When the Phone Rang at 10 PM, I Knew
My dad passed away last night.
In some ways, I’d been preparing since my last visit home. I was shocked at how frail he was, when he had always been so robust. Still, it hit me like a ton of bricks when the sheriff’s deputy expressed his condolences and delivered the news. My mom couldn’t talk, although she came to the phone and told me I didn’t have to make any decisions right away. I told her I would know more in the morning. And it’s true.
I’m driving up to Oregon today, and will be there at least until Sunday to help my mom. I’m lucky to have day job colleagues who are so kind and understanding about late-night phone calls. Editing to add: I got a flight to Oregon for this afternoon, as the roads are really bad. I’ll be there sooner than if I had driven.
My dad and I had a complicated relationship for many years, perhaps because we were so much alike. We butted heads a lot. There are still many things I don’t know about him. I was in my early 30s before I knew he had been a POW during the Vietnam War (my mother didn’t know, either … he considered the whole thing classified).
He was exposed to Agent Orange. He survived cancer.
He survived his entire immediate family: both parents, and three siblings.
He lived in places as varied as Guam, and Goose Bay, Labrador.
He saw the Beatles play in Japan, although he couldn’t hear a note over the screaming girls. He loved the music of Sarah Brightman, and Celtic Women.
His favorite part of “Cinderella” was where the mice and birds help make the dress and sing “We Can Do It.”
He was an avid outdoorsman, and for many years enjoyed hunting and fishing until his health rendered that impossible. He and my mom visited all of the contiguous states and all of the provinces on Canada during a month-long motorcycle road trip.
He unwittingly set me on the road to civil rights activism when I was 8 years old. An African-American man who was one of his Job Corps students married a white woman, and her parents refused to attend. This was five years after Loving v. Virginia was decided. My dad gave away the bride. I took that lesson on board in ways I didn’t understand for many years.
He was complicated. And, as I said, there is so much I still don’t know.
I love you, Daddy.