My dad

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My dad died 15 years ago yesterday.

He came down with Parkinson and diabetes just as I was finishing school in 1981. That very long summer, from May to September, I got a job at the company he’d begun working for a few years earlier, a big computer consultancy, and had the fun of commuting to work with him. He was getting gentler, becoming a better listener. Gone were the days when we hadn’t seen eye to eye on anything. He’d fought my teenagedom tooth and nail. The summer I was 18 all that was no longer an issue, and I realized how similar we were.

Soon after I left home that fall he was fired because he regularly fell asleep on the job. But his colleagues stood up for him, and his dismissal was converted into early retirement, with a disability pension.

So my mother and he got very lucky. They were able to enjoy the second half of the 1980s and the early 90s together in retirement, doing volunteer work and part-time jobs and spending more and more time on Drummond. Some time, it must have been in 1991 or 1992, they moved up there year round. Larry, Mike and Adam helped them move. I was busy starting my museum career and getting to know Helmut, and saw my parents only once a year. Helmut and I got married after two years in love, relatively soon, in effect because I wanted him to meet my father as my husband. They loved each other. I’ll never forget Helmut carrying him upstairs. A year later dad was gone.

When I think of my father I see individual scenes. In Washington: Him in his home office all those years, running his own company from home, with his Wang computer. Him with his rotary printing press, printing off flyers for the various associations he was involved in. Him watering the roses. Him cooking. Him at the clavicord. Him leading Gregorian chant as the cantor at early morning mass (the only time slot granted him) with about 5 parishioners. Him reading Scientific American. Him refusing to throw out 35 years worth of National Geographic. Him laughing about wonderfully silly jokes until the tears came. Him burying one of the dogs, and almost breaking his back over it. Him looking dapper in a grey suit and a pink shirt.

On Drummond: Him at his beloved Macintosh, creating the Latin font he called “Roma”. Him in boats. Him standing silently in the water, looking out. Him defending the trees against my mother’s perpetual wish for a better view of the lake. Him falling asleep over his reading. At the end, him watching the Pope on TV.

He’d converted to Roman Catholicism in 1945 when he came to Germany and saw the cathedrals and met my mother’s family, a scientist who actually believed that Mary had risen to heaven body and soul. We still know so little about what is possible, he would say. We had to get a grip on our emotions, he believed, and think logically. That was actually a huge bone of contention between us, and I studied philosophy for a year or so to try to work out where I stand with regard to the emotions.  He was interested in everything connected with learning, a big fan of Martin Gardner and reading everything to do with how the brain works, and I sometimes feel him very close when I’m working.

How I would love to meet him again and pick up where we left off.


10 Responses

  1. Great as always, with an added personal touch. I can empathize with the respect thing, and seeing eye to eye. It took distance and me moving to Germany for me to get on with my Dad.
    Like yours he had his own company, remember him blowing me away with the news he was going full circle and setting up a electricians company at the age of 60. I think age mellows us all and our relationships. I certainly am not the firing youngster I was.
    Thks for sharing.

  2. Beautiful, Anne.
    Oh! to pick up where we left off…what a lovely sentiment.


  3. Wow, Anne. That was lovely. I am fortunate to still have my dad (in this world) and try to enjoy every moment. Even more so after reading this. It must be so hard sometimes.

  4. This is a universal topic, isn’t it? Where would we be without our dads to test and challenge us? It is hard to lose a dad, but what a joy to have had one at all.
    Stew, it’s impressive when an old warrior gets up and goes for it again. You’ll have to write this up sometime – please!
    Meg, your loss is still so fresh. *Hugs*
    Karen, I was so impressed by the artwork your dad painted on your and your sister’s walls when you were girls. I’m glad he’s still around. Well, we’ll really have to meet up again after all these years to catch up.
    Thank you for reading!

  5. Thanks, Chris and Vicki! When so much time has passed, remembering becomes much easier. I’m trying to write up something for my mother’s memorial service, and that’s harder, as she died more recently. But it’s vital, I agree, it’s about rebirth of sorts. Caring for our spirits is an essential element of caring for the human spirit.

  6. Randy’s Mum just passed away two weeks ago, so we’re in a period of reminiscing, too.
    Good luck, Anne, with your writing for the memorial service.

  7. Please give Randy my sympathies, Joan! She lived in the States, didn’t she? Is there any family over there to take care of things?

    All this long-distance son-ing and daughter-ing (I almost wrote “parenting”) gets quite complicated when parents age.
    I found myself torn all those years as my mother descended into dementia. I’d drop into her life, a helicopter daughter based abroad. That had worked perfectly for years, when writing letters and phoning were all that was needed in between visits to keep up our relationship. But then came the terrible years where she couldn’t read or answer the phone and hardly knew me when we were together. And then suddenly, with her death, the pressure was gone. Her passing made me ache, but was in fact a great relief.

    Migrating, marrying someone of a different nationality, living abroad: a huge challenge to traditional family ties and our deeply engrained ethics and values.

  8. Patty’s illness has been an on-going saga for some years. The family had to move her (very much against her will) from Texas to L.A. to be near Randy’s brother, a couple of years ago. We visited her every Christmas from 2004-2008 but she was deteriorating healthwise bit for bit and finally stopped answering her telephone around March.
    As you said – now, the pressure is gone but there is an emptiness and sadness.

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