Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Without Father

By Sukie Carruth

Father's Day has always been something of a Hallmark Holiday to my mind. I honor it, but I also know deep in the recesses that father's day should be every day, not just one Sunday in June to play follow the leader and enrich the coffers of necktie and greeting card manufacturers.

It's hard to believe it's been 13 years since my Dad passed on. Still, I cannot help but be a bit melancholy on the day that we all officially say I Love You to the big guy in our lives. I called mine Daddy, occasionally Daddy Boo and, when I was really, really little, Sam.

My Dad was always a Clydesdale of a man. He was tall and muscular and he lumbered more than he walked. He was the strong silent type until he lost his temper at some recalcitrant metal part that wouldn't fit or work as designed. 

When he wasn't expressing his frustration, his overwhelming timidity equalled a quiet mysteriousness to those who didn't know him well. He was from the school of "better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and prove it."

My Dad worked hard all of his life -- manual labor, exhausting, honest work was all he ever knew. From the time he was 11, he tumbled out of bed to milk cows in the predawn hours, bottle the milk and drive the milk truck along rutted roads of Lincoln and Pike counties, every weekday morning before school. When he and his younger brother were done delivering the day's supply, they returned home and grabbed up their books and lunch pails to walk to school at Johnston's Station. 

He grew up and married, went off to war and returned to a 3-year-old son he had never laid eyes on, except in deckled edged pictures. Post war boom times occurred and just after my brother's 10th birthday, I was born.

Some 24 years later, I moved to New York and settled into a life that would keep me far, far away from home for the rest of my life. I'll never forget the mealtime I had with my parents when I announced my plans to move to New York. A friend and co-worker came with me to put starch in the noodle I had for a spine. My father listened as I expressed my dream of moving to New York to pursue a career in journalism, made all shiny and important by Woodward and Bernstein. 

"Kojak's on tonight," my father said between bites. "I want you to watch it. Then you'll want to move to that city."

I looked at him and said something to the effect, "The same plane that takes me there can bring me back. Dad, this is something I have to do." As I recall, Mother cried. Dad said nothing more.

And, as life would have it, I never moved back. Working for an international company, I had ample opportunity to work for any number of foreign bureaus, to travel the world and sleep on colleague's sofas, and see London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Peking, Hong Kong, you name it, with friends I had made through work. 

Yet, I opted to stay in New York and those precious vacation days were always spent going home to see the folks, not traveling the world. 

Time ticked on and my Dad retired at 65. No sooner did he accept his proverbial gold (plated) watch, did he start exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's, just as his mother before him. His slide down this horribly slippery slope of dementia complicated by strokes and amyloid plaques in the brain soon landed him in a nursing home. It was the beginning of the Long Goodbye.

Toward the end, my Dad stopped talking. During our annual trip home in 1998, he would utter not a word. He would sit in his wheelchair (he had also lost the ability to walk) and claw at his pant leg with one crooked finger and stare at the floor. 

On this particular trip home, on my third and last 15-minute visit to see him, Mom and I gave up trying to coax him to talk. Mother said he had not said a word in about six months. I told him goodbye, that I was going back home to New York. We were about 20 feet down the hallway and we heard him call out, "I love you, Molly." I looked at Mom and spun around. He was back clawing at his pant leg and staring at the floor.

Mom took me by the arm and steered me out of the nursing home, because I couldn't see through the tears.

That was the one and only time I ever heard those words from my shy, stoic father. And those were the last words I ever heard him say. He passed six months later, at age 83. 

Happy Father's Day, Daddy Boo. I love you, too.

1 comment: