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Saturday, March 3, 2012

He went that a way


Upon the occasion of my first obituary

He went that a way

He was a complex man, more scoundrel than saint. He died this week at the ripened age of 84, stubborn as ever, hanging on for days longer than expected as I sat by the phone, posted inanities on Facebook for distraction and corresponded with siblings (real and by marriage) in the long distance death watch of our father.

His passing was long expected. He suffered from Parkinson’s for the last 10 years and rode around his little town in Oregon on his Hoveround© when he was able. I know little of that time and it’s just as well. He long had another family with who, on his second try, seemed to eventually fair much better.

For a man with a talent for both procreation and amassing women with children, he was probably most disappointed that none of his brood was an athlete as he was. Awarded a full scholarship as a baseball player his senior year in High School, he spent two years at the University of Richmond before he was drafted at 18 in the last gasps of World War II. He spent a year as a private, marching around Paris highlighted by attending a John Wayne Western where the sub-title read “Whoa Chevaux!”  (En Fran├žais - this rhymes!)

He returned to his studies, finished his business degree and met and married my mother. They started their family, moved to the Jewish suburbs from their Jewish neighborhoods in Newark and finally divorced after 21 years of wrestling in bitter wedlock.

A compact man just 5’9”, he was drafted by the farm leagues and played a couple of seasons in Baltimore. He was an athlete first and foremost and loved playing paddleball more than anything else -- including working -- and so he did. I’m sure that’s how he sold insurance -- when he did.

My father was not what one would call a great Daddy. He was an immaculate and well-groomed man and I think he was uncomfortable with the sticky fingers of children. He was always competitive. He didn’t just win at Monopoly, he relished in slaughtering us.

He shared his passions as he could, dragging his crew of then three plus my mother to every Revolutionary or Civil War battlefield within an 8 hour driving radius of our home. I remember car fights and Jamestown. 

He was never much of a financial success. He knew more about spending money than earning it. Once when the electric bill had not, yet again, been paid, and my mother had taken to bed in protest, we ate Chicken Delight© by candlelight. The side of cranberry sauce came in these little clear plastic rectangular packs, much like the jelly and jam assortments at your local diner today. He was impatient opening his and when he did, he was splattered in face. We held our collective breaths anticipating his rage. His temper was legendary -- only mollified by blinding headaches later in life. But instead he burst out laughing at himself and it became for me, a joyful memory.

What does one say about a man who moved to California to follow his Hollywood dreams and amassed Barco loungers as a professional game show contestant (but a winner nonetheless!); who actually won over $5000 on Jeopardy?  When I was 28 or so, visiting the sales department of the company I worked for, I saw him in a television commercial as a butcher. I never knew how or where he might pop up in my life as a source of laughter or pain.

Our nuclear family is long fractured. Such is the gift of divorce -- the gift that keeps on giving. As the eldest of a clan that at one point numbered eleven children, mine was frequently the inappropriate disclosure. Thanks for those guys.   

My brother and sisters established their own relationship with him, that’s not mine to tell but none rushed to his bedside or attended his funeral.  I had not spoken with him in over a dozen years after the final crossed-the-line disappointment. My instincts were to protect myself and new child, away from the toxins in which my father chose to swim.

When he and his wife moved to Oregon from Southern California, as his illness became more debilitating, he was in his way giving me the gift of not having to tend to or care for him in his final years. Oregon provides most generously for death with dignity. He was never a burden, as they say.

So this, my friends, is a formal closing of a long chapter in my life that was already mostly shut. The finality of it has brought with it a flood of memories and feelings and the ability to articulate what was and will forever be, the first man I loved.

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