Just a few days ago marked the anniversary of my father's death. And yesterday would have been his 90th birthday.
My father, The Surgeon was a big believer in family. OK, he never quite figured out how to do it all that well, which led to me being his best man-boy (I was 14 I think, at the time) at his fourth and final marriage, but he knew that there was something about family that brought fulfillment to a life.
And it's one of my occasional regrets that his family scattered to the four winds almost immediately after he died, and that we've not seen each other since. His first marriage produced three children - my oldest sister is some thirty five years older than me or so. And I believe that those three kids are still fairly close, or at least they were on speaking terms and lived fairly near each other in California seventeen years ago when we they flew out to attend our father's memorial service. They stayed long enough to divide up many of our dad's papers and belongings amongst themselves, give me a perfunctory and strange hug, and get back on a plane for San Diego or L.A. or wherever it is they lived at the time.
I was briefly bothered at the time by the way it all went down, but as my father had slipped into a coma a few weeks before his passing, I had started, in my late teenage way, to already try and grapple with his death. Which mostly meant being a bit more surly than normal. Not that I was ever very good at being surly. Generally it meant retreating into reading or my computer for a bit extra. I don't really remember crying at the service. I think I had done all my real grieving at the hospital a few weeks before, just before he slipped into a coma, when I saw an orderly helping my father use the bathroom, and talking to this incredibly intelligent man, this doctor who had dedicated his life to helping and curing others, and who had been the vibrant and energetic mental presence in my life - talking to him as if he was a child. And I knew that my father had checked out and given up. He didn't want to live like that, and I couldn't blame him.
So yeah, I was bothered by the way my half-brothers and sister descended upon the house after his death and divied up some personal goods. My step-mother, Doris, took me aside and handed me a box of mixed papers and told me not to say anything. Amongst them was a family tree that had been drafted in 1917, the year my father was born, and traces back our family history to somewhere in the early 1700's.
It's framed and hangs above my desk these days.
And more than anything else, that's why I wasn't too bothered by the way these vultures in the family plucked at the remains and things left behind. Because I had already realized, even then, that the stuff that Dad left was immeasurably less valuable than the things that I had been given already. A sense of self and integrity. A connection to him and our history. A grounding in who I am and where I come from that has little to do with the paper that the family tree is written on, and everything to do with the times that he allowed me to accompany him on his hospital rounds as a kid, introducing me to his patients as his 'helper' for the day, and stopping off at Arby's together on the way home to eat bad fast food.
Even amongst all the crazy, I grew up seeing the importance my father placed on taking the time to take care of others, and most especially of family, and still felt - still feel - his influence on me today. He was a gentleman of the very oldest school, who cracked tired jokes and threw great parties. He worked tirelessly, and drove himself and those around him to better themselves.
I've now lived as long without my father alive as I did before he died. He's never far from my thoughts, and I've often stopped to ask myself what he'd do in whatever situation I find myself facing, or to chuckle at a private joke, knowing he'd appreciate some little joke or moment if he was there.
I rarely told him that I loved him, but I was seventeen when he died. Not exactly the ok-with-expressing-your-feelings age. My only regret today is that my Bride and now our children will only get to know him through the stories I tell. And through those damned permanent bags under our eyes that are a genetic Grady trademark.
I didn't tell you enough when you were around, Dad, but know that I love you.
Although I've got to wonder why you guys bought me the *Minnie* Mouse button, and not Mickey.