There’s a saying that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I think that’s probably accurate when it comes to me and my dad. My dad and I have the same wacky sense of humor and were perfectly happy doing things on our own, reading, or spending hours just doodling around on the computer. My mom is totally opposite. She’s gregarious and a people person. She’ll talk to anyone, anytime. I guess that’s a good example of opposites attract. At least it translated into a 57 year marriage!
As a kid, my folks never treated me like a little kid. It was sort of like I was always just a smaller version of an adult toddling around the house. My dad got amusement out of things I did that MIGHT be construed as bad behavior. Like the time in a restaurant when I was about 5. There was a kid of similar age in the next booth having a fit because he wanted this or that. Presently I sighed heavily and said loudly “Dad? I hate kids.” Mom was mortified, dad could not contain his mirth.
My dad decided to become a police officer when I was 10. The police academy requires not only training in things you’d expect like shooting and law, but also SPELLING! I was always good at spelling, even as a kid. Dad…not so much. So every night I’d take his long list of words he had to learn meanings of and spell and quiz him. I spent much time being exasperated at his inability to reliably spell indictment, something he still found funny years later. Dad’s time at the police academy gave me a pretty good knowledge of legal words and the ability to raise a pretty good latent print.
I guess my childhood wasn’t really typical. I never got a spanking. It wasn’t because I was such a goody goody, but I just had this odd sense of never wanting to disappoint my dad. He was always a quiet kind of cheerleader. He never lectured me about what I ought to be doing, he just went along with my life choices (Though there was the one time soon after I’d gotten a tattoo. He went out and bought some of those cheesy tabloid papers and left them open to stories like “baby born with tattoo” and “woman’s arm explodes after getting tattoo”…). I got the feeling that he was proud of what I did even though I was a bit of a nomad all my life.
Dad never had an easy life I don’t think. His dad was away a lot–first in the military and then as a master carpenter going around the country to major jobs. At home he had four siblings and a disabled mother but he never made it sound like it was anything but a nice country upbringing. At 18 he and my mom married and he embarked on a task of making a life for his own family.
Life has a way of being ironic. Or maybe a little bit cruel if you want to get right down to it. After a lifetime of working hard–sometimes two jobs at a time–retirement was a reality and he and mom could finally get to do some things they’d never had the opportunity to do. The week after retirement he had a minor stroke. This kept him from doing the things he’d planned to do in his retirement. But he instead concentrated on his genealogy and spent hours collecting information related to both his and mom’s side of the family. He particularly relished finding less than savory tidbits and sharing them at family gatherings which didn’t amuse some of the family.
Not too long ago another stroke took his enjoyment of computers and genealogy away from him, too. He couldn’t see well enough to see the screen and sometimes he couldn’t remember how to do things, so he turned off his computer and abandoned his family dirt gathering.
After awhile it was apparent he couldn’t be on his own anymore. He’d forget things like leaving pans on the burner or leaving the fridge open after getting something out. Soon after, his doctor insisted on him having an MRI that he’d been refusing for months. He finally relented and they found a fairly large brain tumor that by this time was inoperable. But I think in the back of my mind that he refused the MRI because deep down he knew what they would find.
Recently my mom wanted to go out with one of her friends so I went over to sit with dad. It was a good day. He was able to remember things and have a conversation. We talked about many things, and he again laughed about my exasperation with his spelling and my hating kids at the age of five. We ordered greasy pub food and ate burgers and onion rings and Twinkies until we were both pretty sure we’d had too much.
My mom said he talked about our day together for several days. He said he was glad we had the day to ourselves to talk about nothing much. I’m glad we had that day, too. It was the last time we were able to have a conversation. I like that being my last memory of him. My dad passed away late in the evening on April 7, 2014.
When you’re a kid you think your parents are invincible. And when you’re a teenager they exasperate you. When you’re an adult you try not to think about the time when you’ll no longer have them. My dad was the best dad ever and I’m forever going to miss making jokes with him.