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Monday, November 12, 2012

An Instant Replay In Honor of Veterans' Day And My Old Man

Okay, so I don't repost very often, but reading all of the lovely tributes on Facebook to fathers and grandfathers who served in the military made me think of my own father's life. He was a complicated man. An enigma. A puzzle that took me decades to sort out and put together. Thank you for indulging me.

I miss him more than I ever fathomed I would.

In Time Everything Is Illuminated 
or finally understanding your parent  

Okay, so last night I was sitting on the deck amidst a cool summer breeze, pitting what seemed like 3,000 gallons of freshly picked sour cherries so generously offered by our neighbors. The thing about performing a completely mindless, manual labor over and over again is it allows one's thoughts to freely drift from one's subconscious.  

In my reverie, I realized Sunday was Father's Day. Being as Geo and I have neither fathers living nor children of our own, Father's Day is a holiday which goes by uncelebrated and sadly, unnoticed in our home. Most of the time I completely forget on which day it falls. This realization lead me to thoughts about my Dad, and how, at 49 years of age I think I finally get where he was coming from. 

When we were kids, my Dad worked the afternoon shift at the Post Office so we hardly saw him until his days off. Even then he usually was gone all day Saturday either golfing or out with his brother. He usually returned drunk and raging about the war or missed opportunities in his life. He was a product of World War II--he smoked too much, drank too much and was haunted by ghosts that stared up at him from the bottom of a whiskey bottle. At the time we all were embarrassed by his weekly rants and could not for the life of us understand why he was unable to forget the past, enjoy what he had and move on. I was unable to forgive him then. I was too green.

I think I get it now. In time everything is illuminated.

Let's start from the beginning. My Dad had bad timing. 

When the war started his brother advised him to enlist instead of being drafted. That way he could choose a branch of the military and not get stuck in the trenches of the Army. Heeding his brother's advice, he enlisted in the Air Corp thinking at least he'd be dry, well fed and away from the crazy land warfare. 

Turns out the government yahoo in charge put him on the WRONG TRAIN!! He ended guessed it, in the Army marching in Patton's Third division. He marched from Africa to Germany. He was cold. He was hungry. He was tired. He was wounded twice--one of the times he begged the doctor not to amputate his leg. He had the most impressive five inch x two inch x 1/2 inch deep scar on his thigh. I remember putting my little hand in that huge divot, marveling at the depth of the hollow. He would never talk about it. And he would never wear shorts, no matter how stinking hot it was. Then to top it all off, when he came home the ship carrying his belongings sank. All of his stuff was gone. 

When he met my Mother on a blind date, he was going to art school. My Dad was a really good painter/sculptor and dreamed of being a commercial artist. 

(All of my siblings are talented and take after my Dad. My oldest sister, Weezie has a fabulous eye for photography. Her compositions are effortless and outstanding. My second sister, Vicki, is the painter. She was really good and had a nice flair. I hope she finds time to pick up the paintbrush again. Toni has a gorgeous singing voice, just like my Mother. And my brother has all of the musical talent in our family. He was fantastic on guitar. I think he could have been a session musician, but like Daddy, life got in the way. Someday I hope he starts strumming again. Me, I don't know. I'm really good at wasting time.)

Anywho, back to my Dad....

He met my Mom, fell in love and six months later was married. Ten months later my sister, Weezie was born. A couple years later Vicki was in the picture. Four months after that my Mom was pregnant with Toni, and he finally had to face the fact he needed a full-time job to support his growing family. I think leaving his dream in the dust crushed his soul a little. He went from creatively expressing himself through oils and clay to sorting other people's college acceptance letters into tiny slots over...and over... and over... and over... and over.

There were times when I think he resented us kids. Our very existence represented a constant reminder of a life lost for him. A bitter pill to swallow. But I know deep down and especially at the end of his life, he loved us and was glad we were his. 

But I get it now. I get how his life not turning out the way he envisioned it made him bitter, resentful and pine for things that could have been. Who knows how his life would have turned out had he skipped that blind date or met my Mom 10 years later. We all have crossroads from which we must choose a path. Sometimes the choice we need to make is not the one we want to make. After circling the sun for a few decades, now I can understand his frustration. I couldn't then. I hadn't lived enough. Hadn't made enough choices between want and need. Life was too black and white. I couldn't see the gray. 

In time everything is illuminated.

My Dad's been gone 20 years. 20 years... It's hard to believe it's been that long already. He wasn't always the easiest person to get along with, but he wasn't an ogre by any means. He would always take us kids to the zoo, the drive-in, searching for leaves for a school project. Whatever. He was honest, earnest, had a great sense of humor, a yen for teasing my Mom and a tremendous work ethic. He did whatever it took, worked wherever he could to support his family. He instilled that ethic in all of us. Oh, and he could be charming, especially to my Mother the morning after a drunken Saturday night.

We all had issues with my Dad, but luckily his lingering illness afforded us all the opportunity to mend our respective fences before he passed. Sometimes life gives you what you need without you asking. 

I never told him I loved him until he got sick. Strange since we're Italian and you'd think we'd say that all the time, but we didn't. It felt really weird at first. Uncomfortable. Awkward, even. But then it felt wonderful...natural. I'm happy to say I tell my Mom I love her every time we talk. That, too feels natural now. That, too is a gift from my Dad.

I think about my Dad a lot. I miss him. You never really get over the loss of a loved one, no matter how flawed he might have been. Our flaws make us human. Our family wasn't Ozzie and Harriet. It was what it was. He did his best. That's all you can ask for. 

I don't know...I think we all turned out alright. 

This is a picture of my parents taken right before they married. They were 25, playful, carefree, vibrant and crazy about each other. They were in love and had the world by the short hairs. They had no idea what lie ahead for them or where life would take them. Nothing else mattered except the love they shared. Look at them. It's as if their radiance is glowing from within. The essence of the hopeful nature of youth captured in one perfect moment in time. 

I adore this photo.  

In time everything is illuminated.

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