• StevenF

How Much Time?: Thoughts about My Dad

I'm feeling better since I wrote my last two posts, Down Day and Feeling Low with Chappy. Fortunately, when I get into low funks, they don't tend to last very long.

But maybe because I was depressed, I was thinking of something I often think about, and that is that in six days I will be only five years away from the age my father was when he passed away and only three years away from the age his father was when he died.

I often tell myself that I am neither my father or my grandfather as well as the fact that medical advances have been made since both men passed away. I also tell myself that my dad's uncle and aunt—the brother and sister of the very grandfather of whom I am referring—died, respectively, at 100 and 97. So just because my father and grandfather died at 56 and 54 doesn't mean I will die so young.

And yet...

And yet, it is something I ponder. How much time do I have left on this planet? How much time do any of us have left?

I think of my friend Stuart who at 43 was suddenly killed along with his 18 year-old daughter in a terrible car accident.

Or my 23 year-old high school classmate Layne, who was killed in an avalanche.

I think of my friend Melanie, who at age 38 succumbed to a relatively quick cancer. Or my friend Keri, who at 48 took her own life.

I think of my friend Vicki, who was taken away by cancer just before her 66th birthday.

I think of my friend Molly, whose two year-old daughter died after choking on a small piece of apple.

I think of my own mom, who died too young at 74 due to an infection caused by a fall. Or Isaias' mom who died too young at 79 of COVID-19.

So many others come to mind, both young and old, who I feel were taken too soon. But that's the thing—when it's your time to go, you go.

I guess the key is to live each day as if it might be your last...because it just might be.

High cholesterol and strokes run in my family, and those contributed to my dad's slow decline until he eventually passed from pneumonia due to a weakened immune system.

But again, although I have issues with high cholesterol myself, I am not my dad. He kept everything bottled up whereas I am much more expressive about my feelings. He often sacrificed his own personal happiness and fulfillment to support his family working a job he didn't enjoy. I have spent much of my life working at jobs I enjoy, including my present one.

I think the way my dad handled his emotions contributed largely to his health issues. I think I handle mine much better than he did, even more so since I came out of the closet.

I don't talk about Dad nearly as much as I talk about Mom. It certainly isn't because I didn't love him or have a positive relationship with him. I did. He was a very caring and loving man of utmost integrity, and his example is one I strive to follow.

But he died when I was 21, which seems a lifetime ago. He also died while I was serving a mission for the LDS (Mormon) Church, so I was away in Europe when he passed. And it is strange how not attending his funeral created a sort of lack of closure for me.

It was like I left to go on my mission and he was still alive, and then when I returned, he was gone and had been so for nearly a year and a half. In a weird way, it was almost like he hadn't been there at all.

And that's really a weird sensation to have about somebody, especially someone that I really loved a lot. I have such good memories of my dad from my childhood and adolescence.

We went on so many trips when I was a kid. Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, Canada, Seattle, fishing trips, camping trips, Bryce Canyon, San Francisco, all sorts of places in Utah, Idaho.

Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, Utah

Lagoon Amusement Park, Farmington, Utah

San Francisco, California

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Calico, California

Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

New York City, New York

Universal Studios, Los Angeles, California

Disneyland, Anaheim, California

Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, California

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

It's not like we were rich or anything, but somehow we went nearly every summer to somewhere cool, often repeating trips to Yellowstone and California. I have such fond memories of those times, being squeezed into a car with all my siblings, Mom, and Dad and driving to various locales and staying in hotels on the way.

Almost invariably, we would have car problems, and as inconvenient as those were and as frustrated as they made my dad, those incidents bring smiles to my face. As a kid, even being stranded on the side of the highway felt like an adventure.

I remember Dad letting us come to his work at the insurance agency where he served as head computer programmer. I remember him buying me Red Fanta Soda out of the vending machine in his small break room. Later when they moved to a larger building, I remember him taking me to his work on a Saturday. While he worked, I went around the various offices and explored.

I remember Dad stopping at Skagg's Drugstore on the way home from work and getting us candy bars, which he brought home to us as a treat. I would always ask him how his day was, and he would always respond, "Okay." As a kid, I did not understand how much Dad really disliked his job, a job he stayed in until his forced retirement due to health problems.

I remember hugging him in a the wintertime and the smell and feel of his coat.

I remember on Saturdays and on Sundays, especially, after we had all gone to church, Dad would sit in the living room and listen to his country albums. Those were his days to relax, and he loved both folk and country music. While I never gained much of an appreciation for country music, today when I hear the familiar tunes by artists like Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Linda Ronstadt, Marty Robbins, the Kingston Trio, the Oakridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Eddie Rabbit, and so many others, I think fondly of my dad.

When I was in high school my first year, Dad would drive me to school in the morning. Dad loved to watch football games and enjoyed fishing.

As a family, we enjoyed playing games together, and I have wonderful memories of laughing together. Holidays were also big events for us, particularly Christmas and Thanksgiving. I have such cherished memories of holidays spent with my dad and the rest of my family. Dad and Mom also took us to the theater, which was very instrumental in my love of the theater and my desire to be an actor

Dad also had a beautiful singing voice, and I imagine that he is where I inherited my own musical ability. He would sing "O Holy Night" at Christmastime. We also had a record of him singing "Silent Night" as a child.

