My dad passed away two days ago, one day after his 89th birthday. It doesn’t feel quite right to post something so personal. But it feels more wrong to write about anything else.
Writing was a source of tension between us in some ways. My perspectives on myself, my parents, and my upbringing have changed over the years, and I tried to share my observations with my dad in several short essays centered around memories from my childhood. The efforts were a mistake. I learned that insight develops in each of us at different rates and in different directions, and my ‘aha’ moments—realizations about how my dad shaped my development— felt to him like criticism. I don’t think he fully realized that I accepted him, loved him, and respected him.
As for my ‘aha moments’, I don’t assume that my realizations and insights are accurate. As my perceptions change over the years, I try to remain open to two alternate explanations for those changes—that with age I’ve learned, through wisdom, to see things more accurately, or that with age my thought process is becoming more rigid and any newfound ‘insight’ is an illusion, a product of that rigidity.
My dad was an intellectual, who read more books about philosophy and theology each year of his adult life than I’ve read in my lifetime. So when our understandings of the world differed, I had to at least consider that my own judgment was off, rather than assume that old age impacted HIS judgment.
So to sort things through, I wrote. I honestly thought that with enough effort, we would fully understand how we each see things; not that we would necessarily agree, but that we would fully understand each other’s perspective. But I eventually decided that at least for us, differences in our individual perspectives ran too deep for us to completely understand each other— no matter how hard we tried.
My dad grew up during the depression, fought in Germany during WWII, became an attorney on the GI Bill, and worked for the Atomic Energy Commission before settling down in private practice and raising a family. He studied Christian theology and practiced daily meditation. The internet got going when he was about 70, and he had his own blog, email address and Facebook account.
He jogged since the time when people first started jogging, before someone invented ‘running shoes.’ He worked out at the Y throughout his life, even in the weeks before his death. I worried that the care he took toward his personal health would eventually cause problems, leaving him without a graceful exit from this world. But he suffered a brain hemorrhage two days before his death, losing consciousness while sitting in a chair, listening to music from his I-Pad. The next day his children, grandchildren, and wife of 55 years sat at his bedside, shared memories and sang Happy Birthday. He died a few hours after midnight, never being one to drag things out too long.
I’m sorry if readers find this to be cryptic or overly personal, but I was stuck, and I had to get these things out before I could move on to the usual stuff. My dad reads my posts, and there were a couple things I needed him to know.
Rainy window photo available from Shutterstock