I have written many words chronicling my mother’s sad decline, death, funeral and burial. Such a seismic event in my personal life could hardly go unnoted in my blog. Even though I have accepted my mother’s death, I am sure I will never be wholly over it.
I have spent less time talking about my father. Thankfully, my father is still among the living and in decent health for a man of 79. I am optimistic that his grandchildren and we his children will have him for many more good years. My father is always a delight to be with. He exudes healthiness and the joy of living. Now that my mother his gone, he is reveling in the pleasure of his retirement community, which keeps him happy and fully engaged. A naturally affable man, he is very much at home in his relatively new digs. He makes friends easily and rarely lacks for dinner companions. His social life has become so busy that I cannot always be worked into his schedule.
Having read a number of books on relationships and marriage dynamics, it becomes a bit easy to typecast my parents. My mother was the emotionally expressive side of the marriage. My father was its logical side. While my mother was emotionally expressive, she was also introverted. My father, logical as you would expect of someone who made engineering his profession, was the more extroverted. It made the dynamics of their marriage interesting.
Certainly, I was blessed with a wonderful mother. I am equally blessed with an outstanding father. Even with our jaundiced childish eyes, it was not too difficult to see that my mother had issues. However, it is almost impossible to find anything imperfect about our father. He is a tough act to follow. Each of my brothers and sisters (as well as myself) tries to emulate him in our own ways. I think we all understand that while we are all good people he has definitely won the Gold Medal. Maybe we can hope for a Bronze Medal out of life.
To enumerate his many good points is to in some way understate them. And though he seems surreal to describe, he is entirely real and fully human. My father is the perfect boy scout all grown up. Do you ex scouts remember your Boy Scout Oath? My father emulates it.
Trustworthy. With my father, you could give him a million dollars in cold, hard cash and be completely confident that he would not abscond with even a nickel of it. With how many people could you truly say that? Would you even trust your spouse with that kind of money? If my father had not been an engineer, he would have been natural fit as a banker. Customers would be lined up around the block.
Loyal. No one could doubt my father’s loyalty, and certainly not to my mother. He reeks of loyalty. While she doubtless drove him to distraction many times, he was endlessly and doggedly loyal to her. He cared for her until he was physically unable to lift her anymore. During her decline, he tended to her numerous and complex needs day and night for months on end. Total fidelity is a natural fit for him.
Helpful. He is wholly incapable of not helping a stranger in need. During my mother’s sad decline in the nursing home, he chatted up and lifted the spirits of everyone at her table. He tutored one of the nurse’s aides working there in math in his spare time. Heck, I still do not understand how he tutored each one of us children in so many life skills. He had eight children and he taught all eight of us to drive. Moreover, he is an excellent teacher. I cannot shift lanes without signaling. By instinct I leave at least ten feet between me and the car ahead of me for every ten miles an hour that I am driving. Yet driving is just one of numerous and time consuming skills he helped us master from tying our shoes to learning how to tie a necktie.
Friendly. The best way to imagine my father is to think Mr. Rogers. No, really. That’s him, except for the cardigan sweater. He prefers flannel checkered shirts. My Dad is uniformly friendly with everyone he meets. His friendliness is utterly sincere and totally innocuous. Wherever he lived, he was the block’s Mr. Wilson. Unlike Mr. Wilson, he welcomed attention from children. They were drawn to him like moths to a flame. You expected him to fix the bikes of neighborhood kids. Like us, they came to watch him at his workbench, but what they really came for was to talk to a man who would listen to them sincerely and with an open heart.
Courteous. Complements are second nature to my father, yet every complement is completely sincere. No meal is too ordinary not to be mentioned for praise. He looks for the best in everyone. Any old lady trying to cross the street had a ready and unsolicited volunteer.
Kind. My father goes out of his way to help people. He is uniformly sympathetic, humane, tolerant, generous and liberal with his time and energy. When he lived in Midland, he usually spent a day a week driving older people to and from their various medical appointments.
Obedient. My Dad is one of an achingly small number of people who scrupulously obeys the speed limit and all the traffic laws. A deeply religious man, he follows the Catholic Church’s commandments to the letter.
Cheerful. There are people who have learned to fake cheerfulness. With my father, no faking is necessary. He is the original Good Humor Man. That is not to say that he is always happy. Dealing with my mother’s decline was very stressful. Occasional stress fissures could be seen in his personality. Nevertheless, he is never deliberately mean. It takes huge painful events to strip away his cheerfulness, but they rarely lasted for long. Cheerfulness bubbles out of him irrepressibly.
Thrifty. My Dad always lived within his means. He was not a tightwad, but he lived prudently, almost frugally, taking only what he needed. He is the type to save old screws or wires in case he might need them later. He never carried a credit card debt. He had one auto loan in his life and so disliked the feeling of being in debt that he saved up and paid cash for all his other cars. He is not a man impressed with status nor felt the desire for lavish things. Suits off the rack at Sears were plenty fancy for him.
Brave. At the start of his marriage, he helped manage his new mother in law, who was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. He did this while managing an infant and holding down a full time job as the sole breadwinner. At the end of his marriage, he dealt adroitly with my mother’s many difficult issues, while consistently attending to her varied needs around the clock. In the nursing home, he visited her twice a day like clockwork.
Clean. Dad is always gentlemanly and never lascivious. The engineer in him would no more tolerate a smelly body than he would a poorly designed circuit.
Reverent. My father’s faith in God is simple and almost feels naïve. Attending mass weekly is a given, and he will gladly attend more often if the opportunity presents itself. He is utterly sincere in his religion. We were all raised to be good and devout Catholics. It is a mystery why with him for an example so few of us did not follow his chosen faith.
With my mother’s death, I now realize the time we have left together is limited. Each remaining visit feels both special and blessed. I am grateful beyond words to have this man for my father. I feel privileged to have him in my life, still puttering around, smiling so sincerely, generous with the complements and utterly in love with life.