My wife, my daughter, and I returned from Alaska in mid-July. One of the first things we did was make a date with my dad and his wife for breakfast, a meal we shared every other week or so. Because of their recent travel and ours, it had been probably late May or early June since we had last seen each other. We were overdue. I was looking forward to it, but I was not prepared for the change in Dad’s appearance. He was skinny. Too damn skinny.
He had been losing weight for a few years, since he was diagnosed with diabetes and had changed his diet. This is to be expected. We all noticed. At first we all complimented him on his success. Sometime in 2007 the weight loss had started to become severe and we started to express concern. He saw doctors. In April of 2008 they told him he didn’t have cancer, but they didn’t know what was causing the weight loss. They didn’t know why the loss of energy. They didn’t know. I guess that’s what you call “practicing” medicine.
I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be long. I knew 2008 would be the worse year of my last 44. I knew Christmas would never be the same. I knew I would never be the same.
I was right.
Immediately after breakfast, while still in my car, in the parking lot, I called my sister and told her she had better beat feet for California if she wanted to see Dad while he was still able to get around because it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t have the strength. She came. Brought her daughter. It was good. She hadn’t been out to visit for a few years.
We still had no diagnosis, Dad insisted it was nothing. Though I’m certain he knew otherwise. That’s what dads do. Don’t worry the kids.
The first week of August brought news.
Since he stayed longer, and the sisters all came at once, my uncle and I spent several days helping Dad empty his storerooms. A daunting task to say the least and one that continues still. The best we could do was reduce the number from three storerooms to two. You see, Dad was something of a “collector.” For as long as I knew him. Books mostly. But the collector bug grew to include reel-to-reel tapes of mostly old radio shows. “Amos and Andy,” “X-Minus One,” “The Shadow,” “The Jack Benny Show,” you get the idea. I loved listening to that stuff when I was a kid. I enjoy it to this day. (Thank you, Dad.) As the times changed and technology changed, he switched to video. He recorded damn near every thing. And lots of it. This is what my uncle and I concentrated on, the video tapes. We sorted through box after box. Box of books? Set it aside. Box of reel-to-reel? Set it aside. Box of VHS or Beta (yes, the tapes went back that far)? Toss it. We loaded up a good sized U-Haul three times and unceremoniously dumped my dad’s multi-year hobby in a landfill. The culmination of all that work now lies several feet under this weeks garbage. It was sad. Though I’m not really sure what he thought he would do with all those recording, I never was. I don’t even think he knew. Maybe it was just something to keep him busy. I wouldn’t let him come to the dump with us. It didn’t seem right. In the end, my uncle and I estimated we had discarded more than two tons worth of video tape. Two tons of a person’s life. I cried.
I spent as much time as possible with my dad, as much time as his failing health would allow. We never went to breakfast again, and our last dinner out was with the family at Buca di Beppo. He loved their pizza. My wife and I went over after work and on weekends. We talked, laughed, and cried. We did what we could to make him comfortable. We fulfilled his “final” requests. We waited.
On Sunday, August 31, he asked me if I would bring him some root beer. Not just any root beer, but his favorite. Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer. After a brief search, on Monday, September 1, my wife and I delivered unto him four bottles of Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer. Not the mass produced crap, but the good old made with pure cane sugar kind. Nothing better. I was damn pleased that we had found it, and even more so that it was made the old way, with sugar rather than corn syrup. Dad enjoyed a bottle.
In his life, my dad was many things. Boy Scout, archaeologist, college English professor, insurance salesman, he taught defensive driving. He was a “househusband,” taking care of my sister and I. He was a student, a bookseller, Jeopardy contestant, and a government employee. He was a very good man. Not a great man. Not a perfect man. But a very good man. He was a man of principles, and he would stand by them. This is something he passed on to me. He also shared with me his love of the written word, something for which I will always be grateful. He was quick with a joke, sometimes racy, sometimes good, most often bad. His breadth of knowledge was seemingly vast, and he enjoyed sharing trivia. He had a big heart and loved children. So much so that he carried in his fanny pack small toys to give to children when they asked if he was Santa Claus, and sometimes even when they didn’t. He loved Christmas, was a “real beard” Santa, working the last couple of years in a small cottage in a small strip mall as their Santa. He was a friend to authors known the world over, sharing with them wine from his collection, and, in at least one case, a meal at their home. And yet he was also a friend to the waiter or waitress, busboy, or cashier. Learning their name, using it, connecting with them. Smiling and joking with them, bringing them into his extended family. He was beloved. He is missed.
I am proud of my dad. I respect my dad. I love my dad. I miss my dad. Every day.