Sunday, June 21, 2015

Things passed along

We'll bring my father out to the house today, and do what you do on Father's Day. Pass out gifts. Kick back. Give some American meat a Viking funeral on an American grill.

Maybe my Dad will remember it all tomorrow. Maybe he won't. It doesn't really matter.

The most meticulous and responsible human I know lives in perpetual twilight now, with what has been diagnosed as Lewy-body dementia and attendant Parkinson's working on him to varying degrees depending on the day. He's had a run of good ones lately, days when his personal sun is higher in the sky and he can get up and down unassisted and has a firmer grasp on reality.  They make up for the bad days, when the daylight dims and he speaks of things that aren't there or aren't happening or perhaps happened, in some tangled way, years and years ago.

Doesn't matter. He's still Dad.

He's still the man who never taught his oldest to hit the cutoff man, never taught him to swing a golf club, never taught him how to find the open man or square up on a jump shot. Sports was never his thing, and I was never an athlete anyway. We never really played out that whole saccharine scene in "Field of Dreams," when Ray Kinsella and his dad are having a catch in the Iowa gloaming. Mostly that was because I couldn't catch a cold.

I would throw the ball to Dad. He would throw it back. Then he would stand there waiting while I chased after it, his throw having eluded my glove by some nautical miles.

Doesn't matter. He was still Dad.

He was still the man who taught me not to half-ass a job, that if it was worth doing it was worth doing right. He was the man who taught me reverence for old things -- Civil War bullets, lead soldiers from the 1930s, his father's hockey stick from the 1890s -- and for the past those things represented.

 Because of my Dad, I frequently mourn how little we learn from history these days, or even acknowledge that it has anything to teach. Because of my Dad, I grew up to attain some measure of success in my chosen field -- sportswriting, of all things, an irony that was never lost on either of us.

Those who can, do, I always told him. Those who can't, write about it.

I like to think I've done that right. I know, if I have, it's because my father would never let me not do it right, something I didn't appreciate when I was younger (because we never do) and which drove me to distraction even later.

Working with Dad on a project was always a clash of cultures. Dad was an electrician and a master woodworker, pursuits that suited his patient, meticulous soul.  His son was a sportswriter conditioned to deadlines and the urgency of getting it done and getting it done in a hurry.

And so one day up north in Michigan, where my parents lived on Lake Huron for 25 years, I found myself standing with my arms over my head, holding two 2x4s together while Dad measured and re-measured and re-measured. Time passed. My shoulders started to yowl. Dad fussed around, measuring one more time.

"We're an eighth of an inch off," he fumed.

"Oh, for God's sake!" I snapped. "It's close enough! Just drive the damn nail!"

Finally he did. But I could tell he wasn't happy about it.

He  was Dad, after all. Still is.


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