Essays · Family & Friends · LiFe

Missing People Just Plain Sucks

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’m sad.  I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington.  And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering.  What just made me sad was missing my dad.

My relationship with my dad was… complicated.  My parents divorced when I was a young pup.  Knee high to a grasshopper.  My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well.  My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do.  Better or worse.  Life is messy, and so was this.

After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time.  Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives.  She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him.  Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I.  Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis.  The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana.  Being so far away just put further distance between us.  My dad had a great life there.  He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy.  It was good for them, for him.  But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department.  He dropped it big time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him.  And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more.  We were pre-teens, he was the grown up.  Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch?  Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens.  I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him.  He never wrote a letter.

Missing people just plain sucks.

When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years.  Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come.  I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time.  My brother and I went by train.  It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all.  Feeling apart.  He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things.  I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable.  The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything.  In person he was fantastic.  Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all.  We were his light, when we were there with him.  I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings.  Suddenly he was all about us.  Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I.  He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom.  It didn’t feel right, to us or to her.  He wanted one big happy family when we were there.  Like I said, he was awkward with things like that.  Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off.  All communication once again stopped.  Like a switch.  A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot.  After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation.  Same thing.  Switch on.  Switch off.  It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it.  She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection.  Switch on…. switch off.  It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it.  All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting.  Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.

My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently.  When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with.  Dad was the end all and be all to him.  For me that wasn’t the case.  I was angry.  I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad.  He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us.  I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send.  Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send.  Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing.  I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her.  To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me.  To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me.  Because honestly, I adored him too.  I wanted desperately to have his attention.  After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard.  Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after.  Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore.  I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident.  And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person.  He was bitter and enraged.  For a long time.  Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late.  They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him.  It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me.  He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts.  By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all.  I didn’t even think of seeing him.  Didn’t think of making that effort.  Strange.  It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it.  You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind.   It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters.  She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital.  Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever.  This time he wasn’t whining.  He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place.  I was there.  During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back.  I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years.  I asked him questions, he asked me questions.  I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him.  I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another.  I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been.  I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him.  I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry.  I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman.  I’m blessed to have been his daughter.  He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right.  Most especially when I was with him.  In person he was awesome.  He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm.  He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known.  Honestly himself regardless of the situation.  He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him.  He had music in his blood.  So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it.  I loved to listen to him play.  Loved it.  I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing.  I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar.  Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome.  I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast.  He never moseyed.  He was blind, but that guy could move.  I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us.  I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle.  I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it.  I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh.  I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield.  He made things an adventure.  I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him.  Not many people do that, give that feeling.  He did.  It was a gift.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter.  I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was.  The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was.  I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change.  He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK.  I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach.  And I learned a great lesson from him.  I learned to be there for the people I love.  I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it.  I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me.  I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee.  I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did.  I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom.  They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful.   They are, simply, great people.   Each with a great smile.  I have a great smile too.  My smile came from both of my parents.  They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones.  Smiles from the inside.  Smiles that light the eyes.  It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

It just does.

I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me.  Smiling.

Essays · Family & Friends · LiFe

Fathers

I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events.  Visits from family and then traveling can do that.  I had nearly forgotten about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue.  It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.

Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad.  One.  He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love.  My Dad was a dork, which I inherited.  Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor.  I’m honored to carry that on.  I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy.  It’s the best gift he passed on to me.  That and his sense of play… and awe.

When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life.  For 33 years he was the man of our house.  Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom.  Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not.  He had a keen and curious mind.  Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world.  He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man.  Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions.  I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too.  Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did.  I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were.  He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world.  I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.

A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don.  I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way.  He was an amazing father and grandfather.  He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.

I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don.  From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship.  I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me.  That small gesture meant more to me than I can express.  He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start.  I  also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner.  I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job.  Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose.  He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye.  He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter.  He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength.  I appreciate his presence in my life every day.  And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.

Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad.  Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather.  I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be.  He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family.  I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us.  Those were some amazing genes he passed on.  He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts.  I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.

As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here.  They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them.  Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four.  They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life.  Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued.  You, as fathers, are priceless.  You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life.  You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved.  What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you.  Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing.  It’s a joyous thing.  So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons.  Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

 

Eats · Family & Friends · LiFe · Music

Fried Egg Sandwiches, Steel Guitar, and Dad

I had a fried egg sandwich the other day. It sounds exactly like what it is… hard fried egg, two pieces of bread, loads of mayo. Yum. I don’t do this often, maybe a couple times a year, but every time I do I think of my dad. He loved them.

Forrest Gilfred Parker…. born April 17, 1943, died June 14, 2006. Dad’s would’ve turned 69 three weeks ago. Seems weird that he’s already been gone 6 years. I’ve been thinking about him on and off since his birthday, culminating in the eating of aforementioned fried egg sandwich.

I loved my dad and still do. Our relationship, for those of you who know us, or me, or him, was complicated. A lot of time spent apart, a lot of time not communicating, but also a lot of love. He was a great kid of a man. I say this because he had, all his life I’m sure, the joy of a kid. He never lost it as he aged. It was fantastic. He wasn’t dealt the best of hands, legally blind, high school at the Montana School for the Blind and Deaf, a father who died when my dad was 16, but he never lost that joy. Amazing.

