Saturday, May 5, 2012

For My Dad

My dad died two weeks ago.

His health had been declining due to PSP for about seven years. My mother called me on a Thursday to tell me that my dad wasn’t doing well and on Friday she called back to say that we probably ought to come see him, that it wouldn’t be long before he would pass away. We got there on Saturday and he was in that coma-like state that often precedes death. He lived until the following Saturday, never waking up and only opening one eye once, a few hours after I got there.

The night before the funeral, my husband sat down with my mom and asked her some questions about my dad in preparation for officiating my dad’s funeral. My mom told my husband about the time that my dad saved my grandmother, his mother-in-law from drowning when no one else saw her go underwater and not come back up. My grandmother came to see my dad the morning before he died, and thanked him again for saving her more than four decades earlier.

Mom told him about how my dad worked until late into the evening shortly after they were married, but one night didn’t come home. So after waiting for him for a couple of hours, she walked down the street to a store to a pay phone to call her father-in-law to tell him that my dad was missing. As she was on the phone, she saw my dad drive by. Once she got back home, he explained that he had stopped to help a man on the side of the road who had run out of gas. My mom was worried sick, but my dad was just helping a stranger out. He did things like that often over the years.

We told my husband about driving through Oregon when I was about 10. We came upon a man who had just had a motor cycle accident on a two lane road in the middle of nowhere and so we stopped to pick him up and take him to the nearest hospital, even though we were on a vacation.

I remember hearing about how, shortly after moving to Tennessee from Dallas, my dad was nearly run over on the street outside his office building because he was walking with a black woman to go get lunch. I suppose the driver thought that my dad and his coworker were a couple and wanted to convey that that sort of thing wasn’t tolerated in this city.

I remember realizing that there were certain derogatory words that were suddenly part of the everyday speech that I heard in our new town that I had never heard at home, and I was proud that I’d never heard those words come from my parent’s lips.

My dad taught me right from wrong; there were morals to live by and you always did the right thing, even if no one was watching because integrity was important.

I remember how protective my dad was of me; he knew how the world operated and he wanted to keep me as safe as possible from harm. I thought of it as smothering, but I also knew that he loved me. I was glad for his rules, even as a kid.

When I was about 17, I was invited to go take a ride with a friend and her boyfriend. I did NOT want to do this because I didn’t trust their driving skills, so I told them I’d have to ask my dad, certain that he would tell me no. He told me I could go, much to my chagrin. Later, I told him that I really wanted him to tell me no so that I could use him as an excuse to stay out of a dangerous situation. I think I really shocked him! He told me that if I were in that situation again, I was free to say that my dad wouldn’t want me to do whatever it was that I didn’t want to do, so that he wouldn’t give me the wrong answer again!

I remember a conversation in the car when he told me how much he loved my mom. He would come home from work around the time that she would start cooking, and would put his arms around her and kiss her neck while she cooked. My sister and I would make gagging noises, but I secretly loved to see him show her affection.
I also remember having The Talk with my mom when I first learned about sex, but a couple of years later, I got The Talk again from my dad, who wanted me to know how boys thought, and not just how their bodies work. I still laugh when I think about how uncomfortable he was with that brief monologue.

We had another Talk during my early teen years about God. I remember thinking that this particular talk must be as difficult and uncomfortable for him as The Other Talk was. I think he felt like he needed to talk to me about God, even though he didn’t go to church.
When I was about 17, he started going to church with my mom, sister, and me. We never really talked about God much, even then. But he was proud of me when I decided to go to a local Christian liberal arts college. I became a Christian during my freshman year, and began to get involved in Bible studies and fell in love with theology. My mom told me the night before the funeral that my dad was impressed with how I studied Scripture. I never knew that Ihad made an impression on him!

I’m not sure what he thought when I moved back to Dallas at 20 years old to marry a boy who was a youth minister. My mom said that he cried when I left home. But he gave my husband his blessing when asked for my hand in marriage.

My children will have no memories of my dad when he wasn’t using a walker or bed-ridden. My youngest two may have no memories of him at all as they get older. But when they are older, I’ll remind them of how, just a few weeks before he died, they sat on his bed feeding him M&Ms. And when I hear Unchained Melody, I’ll tell them how much he loved that song. And one day, when I get my dad’s Bible, I’ll show them the leather Bible cover that he made and tooled by hand. I’ll show them the craftsmanship and the intricate designs that he chiseled into the leather with no pattern to follow. I’ll tell them how talented he was and how his dad taught him to tool saddles in west Texas.

They’ll know how much my dad loved Texas because of the Texas soil that I have in a little glass bottle…a little portion of the soil that each of us sprinkled onto my dad’s vault after he was lowered into the ground.

But mostly, I’ll tell them how much he loved each of them. And I’ll tell them how much I loved him.