Saturday, April 23, 2016
Something had been wrong for a long time. The thing about dementia is that it changes your perception of someone. You know, consciously, that the person you are talking to is not of sound mind, but it's so hard to detach yourself from what you are hearing. What is being said.
For the last years, our father had descended down that hellish spiral of dementia. Life had become uncontrollable for our Mom and Dad, and, although it happened fast, in daily life the change was so gradual. Behaviors would alter, statements were made that didn't make sense, and it started to take it's toll.
It's so hard because the person you loved is changing. A human being that you recognize, have known your whole life is not the man you once knew.
When death came Wednesday morning I wasn't prepared. At all. Nothing is ever the way you imagine it to be. We knew it was coming, but it still presented such a shock. That morning, seeing him in the room.
For so many years he spoke of starting a new life. Living in a warm climate, learning a new trade. Within the confines of his resilience there were times I believed he just may pull it off. He was a survivor in the most honest sense of the word.
My father was a complicated man. He was a study in extremes. And as I've grown older, I've come to truly appreciate the dynamics of his being. He was such a sensitive soul. His exterior was often gruff and defensive, but inside he cared and loved as much as anyone I have ever known. But you had to know how to read him. He never made things easy - never took the easy way out of anything. And it made him strong.
And that he was. He was the strongest man I've ever known. The demon of addiction runs through our family and he was not immune. He fought and beat alcoholism, and kept fighting as his body gave way to several heart attacks, strokes, seizures, diseases. Doctors, and believe me he had several teams, would be in awe of his rap sheet, and his resilience. Paul and I used to joke that we thought he may never die. Every Christmas season for most of our adult lives had extended holiday hospital stays, but every time he would come out. And over time he even seemed to get stronger.
In the early years, I remember mostly our family road trips. Us piled into that grey Chevy station wagon burning all direction across the American countryside. Stopping at motels, hotels, diners, under sheets of rain and through red clay canyons. To this day I love road trips, that sense of adventure that he instilled in us. The love of cartography, the fearlessness of new towns - I never felt worried with him leading the way. He had a way of taking control of any situation. In youth football, he had no trouble telling our dimwitted mammoth of a football coach what he really thought, and soon found himself on the coaching staff. He was not afraid of anyone. At least if he was, I never saw it. The man in his 60s and poor health got into a fight with a hospital security guard in front of us. He was known everywhere he went for how he wasn't to be messed with. And you know, as much as it caused problems, I was always secretly proud inside that he took nothing from no one.
And while I do have to say he could be such a bastard, I have really come to appreciate how special he was. We all had our share of fights. But we always made up, and eventually we began to share deep late night discussions. I really began to know that the more he fought meant the more he cared. As they say, my father didn't suffer fools gladly.
Later in life he discovered painting, and so quickly got so good at it. He found passion in art, in poetry, in things he denied himself when he was young. He was a brilliant man that never found exactly where or how to channel his talents and it frustrated him. He got frustrated by authority, by his inability to find his calling. He dabbled with photography, architecture, truck driving, police work - he changed jobs constantly. The thing is though he never gave up.
I remember when we lived in that English Tudor condo on Karlov He held a dream to own a seat on the board of trade. He worked feverishly to reach that goal, spending hours driving a truck and free time trading. In mid-life he switched up again to enroll in college and complete a life long dream, gaining his degree, something that made him and us eternally proud of him. He cherished education and knowledge. And I thank him for passing that down to us as we do our children.
The last several years of his life, he spent taking tireless care of our Mom and Grandma, while being in ailing health himself. He was helping with his treasured Kylie, taking classes studying the craft of painting, and spending his nights late researching a variety of subjects, always learning, always ready to debate me on the latest technological trends or philosophical musings he had unearthed.
For the last few months we hadn't had much contact with him. It hurts so much to play the what if game, but we knew his mind was no longer at ease with the same reality we exist in. But every day he was and is on my mind. He cast such a long shadow, taught us so much about how to live. Taught us the single most valuable gift you could give someone was the one you took the time to make. Taught us to record everything you could for you children and their children's children to see. Taught us to view the world with a watchful eye, for not everything is always so kind. But most of all he taught us to be men.
I am so grateful he lived to appreciate what an amazing person Kylie has become and Max is growing into. His grandchildren meant the world to him.
I spent the last 2 days trying to think of how to honor him. I never really got the chance to ask him his dreams, his hopes. I only know bits and pieces of exactly who he was or wanted to be. But what I do know is he was a truly unique, loving, and complex person. Someone who fought for what he believed in. He faced horrors most of us couldn't imagine and always came through dreaming of tomorrow. Any time I go through something difficult I look to him for inspiration, and I want to win each war, to know that I am as strong as he, and to make him proud. And I think that is how we honor him.
Even writing this eulogy I struggled with keeping the honesty of the darker content. But you know what, I realized this is my Dad talking through me. He was honest with his opinion and did not lessen the weight of his words. And he gave me that. So I will give my gift of my true thoughts to him, and hope that would make him proud. Because a man is only as good as his word.
I will miss him always and know that the things that moved him move me as well. May you please find peace in your rest. I love you Dad.