The thing is, what dad didn’t have in eye sight he made up for in musical talent. My dad was a musical phenomena. Able to play nearly any instrument he picked up, he chose the pedal steel guitar as his baby because it was the hardest to play. Everything else kind of came easy to him. He never became famous, though he played nearly as well as Buddy Emmons, his idol, but that didn’t stop him from playing in all kinds of bands in all sorts of venues. He played music his whole life as well. Famous didn’t matter, the music did. I loved that baby blue double neck. It was probably as big a part of him as his seven children were, and the sight of it always made me smile. I have great memories of listening to him play, laughing and smiling when all the right notes went all the right ways. He could riff with the best of them. Talented.

I also loved the way he ate, or enjoyed food I should say. He seemed to be in constant perpetual motion. He wasn’t a sit around and relax kind of guy. Projects and doing this and that. His blindness progressed to the point he couldn’t work, but that didn’t seem to stop or slow him down. He couldn’t see well, but he moved around a lot. All the time. I was always amazed how he did it without slamming into things more often. He also helped his friends a lot, like helping to put a new roof on the church he and my step mom attended. A roofing blind guy. We, all of his kids, teased him. He was a tease himself. And his laugh… oh my lordy. I could laugh just thinking about his laugh. A full blown giggle combined with a deep down in his gut kind of laugh. Uniquely his own and always with that toothy smile. Dad’s face glowed when he smiled. So he moved around a lot, always on the go, and consequently his food often was food he could eat while running around doing this or that. Loads of sandwiches, and always a cup of coffee, cream and sugar. We all drink coffee now I think, and I think it’s probably a genetic thing as drinking it seemed to be in his blood. And even though he was on the go, eating on the go a lot, he enjoyed his food. Fried egg sandwiches, banana milkshakes or better yet, malts, and sweets. I just remember the joy he got from it. The joy he got from most everything he did.

The same complete joy he got from spending time with his kids. Probably his favorite thing to do. And what a crowd we are. All gray haired, except for maybe Ken, the youngest, all with his playful sense of things, all with his corny sense of humor. The lot of us, if I do say so myself, are pretty darn fantastic. He was proud of us. And we, whether we admitted it to each other or ourselves, were all very proud to call him our father. We are still proud. So the other day I had a fried egg sandwich, and I smiled a little thinking how he would like that. He would like that I was eating it and thinking of him. He would like that I got a bit of joy from it. He would like that I ate it while listening to some good music. The whole scene would’ve been music to his heart. And for my dad, that’s about as good as it got. Music, food, and the cup of coffee I had to go with.

I love you dad, and I miss you.

Family & Friends · LiFe

Brotherly Love

I secure.  I ground.  I provide a safe place to land.  These are some of my attributes.  They have been all my life.

When I was a girl we lived on a piece of property.  It wasn’t major acreage or anything, just a big lot in town.  Small town.  We had a huge garden, a small orchard, a couple of big grass fields, and a fort built for us by our parents that looked like something from the old west frontier.  It was a good place to be a kid.  Lots of room to roam not too far from home.

My brother had a cool bedroom closet.  It had a window in it that led out onto the roof.  Plus the closet itself was enormous.  Big enough to use as an indoor fort.  We did.  We also, occasionally, climbed out onto the roof, made our way down to the carport, walked carefully across the carport, and jumped down into the garden.  From there we could wander around, having snuck out, all over the place.  We never left the property.  We were, for the most part, “good” kids.  Boringly so.  There were times, however, that my brother, who was going through a tumultuous time then, would sneak out and run away.  He did this a few times.  Packed up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or at least some bread, put it in a knapsack, and ventured out into the fields on his own.  When this happened I usually knew it not too long after he’d gone.  And, being the big sister, I always went after him.  I always found him.  I always brought him back home.

Kev and I have a special bond.  We’ve been through a lot together he and I.  No one else has our experience except, of course, us.  We two went through divorce, re-marriages, visitations with our dad and his new family in far off Montana, getting to know our little half brothers and sisters, spending time with our older step brother and sisters, Mom’s ordeal with and defeat of breast cancer, the death of our step-dad followed not too distantly by the death of our father who, on his deathbed, apologized to us for the dad he wasn’t and wished he’d been.  Kev and I have always been comrades in arms.  Peas in a pod.  Best buds as well as brother and sister.  We get each other.

I have felt, through the years, like an anchor to him, as he has been, without probably knowing it, to me.  When things have gone wrong or been hard, I want to see Kev.  He wants to see me.  We have clung to each other in times that have sometimes taken the wind from us.  Holding on tight, facing the storm.  Life has been a big adventure for us to this point.  Each of us has had our struggles, our triumphs, our journey.  And each of us has always had the other to lean on, be supported by, to hug.

I can’t imagine this life without my big little brother.  If there’s something I’ve learned, and keep learning, the big lesson I guess, this is it… let the people you love know you love them.  Don’t wait.  Don’t hesitate.  Don’t.  If you think of them, or see them, or miss them, tell them so.  So Kev…  I thought of you today.  You mean more to me than I am able to articulate.  You are one of the best men I know… strong, caring, sweet, honest, true, loyal, gentle, smart, creative, funny, sincere.  You are a fantastic human being.  And as much as I have been secure, and grounding, and safe for you, know you have been all those things for me.  I love you and I miss your mug.