My cousin P called me Sunday morning to ask me to clean for her dad after church. He was having eye surgery on Monday, and the place was quite a disaster. I was looking forward to a much needed nap after church, but I love my old uncle so didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I just cleaned the bathrooms, changed his bed sheets, and vacuumed the floors on Sunday. I went back today to scrub, dust, vacuum again, and mop.
The surgery went well, but he is supposed to keep his head down for several weeks. My cousin is staying with him while he is so incapacitated.
I’ve been doing okay with my dad’s death lately. In fact, I sometimes feel a little guilty because I find that I don’t cry every time I think about him or talk about him. But, today was tough. I watched my cousin putting eye drops in her daddy’s eyes and listened as he called her ‘Hon,’ and I missed taking care of my daddy and hearing him call me ‘Hon.’ It took me back to the day not long before he died when he laid down on the couch and I took his stitches out. I envied P today. I envied that she still has her dad.
I didn’t say anything. I just kept busy and kept my head down. I hugged Uncle M twice though. Gosh, he reminds me of my dad.
As I loaded my buckets and cleaning caddies into the car, my cousin’s cousin (my uncle’s wife’s sister’s son) laughed and asked me, “So, how’d you get so pretty when E was so ugly?!” T is a nice guy, but I was missing my daddy, and the insult hit me wrong.
“Well, I happen to think he was a really good looking guy when he was young!” I snapped.
T almost jumped back. I think I surprised him with my sharpness. So, I laughed and added, “He just didn’t age well.”
T back pedaled and said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen pictures. E was good looking when he was young. So was Uncle M. All the W boys were really good looking when they were young. But, E had a hard life. Even just in the time I knew him, he lived a really hard life.”
“Yeah, he did. But, I have pictures of him in his 50’s when he still looked good–good looking and young. It was just the last twenty years that he aged so badly.”
I could tell I was making T uncomfortable. This usually suave guy who wears a fedora even while working seemed to be struggling for words. He blurted out, “E was coarse! Man, he could be coarse!” I agreed, “Yeah, he could be, but I respected his honesty.”
T stepped toward me, rolled his eyes toward the house, and in a hushed tone said, “I think he’s the reason Aunt M died. She lit up when he came in. He was here every single day without fail to take care of her, and he kissed her on the forehead every single morning. He got her into that hyperbaric chamber every single day. He was so sweet to her. Just really sweet. After he died she just gave up.” I again agreed with him and confessed that I’d wondered the same thing.
He continued, “I don’t get it though. He was so course. There was just another side to him with Aunt M. My girlfriend saw it, too. She just always thought E was sweet. But, man, if he thought it he said it. One time we were all working out here (he motioned to the orchard), and E came storming out yelling at us, ‘You bunch of damn dummies! What the hell is wrong with you? Haven’t you ever cut a tree before?!” T stood there shaking his head as he recalled my dad’s harshness with him. I laughed. That was how Daddy always talked to everybody when he thought they were acting stupid. My dad would be the first person to tell you when you were acting like a dummy, but he would also be the first person to tell you that you’d done a good job.
Again, that defensive bone popped out, and I said, “I respected that in my dad. It was honest. If he thought it, he said it. My mom was a liar and a manipulator. You never knew what was the truth, where she was coming from, or what she was trying to pull. My dad was either the best dad in the world, or the crappiest dad in the world, but he was always true to what he was feeling at the moment and you knew it was real. He was just an intense, raw personality.”
T seemed to have no response. He rather quietly said, “It was nice seeing you again,” and turned to walk away.
I’ll admit it. My dad could be a real jerk. He admitted it! About eight or nine months before he died we were sitting alone in his little fifth wheel. He was sharing with me that he didn’t understand how my mom didn’t feel bad for anything she’d ever done wrong. He said, “We all have to lay our head down on the pillow alone at night with no one but ourselves, and, in that moment, we all know what we really are. Sis, I know I’m an asshole.”
He was also probably one of the most misunderstood people to grace this earth. And, I’m proud to be his daughter. No matter how coarse he was. Because there was a tremendously sweet and deeply tender side, too.
I’d like to share with you something I wrote for him on Father’s Day 2010. He teared up, and he laughed. He stopped at one point and told me he couldn’t believe I remembered those things. How could I forget? These things, these lessons, that I learned from my dad will be the things that carry me through from survivor to thriver. And, thrive I will. Because my dad showed me what that looked like.
