My Dad died last Sunday.
It was time. He was ready to go. He won't suffer any longer. He wouldn't have wanted to live in that condition. He had a good life.
Nonetheless, my Dad died peacefully on Sunday, June 24, 2006.
He'd been on hospice since June 12. He'd only eaten ice cream since about June 15. He lived on ice cream for about 8 days until he stopped eating altogether in the middle of last week. It's very fitting that ice cream was the last real food to pass his lips as it was always his favorite.
I have many memories about my Dad and ice cream. Like when he took me to SuperSonics basketball games at the Seattle Coliseum. Afterwards he would take me to the Baskin and Robbins down on Elliott. He always ordered Orange Sherbert because he thought it was my favorite. While I liked Orange Sherbert well enough, there were actually other flavors I might have ordered, but it seemed to make him so happy to know what to order for me that I never asked for anything else.
I also remember going on several long vacations to Nantucket with my Dad. We would stay at the old family "cottage" (an old, rambling, six bedroom, 2 bath house that is only called a cottage because it was uninsulated. Those that know Nantucket know all about that.) It would be so much hotter on the east coast than it was at home, even on Nantucket. And in the evenings when it was just starting to cool down my dad and I would walk the half mile or so to the center of 'Sconset and get homemade peach ice cream from the little store there. I think we did that almost every day, of every vacation. Sometimes with my brother, but often just the two of us.
We had hundreds of hot fudge sundaes togther, which I thought about often those last weeks as I would feed him his breakfast, lunch or dinner of vanilla ice cream.
There is so much to say about my father that I don't know where to begin. He was an Irish storyteller, with loads of Irish Catholic guilt go with it. He drank too much and could be irritable, I think because he spent much too much of his life hung over. He was self-deprecating, and loved to laugh. And he loved to tell rambling jokes, that we would stretch out over five minutes. You were cracking up at the complicated details long before he got to the punchline, which was often anticlimactic.
Dad was a softy. He would sometimes cry at movies, but usually not sad movies, but movies that had happy endings. He was intensely compassionate, even empathic. And my Dad was one of the most fair and honest people that you could ever meet. If a restaurant bill was missing an entree my Dad would never have imagined not alerting the waitress. It never would have even occurred to him. And to this day whenever I am caught in those moral dilemmas, I feel my father's presence. It's not any one thing that he would say, but I just think "What would Dad do?" And then I think "damn it" and have to pay up.
When he got mad it was hard to take him seriously. He would hunch up his shoulders, cross his arms and stamp around a little. Maybe he would slam a door. It was scary because he didn't get mad like that very often, but it was kind of funny at the same time, much like when my son throws a temper tantrum.
Dad always loved to pull my leg. I remember the time he had loaner car that was a little lighter than our regular car and he had me convinced that the color had come off in the car wash. He had me convinced at one point that Adolf Hitler and I shared the same birthday. We don't.
My Dad loved to follow politics and became a democrat in his twenties despite his parents deep disgust of the Roosevelts. For a man that had no enemies, and in turn rarely had strong feelings of dislike for anyone, he saved his anger for the likes of Richard Nixon and George W. He also hated Barry Goldwater, and interestingly, Howard Cosell. My republican grandmother (his mother -in-law) taught us this little ditty: "Nixon, Nixon he's our man, he'll put Humphrey in the garbage can." My father was mortified, and became even more so when it became true. I remember watching that election with him. I was four years old, and it was the first presidential election I remember. I recall staying up late, bouncing on my Dad's knee, waiting to find out who would win the race. Finally, finally, I asked my Dad when the two candidates would finally run their "race." I remember the laughter, and that feeling that we have as children, when we don't understand why all the grown-ups are laughing at us.
But the most important thing about my father was that I always felt safe in his love. When my mother was off her rocker; imagining that the CIA was spying on us, and the FBI was poisoning our food, my father was a beacon. When he was away I couldn't wait to see him again, so that I could feel safe again. When my Dad finally left my mother after six years of battling mental illness, I remember grabbing onto my father's leg and not letting go. I whined and yowled for him not to leave us, not understanding that the ultimate outcome of divorce would be a great relief to me. I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been for my father.
Throughout his life I could always feel his pride and delight just to be with me. And he was so happy know my son. And it was never about his ego. I was not an extension of him; he always seemed to be amazed at the things I could do despite him. Many, many times he expressed his gratefulness that he and my mother had not been able to get pregnant, and how much joy I had brought him. And for me, I know how lucky I am to have had him. It's easy to say that I cannot imagine having any other father, because, of course, he is the only father I have ever known. But when I hear my friends talk about the complicatad relationships they have with their fathers, I know I struck the jackpot. Having met my birth father (a nice enough guy, really) and hearing about my birth sister's desultory relationship with him, I often think about how I dodged a bullet there.
I was grateful that Dad knew me until the last day. I think he was sometimes confused when I would come into the room, but I would say "Hi, Dad." And he would perk up and get out some semblance of my name. At the end, the last words he could get out of his mouth to me were "I love you." "I love you." "I love you." The last few days that he could still speak, he would just keep repeating it. And then he would purse his lips together as an indication that he wanted to give me a kiss. I would lean over the bed so his wasted lips could touch my cheek.
I love you too Dad. I will always love you, too.