Saturday, June 14, 2008

NPR - My Father

Father's Day is this weekend. My father died November 8, 1994, just two days past his 75th birthday. In his later years of life, after a quintuple heart bypass, which the cardiologist said would only extend his life a year, two at most, he set three goals in his life, to pay off the 30-year mortage to his home in Aurora, Colorado, the first and only home my parents every bought and then owned, to celebrate the 50th anniversary with my Mom, and to see his 75th birthday.

And the morning after this birthday, he didn't get out of bed. He fell into a semi-conscious state and died the next day. He didn't recognize anyone around him and he kept having conversations with people long dead. My sister and brother's children were there and try as they may to say goodbye to their grandfather, he didn't even recognize them. My Mom was saddened that he, the man she spent over 50 years with, didn't even recognize her. I doubt she ever got over it, until she died in 2006.

So what can I say about Father's Day? Not much because I was estranged from Dad and he was enstranged from us kids. He kept to himself for the entire time we grew up. He was an Air Force officer with a career goal in mind, which I suspect he didn't quite get there, retiring one rank lower than he wanted, as is the politics in the military. When we were in Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, he wanted to be a full colonel, but that wasn't in their plans.

So he agreed to transfer to Germany, get the promotion to lieutenant colonel, and retire with 23+ years. I can't argue with the time we had there, it was great for a kid to live there in the early 1960's. And while he made time for some events in our lives, he mostly spent the time working. I can only really thank him for the trips to auto races in Germany and France, seeing international Formula and sports car races and some of the greatest drivers in the world.

It was at one of those races I pretty much lost any interest my Dad had in me, and really more of anger and maybe even hate. It's a long story but my brother and I were horsing around and caused a pot of hot water to spill into his lap as he was making dinner for us on the last night there. He was taken to a local hospital, but he blamed and never forgave me. I can understand but can't understand. Aren't parents supposed to love you?

Anyway, he was also a little angry at Mom when we left Germany. He was being transferred to the States to retire (requirement). Mom wanted the family to go home, visit the folks (both) and then move to Colorado. But Dad had a lucrative job offer to work in London with a significant pay raise in the same field of security. Mom threatened to take the family home if he took the offer.

I'm not sure if she would have done that but Dad decided to decline the offer. My brother and I agreed with Dad. Having lived in Eurpore for half my life then I liked Europe and wanted to grow up in London and England. And Greg was in his first year of college so he could transfer anywhere and also liked living in Europe. I don't know what my sister wanted, but it always seemed Mom was the only one who wanted to go home.

After we travelled around and settled in Denver, Dad found a job with the Civil Service as an entry level property manager. Over the years he rose to a GS-1, a grade lower than he wanted, but always took pride in his work. Then when faced with some extensive surgeries his boss told him to retire instead. Again, faced with the choices, he didn't meet his own expectations. And in retirement, he rarely did anything as his ailments and conditions simply caused his body to slowly quit.

Over the years after I was kicked out of the house, we rarely spoke and mostly his advice was do what you're told and don't complain. What could one expect from a career civil servant? He rarely spoke about me with the other kids, let alone having done some of the first thing in our extended family or to accomplish some career goals.

He never understood why I went to graduate school to get a Masters degree in geography, and when I sent him the thesis, he put it away and never mentioned it again. When I was promoted to a GS-12 he didn't say anything. Only when Linda and I divorced, the first in the extended family did he mention I didn't do enough to keep the marriage together for the sake of the family.

The last time I saw him was a year before he died and less than a year after his heart bypass. He was so self-absorbed he didn't really notice much except just living. He looked, as they say, like death warmed over, as I learned the next year when Mom called to say he passed away.

In the end, Dad lived with his own demons, from his time at home in the late 1930's before he joined the Army during WW II, and he took them with him. I'm sorry he never learned to express himself. It was his personality but he missed the opportunity to be a father and a dad.

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