I began this essay at 12:53 AM, on a Sunday night—or I should say, Monday morning. It is now 2:15 AM, and still I’m not ready to go to bed. I’m not ready for this weekend to end; I’m not ready to go back to work tomorrow morning and get on with my life. I’m also not going to fuss endlessly over these words, as I often do, and just get them online so I can be done with them.
Stream of consciousness. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ll all find out together.
As many of you know, my father David has now departed from the world.
We all knew the death was coming, and it went about as predicted. When I saw him at his home in Minnesota about a month ago, I knew I was seeing him for the last time. He was sleeping, which is what he had been doing nearly around the clock. I was crying, really sobbing, getting ready to give him a hug good-bye. In the weeks that followed we spoke on the phone, sort of. He was cogent enough to say a brief hello, and that was about all he could manage. He went into hospice this past Sunday, and died early Friday morning.
All week long, I worked on my tribute essay to David. I am not a physician, and not a musician either. Mainly I am a writer, so I wanted that tribute to be as honest and special as it could be. People have liked it a lot, so I feel good about that. It certainly helped me to write up all of those memories, and the act of writing the memories brought up more memories to include, more of David’s fun sayings and joyful escapades, more of what made him a unique and special person, as well as a great dad.
My aunt Jean, in her recollection, writes about how David was almost like an uncle. For years, she avoids dating men who are 17 years older than she is–the age difference between herself, the youngest of the six siblings, and David, who is the oldest. Then, much to Jean’s surprise, her brother David winds up marrying Maggie, a woman exactly her age.
My version of this story: David becomes a father one last time, to Meghan, almost 30 years after welcoming his first child (me). Some might say he’s a little old for this arrival. Fast forward through the years, and I reach that same age. Lo and behold, my wife delivers our second child, baby Nathen. Nothing I ever imagined back in the day.
What’s it like, you ask me, to have two kids, 12 years apart? My answer is that it’s like playing a super-long game of Monopoly, repeatedly rolling the dice and moving your thimble around the board, over and over again, collecting property and paying bills and riding a lot of railroads. Then you pick a Community Chest card that says, “Return to Go, and start the whole game over again.”
Another family story. When I was ages 2 to 10 we lived on Yosemite Avenue in St. Louis Park, at the end of what the locals called the Second Alphabet. (Keep reading, you’ll figure it out.) At the end of Yosemite was a steep hill, unpaved and undeveloped. Our neighborhood simply ended at the foot of the hill, which was all rocks and dirt, and another neighborhood that we never visited began (or ended) on top.
The hill extended to the neighboring streets, but not as steeply. Xenwood Avenue had its version of the hill, but entirely paved and with houses on both sides. We used to walk our bikes up the Xenwood hill and then speed down it—a lot of fun.
The next street over was Webster, where the hill was relatively flat. There certainly was a Webster hill, but not one you’d notice if it weren’t for the steeper versions to the west.
So on the sailboat rides, the boat would be tipping in the wind, and my brother Danny would compare the angle of the tips to the three neighborhood hills. When the boat tipped high off the water, he would yell out, with plenty of trepidation, “Yosemite hill!”
My father took that as a rallying cry. He’d call out “Yosemite hill!” with great gusto, egging Danny onward.
Danny, as a kid, was so sweet and fun and light-hearted. We were very close; we shared a bedroom. Danny liked trains, he liked playing Frisbee and tether ball and shuffleboard and all the other games of the back yard. He took up the trumpet. The darkness and the serious troubles showed up over time, as did some intellectual accomplishments that surpassed my own and everyone else’s, as far as I was concerned. He devoured chess books and became an amazingly good chess player. He devoured math books and was doing calculus in middle school. He was shy among girls and some of them teased him for it. He was easily embarrassed.
Back to my present life, at home in Massachusetts. We have a new puppy. Did I mention we have a new puppy? We have a new puppy. She’s nothing like any other dog or human with whom I’ve associated.. The name of the dog is Sahvrai, which sounds almost French but isn’t quite. Sahvrai is a Beauceron, a breed popular in France that I had never heard of until my wife announced it. Sahvrai bounds around the house, looking for things to chew and finding a lot of them, which means we’re stowing stray pillows and toys and TV remotes as conscientiously as possible. She seems very devoted to all four of us, although perhaps a little too devoted—as in jumping all over me when I’m trying to tie my shoes.
Sahvrai shows the makings of a fine dog, but truth be told I still miss Bombo, our dog of 17 years until last August, when he took his last bark and breath. Bombo was a rescue dog from Tennessee, and a constant in our lives all those years. Maxwell grew from a toddler to a teenager, various cats arrived and departed, but Bombo was always here. Until he wasn’t.
Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction/fantasy television show. It works because an actor inhabits the title role for three or four seasons, then departs and is replaced. The show concocted the idea of “regeneration” to explain the necessary changes to the hero. Everything changes about Doctor Who when he regenerates—his face, his clothes, his personality, and recently, his gender (their gender?) and ethnicity. But it’s supposed to be the same guy. Or gal.
Real life doesn’t really work that way. People die and…that’s it. We do have children, but they’re not the same as their parents, and they’re not supposed to be. A real-life regeneration would be a little creepy, I think. Something Stephen King or The Twilight Zone could riff on. Just a bad idea all around.
This past week, it seems like I brought my father back to life–if only on paper, if only in stories that I can share and get people to share with me. David the great cardiologist, musician extraordinaire, the grand adventurer, the Noble Poppa. No longer that old man slumped in his chair, no longer subject to memory lapses and seizures. To go to bed now and get up in the morning feels like letting go of that dream, restoring the order, accepting the finality and the truth.
But there’s nothing else to do.