So yeah, I haven’t been around for a while. This is why.
Over the past several months my dad braved a massive onslaught—the evil ravages of severe COPD, liver disease, bladder cancer, and a handful of other medical problems. He had an astonishingly strong constitution but he was so tired from fighting such a difficult battle. Dad died on Saturday morning, October 11th, 2 months and 13 days short of his 76th birthday.
I was with him during his final days. We talked, we even laughed a few times, and I told him everything I wanted him to know. I also said I’d be pissed if he didn’t stop by every so often to haunt us and fuck with our lights.
We weren’t with him when he died—I think he wanted to check out on his own, without us hovering. I know he’s happy to be free of all that illness bullshit. I know because when my mother called to say he had just died, I felt a cloud of energy wrap itself around my head and shoulders like a shawl—it was full of happiness, relief, love, and peace. It was Dad, without a doubt, letting me know he was fine now. I couldn’t stop smiling for several hours after that. That was his final gift to me.
Everything looks strange, as if viewed through a filter or from a warped angle. I can look at something blue and know that it’s blue, but the color doesn’t look right somehow. Objects appear closer or further away than they actually are. My normal surroundings look familiar but foreign. The reality sometimes slams me out of the blue: Dad is really gone. It helps me to know he’s okay but it doesn’t keep me from crying.
Anyway, enough about me. This is about my dad. And in honor of his 100% Irish ancestry, his twisted sense of humor, and his fondness for the occasional cocktail or two, I’m holding a virtual Irish wake for him, where we’ll eat, drink, celebrate his life, and tell some stories. He’d like that.
So help yourself to some refreshments, mingle with the other guests, pour your favorite tipple—gin, tea, soda, beer, whatever—and let me tell you a few Dad stories.
For starters, Dad had the best poker face of anyone I’ve ever known. It’s a shame he didn’t actually play poker because he could have cleaned up and retired early. Between the poker face and the gravitas in his voice, he could have you believing almost anything he said.
When we were at restaurants, he liked distracting me during dessert so that I’d look away. When I looked back, my dessert would be gone. As I got older I became wise to this ploy. Mostly. One night he sat across from me and stared behind me. With a perfectly straight face and a calm voice he said, “Isn’t that strange…a three-headed man just walked in the door.” Mind you, I wasn’t a little kid at the time; I was about 16 and knew there was no such thing as a three-headed man. I said to myself, I am not turning around, he’s just messing with me again, I am NOT turning around… But his expression of curiosity and confusion would have convinced even a seasoned FBI profiler to check it out. What choice did I have? Of course I turned around. And of course there was nothing there. When I turned back, Dad had my chocolate pudding and a shit-eating grin on his face.
Then there was the time he had Army recruiters calling me. Those of you of a certain age will remember those business reply cards inserted in magazines, where you could send away to the Army, Navy, etc., for information on enlisting: Yes, please send me some materials on joining the United States Army. Dad filled one out with my name and contact information. I was 12 at the time. He figured they’d send me some brochures and it would be a good laugh and that would be that. Little did he know then that the gag would go even better than he expected; one night I received a call from a sergeant at our local Army recruiting office. I stammered through the call, trying to discourage the sergeant from having any further interest in me without disclosing that, you know, I was only 12 and my dad was just fucking with me. Dad was tickled pink that his prank yielded a bonus prank. He would talk about that sergeant for years. “That poor bastard…” he’d say.
Like most dads, mine had many words of wisdom. One of my favorites was the way he explained why he didn’t put any stock in UFO sightings:
“Think of the advanced technology required to travel light-years to earth. Now if you’re an alien that advanced, why would you fly all the way over here just to fuck around and play UFO??”
He was nothing if not practical.
Dad was a good-natured guy and very charming when he wanted to be. The nurses in the ICU said he was their favorite patient because he was pleasant and funny and never complained unless he was really in discomfort. That’s how he was. He didn’t make a fuss and he didn’t need anyone fussing over him.
Two days before he died, he said Mr. Weebles and I should have some fun while we were there (my parents retired to Florida, as all New Yorkers are required to do). He told us to go to Universal or Disney but urged us to avoid the new Harry Potter rides at Universal because he heard they were still ironing out some mechanical difficulties. Unbelievable. The Grim Reaper was pulling up to the curb and there was Dad making theme park recommendations. As if I’d leave him to go stand on line with a bunch of sniveling kids, obnoxious adults, and teenagers wearing TURN DOWN FOR WHAT t-shirts. As if I’d leave him to do anything.
For as long as I can remember, every phone call with my dad concluded with both of us saying, “Okay, talk to you later. Hug.” I don’t know how it started but it lasted right up to our last phone conversation—with him being 75 years old and me 46, we still said, “Okay, talk to you later. Hug.”
Here’s to you, Dad. Here’s to everything you were, and are. I love you, and I miss you. Talk to you later. Hug.
I don’t want the comment thread to turn into a pile of maudlin. I’d rather continue the celebratory vibe, so I invite you to share a funny anecdote about one of your dearly departed loved ones.
Also, what’s that fragrance you’re wearing today? I find it especially provocative.