Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ten Years Ago Today

     Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of my father. He died on April 19, 2002, two years to the day after my mother died. They'd been married for 60 years before she finally succumbed to cancer at age 88, and he followed exactly two years later at age 91.

    I remember when my ex-wife's mother died, in the early 1990s at age 86, my wife lamented that she was an orphan. I didn't understand it. My wife was in her 40s at the time. To me, the word orphan connotes a sense of dependency -- that you have to be a child to be an orphan. But she insisted, and told me, "Just you wait."

     My ex-wife's father had died of a heart attack before I met her. She didn't like her dad much. But she loved her mother, despite the fact that her mother was opinionated (especially when it came to our two kids) and could be intrusive at times. But she was warm and had a big heart and only wanted the best for us, and the only friction that was ever created was because she had some old-fashioned ideas about the role of women and mothers, and about kids and how people should live their lives. Not that we lived an unconventional life, but like a lot of parents she struggled to understand some of our modern social values.

     My own parents were much more distant and cool. My dad loved his kids, for sure, but in an abstract way. He would do anything for us, but he didn't pal around with us, or play sports with us, or coach our teams or anything like that. He was more remote. He spent most of his time at work. He thought of himself as a "serious" man who'd worked his way up from a poor, immigrant family to establish a profession in the city, and a home and family in the suburbs, and he was proud of his success and judgmental about others who didn't see life the way he did.

     Over the weekends, when my parents went out, they usually went out by themselves. We didn't go many places as a family, except to see my dad's relatives, or very occasionally my mom's brother, Uncle Tom. The main image I have of my dad is him forcing down a fast bowl of cereal in the morning and rushing off to work. Or else he's at home sitting in his chair, reading his newspaper or going over some papers from work, and sometimes putting down the paper to help us with homework, or peering over the top of the paper to offer advice.

     I have often wondered, if this man was not my dad, but a teacher or a coach or a boss, would we have developed any sort of special relationship? The answer is:  No, I really didn't think so.

     But then my dad wasn't a very friendly fellow, or particularly personable. He was not the man with the joke or easy story; not one to punch you in the arm or clap you on the back. It was my mother who developed my parents' friendships, and it was only because of her that they joined friends for dinner or played cards with a group of people.

     A little while after I joined up with B, we were talking about something she wanted to do -- I forget what it was or how we got started. I was trying to encourage her, but apparently not responding quite the way she had hoped. Suddenly she turned and gave me an indulgent laugh -- realizing that I was trying to help, but bungling the job. "Tom, I know you are very supportive," she told me. "But you're not particularly sympathetic.

     And I realized that I had become kind of like my dad. A better version, I'd hope, or at least tempered by softer, more people-friendly character of my mom. But I guess we all carry around the qualities and characteristics of our parents, whether we want to or not.

     My mom and dad died when I was in my early 50s. No, I didn't feel like an orphan. But every once in a while, I miss them. And on this day I just wanted to say hello, from across the years.



Mac n' Janet said...

I''m with your exwife on this one. My Mom died first and 10 years later my Dad, and when he died I did indeed feel like an orphan, even though I was in my 50's.

Kay Dennison said...

What a touching story!!!! It gave me pause to think about my own parents as well as myself as a parent.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

I said to my sister, when I look in the mirror these days, I see Mom. She says to me, I look in the mirror and see Dad. Not only do we take on some of our parents characteristics, we take on some of their looks as we age. Just you wait.

Do I miss my parents? Sometimes. Dianne

Stephen Hayes said...

My dad passed away unexpectedly in 2008. The day before he'd been at my house for a Superbowl party and we had a great time. The next morning he got up, made coffee and settled down to read his book. Mom found him in his chair twenty minutes later. She thought he was asleep.

I never got to say goodbye to Dad. He had just turned eighty a few years earlier and had relocated to be near us. I miss him.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Tom, I'm so glad you've reached across the years to reflect on the complicated man your father was. A lot of us had parents who weren't perfect, who might have been quite flawed, in fact, but whom we love and miss nevertheless.

Retired English Teacher said...

This was a very beautifully written reflective piece about your father. I think in many ways your father was reflective of the times. He did what dads did back then. He went to work and didn't get too involved in their kids lives. I wish it had been different. I wonder what it would have been like to have a deeper connection with my father.

Your father lived to a nice age. Ten years after a death, it is nice to remember that we do love and miss our parents. My father also died ten years ago in March. I miss him too.

Jono said...

It 's funny how we see some of our parents in ourselves. I only started to notice it in my fifties.

ksam said...

Funny how that missing them just reaches out and grabs you somedays. Out of the blue sometimes,even after 18+ years...somedays I still want my Mommie!!

Bob Lowry said...

Beautifully written and from the heart.

I lost my mom a year and a half ago so my memories and missing her advice are still vivid and probably will be forever.

sell my house said...

Your respect and love of your parents is very beautiful.Your feelings is great.

Dick Klade said...

One of my regrets is not appreciating how wonderful my mother and father were until it was too late to tell them. I think of that fairly often.

No one should delay letting good parents know their caring made a big difference.

June said...

And just this week I said to somebody, "I don't care who you are, two months after you're dead, nobody even thinks about you!"
I am glad to know I was incorrect, at least in regard to your parents. These are some very intimate thoughts that you have shared. Thank you.

Sue Silva said...

This was gorgeous. You're an amazing writer.