I’m writing this on October 30th, but most people that see this post are going to see it on Halloween. Tomorrow, October 31st 2018 marks 30 years since my Dad’s death.
I’m 45. I’ve lived twice as long without my Dad as I’ve lived with. It’s crazy because I still get a little bit melancholy around this time of year. Not as bad as it used to be, but my mood definitely takes a dip.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my father on Halloween. I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I loved him and I still miss him. I wish he could have met my family.
When someone important to us passes away, we tend to idolize them and put them on a pedestal. I know I’ve done this with my Dad to an extent, but I’ve tried my best to remember him as he was. He did a lot of things right and I want to emulate him in those ways. At the same time, I want to avoid some of the mistakes he made.
He loved me and my Mom and my sister unconditionally. He put up with a lot of our garbage, and we were really good at being assholes. As a kid, I accomplished demolition levels of damage. I took a claw hammer to our furniture. I smashed fences with my thick skull. I broke windows and dishes and I wrote my name with a permanent marker on walls and washing machines. He endured Hurricane Brian, and he didn’t stay mad at me for long.
We usually lived fairly close to whatever school I was attending. I could have — should have — been getting myself up using an alarm clock and walking to school. He liked to spoil me. He’d wake me in the morning, make sure I had breakfast, and he’d drive me to school. I took it for granted.
I took him for granted.
He wasn’t perfect. He was an alcoholic until about 4 or 5 years before he died. He smoked, too. He knew I didn’t like him smoking so he pretended to quit. He was comically bad at hiding it. One time, my sister and I approached him at a diner. He didn’t have anywhere to hide his cigarette so he threw it on the floor, on the other side of the counter. The waitress looked down at the stub of cigarette, then looked back at my Dad with a hard, flat look. He didn’t meet her eyes. He just took a sip from his coffee cup before turning to greet me and my sister.
He didn’t sleep in a bed. He’d fall asleep every night in a big chair in the living room. Towards the end, there’d be reruns of Hill Street Blues playing as he passed out. Before settling down for the night, he’d fix himself a pot of coffee, drink it down, and then either read or watch TV. He was apparently immune to the effects of caffeine.
My Mom worked and my Dad stayed at home and took care of the house. He did most of the cooking. Usually that was great. Sometimes, however, he’d make baked chicken which usually came out under-cooked. To this day, my sister and I have a difficult time eating baked chicken, even when it’s prepared properly. My Dad also made a nasty fish soup. It might as well have been left-over dish water. I couldn’t stand it, and he was the kind of parent that insisted that kids eat what is given to them. We tested our stubbornness against each other several times over food I found too horrific to eat.
For a while, my Dad and I would go out every Thursday evening to Skipper’s in Medford. I’d get the fish and chips and he’d get clam chowder. A bowl of chowder came with my fish and chips on Thursdays, so I’d give the bowl to my Dad because I hated chowder at the time. We’d eat and talk, usually about school or bowling or whatever was going on in my life. It was a good time.
Much later, I discovered my tastes had changed and I actually liked clam chowder. Every time I have some now, I think of my Dad and those Thursday nights at Skippers.
That’s all I have left of him. Some scattered memories of inconsequential moments that add up to a warm and comforting whole. Like a quilt in my mind.
He was born on Valentine’s Day in 1914 and he died on Halloween in 1988. There’s a lot of time in between that I know nothing about. One of my bigger regrets is not getting to know him better. I was a punk kid. I can forgive myself to an extent, because I was just acting my age. Still, I wish I’d taken more time to ask him personal questions.
We spend so much time wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings that we take for granted that the ones we love might not be there tomorrow. We have to do this, of course. Living on eggshells and constantly clinging to the people around us like they’re about to die is no way to live. But maybe we can do better.
I think that’s all I have to say about my Dad tonight. If your Dad is still around, do me a favor. Take them out and share a meal. It doesn’t have to be fish and chips and chowder, though that worked pretty well for me and my Dad. Share a meal and ask him questions.
We only get one shot at this life. Enjoy your Dad while you can.