Almost a year ago I opened this blog spot. My daughter had started one and in talking, encouraged me to use it as an outlet for my desire to "creatively write". I started with a couple of entries that were based on subjects that were at first old and ingrained and second freshly lived. Oddly enough another recent subject (at that date) that I could have written about was too fresh and hurting to approach. Namely the death of my father.
November, a year prior, saw me in Phoenix, standing at the pulpit of a borrowed church, giving the eulogy for my dad. It scared the hell out of me because of a couple of different reasons. First, though being no stranger to speaking in front of a crowd, I was speaking in front of my dad's crowd. Secondly, I was going to speak about a person that they new far better than did I. For though my dad and I were certainly friends and we loved each other, we really knew very little about how the other lived their life. I knew the basics. He was my dad and he beget me. He divorced my mother when I was young and left me (and my younger brother) to a life described in an earlier post.
There were a variety of reasons stated for little or no communication during my younger years, but the fact remains that I only saw him twice between five and fifteen, and those for very short durations. Dad lived in Arizona, where I was born, and we lived in Oregon, where we were exiled. Don't get me wrong, Oregon is a beautiful state with a whole lot going for it. But it is a very wet world (on the west side of the coastal mountain range) and we lived a rural farm/ranch life. My brother and I were ranch hands that worked for our keep and we were treated that way at best.
In the later years of my adulthood, after a stint in the Marine Corps, then getting married, then moving to the other end of the continent, our lives just seem to head in different directions. We saw each other for a sum total of about a month (in collective days) over a twenty year period.
Anyhow, back to the current challenge. I actually had to do some research into my dads past, via a multitude of old and current friends, before I could really come up with an accurate picture of who he was when he died.
My dad lived in Phoenix from the age of fifteen and romped in the same circles with the same people. They all knew much more about who he was than I. The problem I ran into was that the more I learned of who my dad was, the less I really liked him. Oh, I still loved him to be sure....still do. But I found out that the life he lead, though by no means the worst I have seen, wasn't all I had believed it to be growing up. I aways saw him as a shimmering knight held at bay because of some twisted family politics, wanting to save us from the life we lead but unable to because of a fear of the reprisal we might experience because of those efforts.
I believed that he was a faithful, altruistic man devoted to his wife and family. The reality is, he probably wasn't all that. I never really got to the truth of why he didn't fight harder to get us boys back, but I did find out that he horsed around and wasn't always the staunch, law abiding, model citizen I believed him to be. He wasn't strictly honest in his business dealings and was often want to wander on the "wrong side of the tracks". A lot of his friends could be considered as "shady" at best. He appeared to be a bit of a chameleon in that he was able to change with his environment. Always able to put up a good front. Those that were honest saw no reason to doubt his honesty, but then again, those who weren't didn't feel all that uncomfortable around him either.
So in putting together an eulogy, one that wouldn't put him in heaven or consign him to hell either, I definitely had my work cut out for me. My brother called me up while I was still on the east coast and told me that all the preparations for the funeral had been taken care of. What was needed now was someone to write and give, the eulogy. This with maybe three days to prepare. Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited till the night before the funeral to put it together. I made several phone calls to dad's siblings in order to get some facts about his childhood as well as pertinent dates and anecdotes. I talked to my siblings, both natural and step, and got a few more bits and pieces that could be filtered in with my own thoughts. Mostly I pulled from my own recollection of conversations and events that had occurred in the preceding two years involved with him during his illness.
I had taken the opportunity to spend the preceding six months or so with him, helping with his business and trying to spend as much time as possible with him before the inevitable. Dying of leukemia is a hard process. My dad was nothing less than stubborn about giving up either. He put up a good fight and I think maybe most of what I felt about him was generated by watching that fight. But the more I think about it the more I kenned him with the old rancher who, kicking and fighting, stole a thousand acres from the rightful owners of the land to make his fortune and would fight to the end to defend and keep it. You have to commend the willingness to fight, but the battle motto was a farce.
So I stood before a crowd of people that comprised friends, family, business associates and most assuredly a few partners in crime. I made a plea to accept him for what he was as they saw him. I lauded his finer points and glossed over the rougher ones. I spoke of my love for him and his devotion to what he thought was right. I placed him on no pedestals, yet neither pushed him in any pits. He was my father, he brought me into this world and I felt honored to be one of those to see him out of it, regardless of whatever faults he might have possessed. God Himself is our final judge and my father stands before Him now.
A year later, two from his death, I feel more at ease with the spot he has left in my heart. I miss the relationship that we could have had, given different circumstances, but its hard to pity his passing these days....knowing how hard I try to maintain a close and loving relationship with my own children. Life is hard sometimes...and we have to work hard at it. Like I said in an earlier post, one of the most profound lessons of life that I have learned is that you never leave a man behind....ever. My father left my brother and I behind for thirteen years....he spent a lifetime trying to make up for that but it always felt like too little too late. I bear the scars of a childhood that could have been different. On the other hand it gave me the spirit to ensure that my children never have to experience those burns. That which doesn't kill us only serves to make us stronger. Thanks Dad...I love you