The morning of 22 November 2013 was heavy. I woke up 46. It was the same age my Father was when he died.
Today, 28 October 2014, marks the exact date when I live longer than him.
I may be a day off either way. I’m not a math guy. Maybe you can tell me — my Dad was born on March 9, 1946 and died on February 11, 1993. What do you got?
While I’ve had this date circled on my calendar since my last birthday (maybe since the day I kissed his forehead for the last time in the hospital morgue), I only did the actual math a month or so ago.
By the time my Father was 46, he’d already burned through two marriages and was in a serious relationship with a woman who cared for him until the end. She was a lion of a woman. I wish I knew where she was now. He’d had four of his own kids and adopted two others. He’d had jobs ranging from gas station attendant to CEO of a respected respiratory hospital in Los Angeles.
He was a golfer, a sports fan, a gambler, a voracious reader about plane accidents (how he believed he would die) and, um, a hater of dirt. The only political thing I knew about him is that he liked Ross Perot. At one time, he played guitar. I get the sense he was funny. And he drank hard and smoked a lot. Bottom line: he packed a lot of life into 46 years.
The week before he died The Brother and I were visiting him in a hospital room. He was so high on morphine that he thought he had a drink in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. He would take a pull from the phantom cigarette, a sip from the imaginary glass and laugh. That’s the last visual I have of him alive. All in all, not too shabby. He used to say that, I remember.
At his funeral, people talked about a man that I’d never experienced. They reported that he’d walk around the hospital where he was working and say things like “piece of cake” and “just do it.” He encouraged people to go back and get their degrees so they could earn more for their families. He was concerned about people’s well being. People loved him. They had funny stories about my Dad.
Earlier this year I took The Wife and Kids to the hospital where he worked at the end to show them the hall that’s named after him and the photo of him hung on the wall. As I was telling the kids just a little about him, a woman walked up and asked what we were doing there. When I pointed to the photo and said, “That’s my Dad,” she beamed and told me that he’s remembered fondly at the hospital. She went on at some length and while very sweet and charitable, I was getting uncomfortable.
I had, I think, a more collegial relationship with my Dad. He wasn’t parental, per se. Perhaps that was because we didn’t grow up with him. I didn’t come to know him, really, until 1988 when I was 21. We’d both stopped drinking and while there were never formal amends made, it was patched up enough. I was never mad at my Dad for him leaving my Mom when I was 8. Honestly. It just was what happened. I was mad at other stuff, and I acted out to the detriment of some people close to me, but I never had that burning resentment towards him.
In the early 90s, he would come up to northern California for some reason or another. Occasionally I would head south for work. We’d get together and talk like old classmates.
I don’t recall one piece of advice he ever gave me.
At the same time, in the last five years of his life, there was never a time that he turned me down when I asked for financial help. And I asked for help every single month for a while.
Odds are that I owe the achievement of my dream — working as a writer — directly to that $400 a month he sent me to pay my rent.
At the time of his death, I was all of 25. I felt grown up. I thought I knew what I was doing. I had a head of steam.
Me at 46? I feel like I’m 25 percent accomplished. We have some things in common — I’m on my second marriage with two kids in tow — but I don’t feel that my impact on the people around me has been as dramatic as his was when he passed. I’m not pitching for compliments, I truly don’t know.
In my head, this day is some sort of watershed event, although I’m unclear what it’s supposed to mean. With both my Father and Mother gone, is this the pivot to adulthood? The shift to feeling orphaned? I don’t know yet. If past is any kind of prognosticator, I won’t know the answer to that question for another 10 years.
What I hope is that this is the opening of a new book. Fuck the chapter. New book. And I don’t know how much longer that Big Clock is going to tick for me, but I know it’s time to start looking on. Maybe this 22 November I’ll wake up lighter. Not light, mind you, but lighter.
Pray that it’s so.