Once, when I was very young, I remember watching my dad work. The image of him sawing wood and measuring where that wood would go is clear and vivid in my mind, as though I just saw it yesterday. I don’t remember what prompted it, but I do remember saying
“I want to be just like you.”
He seemed confused by the statement. I suppose because it seemingly came from nowhere. He lit a cigarette. He looked so cool.
“Not just like me. Don’t start smoking these.” he said. I nodded, thinking I probably would anyway. I never did. The occasional cigarillo with my alcohol, but I never became addicted to it.
Road trips were always a fun experience, whether we were going from California to Arizona to visit my sister, or just a couple of hours on the freeway to visit a family friend. The best music blaring from the speakers. Beatles, Clapton, Tom Petty. The windows down, wind blowing through your air as the California sun tried its damnedest to get into your eyes.
I was always in the back seat, which sometimes meant I had the luxury of laying down and taking a nap until we were at our destination. I wish now that I had done that less. That I cherished those moments while I was in them, because looking back now, they are some of my fondest family memories. My father driving, my mother the co-pilot, and me bouncing around in the back seat.
Sometimes we would drive to the woods, just to do it. Just to breathe that air and feel the dirt beneath our feet. Sometimes we would drive to the desert, just to escape the city lights and hustle and bustle. Nothing better than setting off fire works in the sand, with what felt like a whole galaxy of stars laid out above you.
My father always had a story ready. Always had some kind of crazy past adventure that he went on, usually when he was around my age at the time of telling the story. I think this is why I write. I think this is why I love stories to much. Not the countless books I’ve read over the years, or watching narrative play out in TV shows or movies. No, the stories my father told me.
When I was in my teens and discovered marijuana, I didn’t want to try and hide it from my parents. I was always honest with them and felt this should be no different. I would bite the bullet and take whatever came my way. My mother was folding laundry when I first approached her.
“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” I said. She stopped folding the clothes and looked at me, her eyes were afraid.
“I smoke pot.”
She put down the article of clothing she was folding, took a deep breath, and said “Come with me.”
She took me into the bedroom, where my father was watching TV, and told me to repeat what I had told her to him.
“Dad, I smoke pot.” I said. He turned off the TV and exchanged looks with my mother.
“Do you do anything else? Anything stronger than pot?” He finally asked. I shook my head no, and I meant it. I had never had any interest in trying anything stronger than marijuana. I had been to parties where a plethora of drugs were available, but I never even wanted to try any of them.
“That’s good. Pot can be fine, if you’re careful about it. But I better not catch you doing anything else.” He looked at me, concern awash over his face, and I realized he was waiting for me to agree. I nodded. He went back to his TV show and I went out with some friends.
I never did anything stronger than marijuana or alcohol, and I haven’t smoked marijuana since those days.
Religion was a weird thing for me, growing up. Still is, I guess. But going to my grandparent’s house as a kid was always an odd experience, as they were Catholic and my grandmother had a bunch of paintings of Jesus hanging through her house. Not nice ones, where he’s holding a lamb or feeding starving children, but ones during and post crucifixion. Crown of thorns, blood everywhere. Really scary stuff, as a kid.
My grandma always made it her mission to bring me into the Catholic fold, but I still remember something my father said to me.
“Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be. I’m not religious, but I’ve made my peace with God. I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to read the bible. You don’t need to do either of those things, either, if they feel wrong to you. Read about religion and figure it out for yourself, whatever feels right is what’s right.”
That struck a chord with me, even at that young age, and I’ve carried those words with me ever since.
For as far back as I can remember, my father always had long hair and a beard. His appearance was such that a lot of people mistook him for a biker. This happened so often, that he had a stock answer at the ready for when people would ask him “What kinda bike you got?”
That answer was “Schwinn.”
At the end of March, I got a phone call from my mother. She was letting me know that my father was unresponsive. That he was laying in his bed, his eyes would not open, and that his time to go was soon. The nurses and Hospice people all assured us that he could still hear us, that he wasn’t gone yet. My mother held the phone up to my father’s ear. I told him I loved him, I thanked him for all he’d done for me, and I said goodbye. His mouth and eyebrows twitched, so my mother said.
On Saturday, April 2nd 2016, in the early morning hours, my father passed away.
I can say, with absolutely no exaggeration, with no hyperbole, with no dramatics at all, that it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It feels like a piece of my soul has been torn away.
I have since returned to work. I have a pretty good circle of friends who are looking out for me, always checking in and making sure I’m pulling through.
“It gets easier.” they say. “There will be good days and bad days.”
I wonder when the good days will start. I wonder when this horrible weight on my heart will feel lighter. I wonder when the dark will pass and I will feel the light again.
I’m going to end this post with the last picture taken of me and my father. It was during a trip out to California to visit, a mere few weeks before his passing. I am forever grateful that I had the chance to hug my father one last time, to hear his laughter, and to be at a point where I could tell him things and know that, at least on some level, he understood them.
It’s fitting that we’re both laughing in the photo, as I will always remember my father for his compassion and sense of humor.
I love you, Dad.