like so many of his generation, he went off to World War II and never complained about the effort or years required serving his country. After that, he worked hard to provide his family a life with fewer wants that he had known growing up.
“Don’t let him die on Father’s Day,” I prayed and then felt selfish. This was a man who had so often given so much of his time to others; now it was my time to want what was best for him. During the night, I held his hand and talked to him. I’m not sure if he heard my words, but I told him the things in my heart, “I love you, Dad. You are the best husband, father, and grandfather and we all want you to be at peace.”
I listened to his breathing. Slowly, the breathing and pulse became more and more shallow. At one point, I couldn’t tell if the pulse I was feeling was his or my own. His breathing failed and resumed several times; each time the sudden quiet was as startling as a clap of thunder…
In the last year of his life, he had begun to write an autobiography. He was able to complete only the childhood years. I’m glad he wrote about that since it was the time of his life about which we knew the least. He wrote about trips to the library, Zane Grey stories, riding on a train for the first time, and barefoot summers. Borrowing from Dickens, he introduced it as the best of times, and a tale of cities, family, friends and “more memories than I can describe in words.”
Now, I can describe my many memories of my father in words such as: humorous, witty, smart, inquisitive, thoughtful, dedicated, proud, honest, open, optimistic, supportive, encouraging, caring, and most of all, loving – in so many ways. Love for my mother, the love of his life. He was never too shy to say ‘I love you, Darling’ to my mother or to my lovely wife, Grace, or an ‘I love you’ to family or friends. He made love so easy to return. Love of people and love of life – always zestful, sometimes even zany.
He enjoyed reading, a love of words and crossword puzzles, poetry, and the arts – in particular theater. He acted in Little Theater groups all his adult life. He relished comedic roles and had a hambone as large as his funny bone. With his arms wide, he would mimic a slapstick comedian, “Good evening, Ladies and Germs. I just flew in from (some city, say Cleveland) and, boy, are my arms tired!” While actually modest about his accomplishments, he did relish being on stage. Perhaps it was the product of being a center of attention as the baby of the family. He also performed more serious roles, and once had the lead – as Norman Thayer in On Golden Pond. My mother said he was perfect for the part. He said he wasn’t sure whether that was a compliment or a complaint, but we think he enjoyed the rare opportunity to be the crank.
At 4:30 on that morning following Father’s Day, he gently stopped breathing. I patted his hand for a long time, and then kissed the top of his head. I can still smell the sweetness of his hair. I am not sure whether God heard my wish that he not die on Father’s Day, but I do believe that He plays favorites. After all, despite having a PGA pro for a grandson, it is my father who is still the only family member to boast a hole-in-one.
Two unusual incidents occurred that same dark morning. It had been a week of hot weather with temperatures near 100 degrees and the nights were warm and muggy. Yet my mother and Grace, who were in separate locations, each reported abruptly feeling the presence of an unusually cold draft. And my brother, some miles away, woke up sharply and recalled looking at the clock. It was 4:30 a.m…
Each day, I feel lucky to have been blessed with such a fabulous father. I miss him and think of him often; certainly on Father’s Day, but also when I attend a theater production, see a father and child playing, catch a chilly breeze, or glance at a clock and notice the time is 4:30. And, I imagine those strange occurrences on the morning of his passing were signs of the actor making his exit, leaving the audience wanting an encore. I can envision him even now, calling out with gusto, “Good evening, Angels. I just flew in from Earth, and my arms aren’t tired anymore…”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.