One of the really fun things about having a totally whack-job family is that you get to spend the day before Father's Day in tears. You know how it goes -- your half-sister sends you a booze-fueled email accusing you of abandoning and hating your dad, claims she's indifferent and then throws in some personal insults just for flavor. GOOD TIMES!
My dad is one of the most amazing people I've ever known. He served in three wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), and had some of the coolest jobs ever: Army engineer, highway patrolman, BMW guru. He's done the original Cannonball Run (would've been in the movie if there hadn't been a schedule conflict), stole an Army Jeep to impress a girl, and snuck out of his house to see Frank Sinatra sing in New York City. There are a million other stories I could tell; his life is better than any novel ever written. Best part is, it's all true.
I was born when my dad was already into his "grandpa" years. My mom was his second wife, and I was his fifth and final kid. He called me the Caboose when I was little. "You bring up the rear, kid." I was always close to my dad; he knew how to calm me down and make me feel better when nobody else could. He taught me how to drive, how to make awesome tater-tots, and how to shave seconds off your time in a road rally. So many habits and quirks that I have, come from him.
Unfortunately, I don't see my dad much these days. His health has been in decline since before I got married, and until recently, he's had home care. My half-sister volunteered to take charge of his care and coordinate any additional help. Ever since then, I've been the odd man out -- any time I offer a suggestion, it's shot down, and any time I offer help, it's ignored or declined. Now it's to the point that stuff I mail to my dad gets returned (unopened) and I can't talk to him on the phone. All this because my half-sister and my sister think that I'm a shitty person for not dropping everything to take care of Dad 'round the clock.
Before we got married, Charlie and I went through a rough patch that resulted in me staying with my dad for a bit. This was when his health first started to take a downward turn. I remember talking to him at the kitchen table one night, sad about my breakup with Charlie and sadder still to see my dad slipping away a little. I told him, "Dad, just let me stay here and take care of you. I can handle the shopping, the cleaning, the laundry. I'll pay my share of the bills, and you'll be set."
My dad clunked his glass down on the table. "NO. Absolutely not."
"But, Dad, I'm not trying to mooch, really! I've got a good job..."
Dad smiled at me. "You need to make your own life, Kiddo. Don't you worry about your old Dad."
I protested, and he shot me down again. He ended the discussion with his usual question: "Is there any ice cream?"
My dad was adamant -- he did not want ANY of us kids giving up a regular life to take care of him. He'd watched his brother David do that very thing: give up his entire life to take care of his parents. David died a very lonely, very bitter man.
On Monday, my dad's being moved to an assisted living facility, and I'm really happy about it. I'll be able to visit without family drama, finally, and my half-sister will get a well-deserved break. I really don't understand why she has such hostility towards me when all I've done is thank her and offer support. I'd like to think that with Dad's full-time care totally off her shoulders, she'll be able to move on and enjoy her marriage and her life. Who knows? I know I'll always be painted as the villain, no matter what I do. It's just kind of hard to swallow when I love my dad as much as I do.
This is my dad. It's a rare shot -- he doesn't usually ham it up for the camera. It was taken at the pool at the Officer's Club in Saigon, about 1968 I think.
I love you, Daddy.