Sunday, June 15, 2008


My Dad died on December 6, 2006, at the age of 92. It had been a normal day. He and my Mother had breakfast at their retirement center, where my Dad, as was his custom, assisted a friend who is blind. He read the paper, watched some TV, took the car to fill the tank. After lunch he called his sister in Oklahoma and read his e-mail. In the evening he was sitting in his recliner, watching TV, when he had a heart attack and died. My mother heard his last gasps from the next room, but he was already gone when she got to him. We gathered that Saturday for his funeral…mostly family, since most of his friends have already passed away or were too infirm to attend.

Needless to say, losing Dad evoked so many memories of his long life. In searching for his discharge papers from the Navy, so that they could present my mother with a flag honoring his military service, I found a treasure trove of 3 cardboard boxes full of old photos. I remember studying these photos as a child…some were so familiar that they seemed part of my life, even though they were taken long before I was born.

I reflected on life with father. I had always thought of my father as a rather distant man. With the advantage of maturity and hindsight, I now understand that our family was a typical family of the 50s. Dad’s primary role was to be the breadwinner. He worked hard to provide for us, to build a house, to save for our college educations. In those days, no one had heard the term “quality time,” and compared to today’s fathers, he was relatively detached from the lives of his children, I guess. But if I tweak my memory a bit, I remember many things we did together. I remember what a treat it was to drive to the A&W stand on a summer evening, and to take our frosty mugs from the little tray on the car door, with the fizz and the distinctive smell of rootbeer tickling our noses. He took us along when he went to the driving range to hit golf balls or when he went to the putting green at the golf course to work on his putt. Of course he let us drive or putt a few balls ourselves, but what I really liked was washing the golfballs in the ball washing machine. He took us to groves of pecan trees where we gathered pecans. We went to the zoo and rode the rides at the amusement park next to it…those little boats that floated around the circle, the small ferris wheel, the merry-go-round. We went to office picnics where we got to play Bingo and ride ponies. We walked to the nearby Ashburn’s ice cream shop on a summer evening.

He seemed like he wasn’t very demonstrative, but he must have been to some extent. I’m told that as a toddler, I used to call him “Daddy Dear Boy.” He did have a temper, particularly when he was assembling something and something went wrong or if he got lost on a trip.

When I was a teenager, there was considerable tension. Like many teens, I was quite critical of my dad. I remember looking down on him a bit because he rarely did any reading. Silly girl…I couldn’t appreciate how hard he worked, leaving little time for leisure. We clashed over politics: I was a youth of the 60s and he voted for Richard Nixon. But I’ll say this for my parents…they always accepted my friends, seeming to take the view that if someone was a friend of their daughter, that person was OK. (This was in sharp contrast to some of my friends’ parents, who were quite open in their distaste for me as a friend of their son or daughter.)

Dad retired in 1972. For many years he played golf every day of the week except Sunday. Finally back pain forced him to give up his favorite pastime. At times he seemed restless and at loose ends. But eventually, in his last years, he seemed to enter a new phase in his life. Once so reserved, he started to hug us family members whenever he greeted us or said goodbye. He was well known in the apartment complex for his congenial wave with which he acknowledged all acquaintances. He doted on his great grandkids. He read quite a bit, mostly history and political commentary. He was quite interested in current events, and this former Nixon Republican became a vociferous critic of George W Bush. Oh, my gosh, when he got started talking about Bush’s environmental policies, he sounded like the president of Greenpeace! And I’m surprised he didn’t have that heart attack when he talked about Karl Rove. This man who had never encountered anything more technologically advanced than an electric typewriter or a pocket calculator learned to use a PC and surf the net at the age of 88.

I am a very fortunate woman. My dad lived to be 92. He was married to my mother for 69 years (talk about a stable family life!). And he lived long enough that both he and I mellowed with age to a point that we truly appreciated each other.