17 July, 2008

Memories of My Dad and a Visit from an Old Friend

Like many young men of the sixties, my dad was drafted into the army--almost immediately after he married my mom. He lucked out, though. They didn't send him to Vietnam. The rest of his recruitment class were sent to the war zone, but he was held behind because The Army wanted him to go to officer's training school. They couldn't convince him to make a career of it, however, and so he was shipped out with the next wave of recruits, and they went to Germany. My mom was able to join him--what a great way to spend a first year of marriage! They lived in Heidelberg, and were able to travel throughout Western Europe.

I was conceived in Germany. My parents used to kid me that they had tattooed my butt with "Made in Germany." I can't tell you how many times I used to twist and turn in front of the mirror when I was a kid, trying to get a glimpse of that tattoo. Every once in a while I think about actually getting that tattoo made.

When I was 17 or so, my parents took my brother and me to Germany, and we saw their former apartment, met their landlady, and even went to a couple of their old haunts. My parents regaled me with stories of one friend of theirs from that time, Joey Parent. He and my dad were as thick as thieves back in the day. I just knew that he would have some good stories to tell me about my father; but I hadn't seen Joey since I was maybe two or three. All I remembered was his glasses and his dark, somewhat curly hair, which I loved to pat. Over the years, he and my dad would occasionally get together, but time and distance took a toll on their friendship, as it often does, and they didn't get together as often as they used to.

After Dad died, Mom had an unexpected call from Joey, who had heard of Dad's passing from the obituaries, I think, and they've been in contact ever since. Earlier this Spring, Joey and his wife, Gwen, came out for a visit. Gwen is terrific, she had arranged the whole thing as a surprise for Joey. He knew they were going somewhere, but he wasn't sure where, and it wasn't until he pulled up in front of The Box House that he knew he was there to see an old friend.

Mom has been after me for months to get these photographs off of my memory card. I actually downloaded them to my hard drive ages ago, but have been too lazy to burn a disc for her. So here they are, Mom! Click to enlarge them and then save them to your computer! :-)

It was good to see Joey again for the first time (for me) in 37 years or so. He shared stories of my father from when they first met, some of which I had never heard before. Those stories were as precious to me as gold or rare gems, allowing me a more complete picture and a different perspective on the man who raised me. It's funny how you can know someone your entire life, and still learn new things about him.

Yesterday marked the four-year anniversary of my dad's death. For weeks, I knew it was coming, and I dreaded it in many ways. Each year it's been a brutal day to get through without completely falling apart. Ted has come to expect my regular meltdowns at Halloween--my dad's birthday--Christmas, which was always a big family gathering; New Year's, when I would make my drunken phone call home, no matter where in the world I was; and July 16th, the day of my father's passing.

But this year, I forgot.

Even though I was busy tracking down just what I did with the photos of Joey's visit, I forgot.

I don't know how it happened. But I went through the entire day without thinking that it was the day my dad died. Not once. And I'm not sure how I feel about it. I know that life must go on, and all that, but I feel guilty that I didn't spend this day in my usual funk. I worried about my cousins coming in tomorrow to help demolish our basement, and the bills that needed to get paid this week, and that we were running low on milk. I thought of my dad briefly when I rearranged some things in my office, and came across this picture and "booped" his nose with my finger. But I had completely forgotten that Wednesday marked the fourth anniversary of his passing.

It's crazy, I know, but sometimes I wish I could feel the same intense, emotional pain I felt at the beginning. I loved my dad so much, I miss him all the time. It seems like a dishonor to let the pain soften, to move on with my own life.

I don't know. Am I crazy?

I just really miss my dad, and wish he were still here.


Rae said...

I have a pretty good idea of how you're feeling; my own dad passed away in February of 2007. The more time passes, the more I focus on his life, rather than those few bitterly cold days in February when that life ended. So, no, I don't think there's anything wrong with you not marking July 16th this year; I bet your father would have wanted you to get on with your life.

All my sympathies for your loss.

Marilyn said...

Joanne, I'm sorry that loss has treated you so hard - and I've gone through all the same things. A day without a funk leaves a guilty taste, but it's healing, and that can't be bad. He'd be so proud of you and your beautiful words!

Anonymous said...

Joanne, I've been through some hard deaths. Someone I loved dearly passed away, alone, in the wee hours of the morning (approx. 3:50 a.m.), so I used to get a lawn chair and sit by his grave on the anniversary and time of his death, so he wouldn't have to be alone.

But after four years or so, I stopped writing down the date of his death in my datebook. Not that he was any less dear to me, but I realized I was focusing on his death, and not his life. And by focusing on the bad, I was letting all the wonderful things he was, and did, get eclipsed by my grief at losing him.

Your dad will always be wonderful. I think it's natural to hold onto those memories, not the pain. I think forgetting the grief is part of the healing process, and gives you permission to remember the good times.

Jen said...

Oh Joanne, what lovely words.

March 11 of this year marked to 10th anniversary of my father's death. I remembered on the 8th, 9th, and 10th, that the 11th was the day. Come the 11th.....I forgot and remembered again on the 13th. I felt guilty or something, but maybe it was meant to be. Maybe it was something he sent down to let me go on and live my life and not think about a death anniversary.

I found an old newspaper with his picture on the front cover that I had tucked away yesterday. He had a wonderful happy smile on his face. It made me feel good.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Jean Martha said...

Right there with you. My Dad passed on Christmas morning and so I make the best of trying to NOT go to retail stores/parties during the season that everyone INSISTS you be happy and joyful. I start the day off on 12/25 by having a complete meltdown and then being very thankful that I have the Fiance to hand me tissues and put me back together. This was the first year since his passing that I got through his birthday (7/5) without having a meltdown. It doesn't get easier, but you learn how to deal with it (most of the time...).

Joanne said...

You girls are terrific and amazing women; it's nice to have people out there who really understand what I'm going through on this. Thanks for lifting my spirits. :-)

Sandy said...

My Dad would have been 100 this year. He passed away 32 years ago. For the first 3 years after his death I visited his grave everyday. Even in the dead of winter.

I pass by the cemetery where he is buried ever day now on my way home from work, and as I pass I blow him a kiss and say I love you Daddy.

Joanne said...

Sandy, thank you for sharing that. Isn't it great that no matter how old we got, we could still call our fathers "Daddy". The bond is always there.

Jocelyn said...

I want to say thank you to you for sharing this too. My Dad is still living, but I am such a sap that if I even think about him dying I get teary. I feel I can understand your feeling because I love my Dad so dearly too.