Home > Personal > February 1, 2004 (eight years later)

February 1, 2004 (eight years later)

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. He died suddenly, of a heart attack, during the night. He was a complicated, difficult, funny man.

What I miss most about him, is his laughter. He had a loud, raucous laugh that was infectious. And I miss the list-making. He was a master of list-making, or at least instructing me on how to make lists to deal with life’s most difficult situations. My dad’s most common response to any decision that had to be made or problem that had to be dealt with, was to make a list. There were pro/con lists, goal lists, to do lists. Maybe it was his way of taking a step back from the problem and dealing with the tangibles. Whatever it was, he made me into the list junkie that I am today.

On that day in 2004, as I held my dad’s body in my arms, his eyes open and staring blankly into the world, I stroked his hair and told him again and again how much I loved him. I told him not to be afraid. I told him it would be ok. He was warm and his hair was soft. All I could think about was that moment because it was the only moment. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

He was iconic, “larger than life” most people told me, as the days began to flow after his death. He had more energy than any other human I have ever known. He once told me that his success in life was not due to the fact that he was smart, or smarter than anyone else. No, it was because he got up earlier than everyone else: around 4AM. By the time everyone else was getting up, my dad had figured out the day and had answers to many problems.

I didn’t know my dad as well as I wanted to. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and I only lived with him for about 5 years (2 of which were spent in boarding school). My dad broke many hearts. He loved women and was always searching for that “perfect” woman, the one that would make his life complete. There were affairs scattered throughout his life. In the end, I don’t know if he ever acknowledged how much pain he caused the women who loved him most, his daughters, his wives…He never talked to me about those things. My dad never wanted to talk about his life, or his decisions, at least not with me. His focus was always on everyone else.

My dad was a great athlete. He almost made it into the Olympics as a soccer player. There wasn’t a sport my dad couldn’t master. As a teenager, I spent many frustrated and angry hours shooting hoops in our alley (this was one of the times I was living with him), and my dad often joined me out there, teaching me how to hold the ball just so, showing off by shooting with his eyes closed and making it. One of my dad’s favorite board games was a basketball game we played together. I still have the game somewhere. My dad loved board games. He loved playing cribbage with one of his best friends. I have many memories of going over to their house and my dad would get stuck into a game of cribbage with his friend.

It’s strange the things you remember about a dead parent; the tender moments. You try to block out the painful moments. Ironically, it’s the tender moments that make you cry. Like how my dad used to take me shopping and buy me an outfit from head to toe. I still remember him walking into a department store and directing the salesperson to help me. Then, I would parade each outfit for him. These were the days before cell phones and computers, so it’s not like he had something to distract him while I was getting changed. He just sat there, waiting for me to appear, and re-appear. It didn’t happen that frequently. In fact, I can remember exactly three times that he took me shopping for clothes.

He picked my sister and me up every other weekend and asked how I was doing, then asked again, just to make sure the answer was consistent. Then, he’d disappear. And, my step-mom would take over the parenting. I didn’t have a happy childhood, by any stretch of the imagination. While my dad was making it big as a lawyer and owned 4 cars and a house in Cherry Hills (Colorado), my mom struggled to feed us–we were on food stamps. It seemed my dad was oblivious. The separate realities were not reconcilable. I struggled to move between my dad’s and my mom’s worlds. That never changed.

I wasn’t surprised by how many people showed up at my dad’s memorial service (about 400), after all, he was “larger than life.” What did surprise me was how few people I knew. It confirmed what I already knew about my dad—he considered his life as being separate from mine. My dad’s mom, all 5 of his siblings, and some of their children, came out to California for the memorial service and then met for breakfast the next morning. My siblings and I weren’t invited. We didn’t know about it until after the fact. Obviously, we were outsiders.

My dad was a complicated, difficult man, with a wonderful laugh. He had relationships with family and friends that I didn’t understand, because he didn’t want me to. I knew a tiny piece of my dad. Most of my memories revolve around the pain he caused my mother with his affairs, and the nasty letters he sent her blaming her for me being fat–when I was 8–(which I was not by any stretch of today’s standards). He had a cold and heartless side to him, that some people never saw. And he knew how to use words to hurt you.

My dad was a poet. He wrote thousands of poems. Words were his art and he passed that on to all of his children. He could recite Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” and Emily Dickinson was his favorite poet. People called him a renaissance man. I remember him holding forth on philosophy, and the Enneagram (he was a firm believer in personality diagnosis). He was an “eight”.

The hardest thing in the world for my dad to do was to apologize. At least to me. In fact, I only remember him doing it once. Eventually, I suppose as a way to move forward, after everything we had been through, my dad wrote a poem to each of his children. It wasn’t the first poem he’d written to us, but it was the first time he’d written them at the same time and with a purpose—that of trying to bring us together. He did a lot of that, in his last years—trying to bring us together.

I didn’t know what losing my dad would be like. I think he told my brother that when he lost his dad (my grandfather was in his 60s when he died), that he felt lonely. When I ask other people, they say that too. When your dad dies, there is this loneliness that is always just there. Sometimes, it overwhelms, and other times it is just quietly there. On this anniversary of my dad’s death, I remember him for who he was: human and my dad.

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  1. Jyoti
    February 1, 2012 at 14:51

    Beautifully written and heartfelt. I feel your love for him and your sadness that you only knew a part of him, and your loneliness now that he is gone. I like to think you have inherited the best of both of us…..isn’t that the way it’s meant to be?

  2. Melanie Lyons
    February 3, 2012 at 09:40

    Thank you for sharing. This was beautiful to read.

  3. charlie
    February 3, 2012 at 10:03

    Thanks for this, Fiona. My Dad has been gone for 3 years now and the emotions are complicated.

  4. February 15, 2012 at 10:14

    Love you Fiona.

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