But many of Dad's interests were not mine. I didn't enjoy sports, fishing, or country music. I was closer with my mom, whose interests overlapped with mine. She loved watching movies, and we enjoyed talking about anything and everything. Dad was a man of few words. He did not talk a lot or share a lot. It was hard to carry on a conversation with him because he usually just gave one- or two-word answers and didn't elaborate much more beyond that.

Unlike Mom, Dad didn't leave too much in the way of journals. Whereas Mom wrote volumes and volumes about her life, Dad left only one short, sparsely-detailed journal and some love letters he wrote to my mom when he was in the navy, and the dad in those love letters—sappy, lovesick, poetic—is not really the dad I knew, although Dad did have a rather dry sense of humor, something he passed on to my brother.

And so the truth is, I did not know my dad very well. I loved him and adored him, and I know he felt the same way about me. But I never really knew his deepest thoughts or feelings the way I knew my mom's, and because we weren't interested in a lot of the same things, I felt somewhat closer and more bonded to Mom. And the fact that Dad died when I was still relatively young meant that I had even less time to get to know him than the twenty-one additional years I had to know my mom.

When Dad had his first series of strokes, his personality changed; in some ways, for the better. He had much less control over his emotions, so he would laugh or cry at the drop of a hat, something he had not been so free to do pre-strokes. On one hand, it was nice to see my father expressing emotions he had previously kept inside; on the other hand, as someone who was used to having him hold everything in, I did find it disconcerting and uncomfortable at first.

I think the hardest part about the strokes was watching what they did to him physically. It became enormously difficult for him to talk. It would take several minutes for him just to get a sentence or two out, which he would deliver with breathless, labored, and slurred speech. And so for a man who didn't talk much anyway, he often was just silent.

His body became a shell of what it had previously been. His balance was terrible. He had a hard time getting up or walking. He ended up using a cane, walker, and wheelchair the last years of his life. He couldn't do all the things he had been able to do before: pay the bills, work, do our taxes, drive, etc.

I know this was a particularly challenging time for my mom. In some ways, she felt Dad had given up. He wouldn't do his speech or physical therapy. He would often just sit with a vacant expression on his face and just zone out. Mentally, he was still there, but it just felt like he stopped trying because it was too hard. Many of the duties Dad had done or that he and Mom had done together fell to her, and I know it was a stressful, challenging, and sometimes lonely time for her.

When Dad's strokes first started happening, I was really angry. Angry that God was allowing such terrible things to happen to my dad. And I admit in the beginning of his health issues, I avoided him because I was bothered by how changed he was. Eventually, I matured through those issues and I felt in some ways that Dad and I became even closer due to his health issues.

For some reason as I write this, I remember how much Dad loved licorice, especially black licorice.

Dad finds the bag of licorice.

And I remember how he made amazingly good pancakes. And I remember how stoic he was throughout his health challenges, never complaining and just enduring whatever happened.

I remember when Mom and Dad drove me to college one day, and I expressed to Dad how angry I was that these health issues had happened to him. This was before he got really bad but after he had been forced to retire. He said getting his forced disability was probably one of the best things that had ever happened to him because it allowed him to leave a job he was unhappy in but still be able to support his family and retire.

That gave me a new perspective, that what I saw as a hindrance and curse, he saw as a boon and blessing in spite of the challenges that came with it. I changed my attitude after that.

The last time I saw my dad alive was at the airport as I was leaving Salt Lake City to eventually fly to Belgium. I gave Dad a hug. He was still in relatively decent health, although was certainly not in the best of health. It never occurred to me in that moment that he would be dead just eight months later. And yet as I hugged him, I felt something deep inside me say, "Cherish this. Appreciate this. Make it count." And I did.

I was very sad when my father passed away. At the same time, he had been in a lot of pain and had suffered much physically, so as sad as I was to see him go, like my mom and siblings, we all wanted him to know that if it was his time, it was okay for him to let go.

Dad's pneumonia had gotten bad, and the doctors were limiting what he could eat and drink. Dad wanted a milkshake so bad, but he was not supposed to have that. However, my family just wanted him to be happy his last days, and so he finally got a milkshake (we later found out he had gotten two by two different people who didn't know the other had given him one, and Dad, of course, gave no sign that he had gotten a double dose of the treat).

He and my nephew Spencer had a special relationship. Spencer was just a toddler when Dad died, but they were buddies.

Spencer would often steal Dad's cane, and Dad would just laugh.

I miss my dad. He was a good man. Some of my best qualities are due to him.

But I do wish I had known him better than I feel I do. I sometimes sense that Dad had a lot of anger inside of him, anger he rarely ever let out. On the surface, Dad was one of the quietest, meekest, nicest guys you would ever meet. And he was completely devoted to my mom and us kids. But I think he repressed a lot of his emotions, which I think negatively contributed to what eventually killed him.

So yeah, I am not my dad. I may very well be around much, much longer than he was. Then again, who knows? Life is very uncertain. I guess the lesson is to live life, however much time you may have, to the fullest.

9 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All