I love you, Daddy. And, I am missing you terribly tonight.
It’s hard to believe we are both this old, but we have shared 45 Father’s Days! I have compiled a list of things you taught me, one for each of those Father’s Days. I recognize that you have not received the honor that you deserved. You were never given the place of distinction at the head of our household. You were robbed of that position, and you have been denied the expression of appreciation for all of the wonderful things you did. I do want you to know now though that your effort, your love, and the guidance you tried to give were not in vain. Thank you, Dad, for trying so hard, for giving so much, and for doing it all thanklessly.
THINGS I LEARNED FROM MY DAD
- To sit like a lady in a dress
- How to speak to superiors with respect
- To respect myself
- How to conduct myself in business (When I made top national sales, a woman told me that I had no idea the valuable education I had received by just watching my father as a businessman. She said what I had learned as a child just being around you as you conducted business is something that some people go to school to get and something other people never understand.)
- How to speak professionally on the phone
- To value a dollar
- The value of hard work (if you want something, work for it)
- Diligence (I mean this to differ from the value of hard work because diligence is valuing the work just for the sake of work as opposed to any rewards derived from it.)
- To utilize what is available to you and not be wasteful
- To not be a quitter
- To be my own person and do what I know is right regardless of what others think (in other words, to not be peer dependent)
- To appreciate good southern biscuits and gravy (our breakfast “dates” that I loved so much)
- To seek the natural remedy first
- The closer food is to its natural state the healthier it will be (and to enjoy good food but not to eat just for the sake of pleasure)
- How to use a pressure cooker canner
- To appreciate the wonder of nature
- To take care of books
- To love to read (I learned from your excellent example. I have fond memories of all of us reading Louis Lamour up at the cabin.)
- To value a good education
- To be a self-learner (I remember you sitting at the table and reading about Captain Jack’s Stronghold to us even after we got back home.)
- To value the beauty of antiques
- A housewife has a job (hearing you tell Mom she had enough work to do at home if she’d just do it)
- To keep my word or don’t give it in the first place
- To think things through carefully (“Damn it, Sissy, think!” Of everything, this is probably the one I appreciate the most and have found to be the most necessary in life!)
- To be organized (Bon, even pigs &%*# in one corner!)
- To give to someone who needs even if it means going without yourself (giving your sleeping bag to Ray Johnson on the 6th grade campout)
- To not be afraid to try
- To desire to be an independent entrepreneur, not someone else’s slave
- To look well to the ways of your animals (from my earliest memories of watching you pour Pepto Bismol down those calves right up to your tenderness with Ivan today)
- Tried to teach me to ballroom dance (at your chalet style house, but I was too big of a clutz!)
- To shoot a gun
- To hand sew (You did the most beautiful job on the hem of my pants one morning before I went to school. I’ve tried to mimic what you did and have never been able to master that skill as beautifully as you have.)
- To pay attention to details
- To maintain personal hygiene and look presentable even if no one else is around (I always respected the way you cleaned up every morning even though you were living alone at the cabin.)
- The importance of character training/development of children
- To forgive graciously and not hold grudges
- To appreciate whatever food is put on the table and not be picky (I do realize that one took an extra amount of work and patience on your part! I think I took it too far though since now I eat everything put in front of me!)
- Generosity (You are generous with your time, such as taking Grandma Elsie to the doctor or bathing Aunt Margie as well as being generous with your money, even to sharing in your lottery winnings.)
- To courageously deal with physical pain
- How to multiply (No, I’m not meaning kids! I remember you sitting at the table in the trailer up hunting and going over and over the process of multiplication until I had it.)
- How to research something and compile the information gathered into a cohesive report/display (What you taught Marcie and me when you helped us with our UFO report in the 6th grade has had a tremendous impact on your progeny. I then was able to teach that skill to my kids, and Sam said that one of the top two things that prepared him for college was that I had taught him how to research and write a report.)
- To make the best of a bad situation (I’ve seen you do that A LOT, but, in particular, I’m thinking about your marriage.)
- To have compassion for others (I put this on this list before you talked about feeling bad for Aunt Margie.)
- To not be embarrassed to say ‘I love you’ publicly