Monday, November 27, 2006

The Better Man

Had he lived on, my father would be turning 80 years old today.
He was born in 1926, and passed away after a prolonged battle with congestive heart failure, on December 13th, 1999.
I think of him always….

I have a picture of Dad holding my sister Donna and me in his arms.
The year is maybe 1965 or ’66?
I love this picture.
For one thing, look at how cute Donna is!
Then there's me though, in the plaid! Let’s be honest, I look a bit ragged… like I just came from a Toddler’s A.A. meeting or something.
“Hi, my name is Dzo-Dzo and I have a drinking and thumbsucking problem?”
[He used to call me Dzo-Dzo!]

But Dad is the star of this picture.

He looks so young and full of life and proud. You can tell that we mean the world to him right then. Look how he hugs us close to himself, you can even sense the pressure of his hands and forearms as he grips us around the knees.
And I remember the smell of Dad and it was a nice reassuring type of smell. It was warm and mannish.
I’m looking now at this picture and staring into my own three-year-old face and trying to project what it felt like to be that young. And guess what… I don’t get very far. I mean, it’s just impossible. That’s the one bad thing about aging… it tends to make you older.
There are a lot of years between me and this picture.
Ever notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time?
“How time flies,” we say.

That’s because time blurs specific events. It allows a general haze to float around… an overall feeling, but, for the most part, specific events fade. With this in mind, I feel blessed that I can draw upon an overall general feeling of unconditional love and security when I think of my childhood. And now in my middle-agedness I know that I am greatly indebted to my parents for this.
It takes years, it takes time and distance to realize this. It’s something that can only be fully appreciated in retrospect. Most often, kids are too full of themselves to know what they owe their parents… too young and healthy and wild to wonder where the blessing comes from, or too preoccupied and selfish to know it exists at all.
I just look back at this picture and I realize something amazing. I am right now around the very same age that Dad was in this picture! In a few days, I turn 43. That is sobering to me.
By this time he had a wife and five children.
I have a cat!

If someone were to ask me how to define “success” in life, one of the things I would want to examine in order to provide an answer would be that person’s father.
When I consider the things I know about my grandfather (Dad’s father), I realize that my Dad became a much better person than his father was. He transcended the old man! In this, he was a success, a definite success. In my opinion, he was a survivor of incredible abuses as a child.
Yet, Dad’s attitude towards his own children was not…. “O.K., it was tough for me to grow up, and so, damn it, I’m going to make it tough for you little buggers.”
No, Dad’s attitude was the opposite, he did everything humanly possible for his own children to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that he never could as a child.
If someone were to ask me to tell them the greatest thing about my Dad, I would immediately say, “There was not one malicious streak in him.”
He wished no ill will upon any other person in the world.

Am I doing a good job of continuing in this tradition of “transcending the old man”?
(Well… you’ll have to ask my cat)… and overall I would say I am trying… but no…
Dad is the better man!
When I consider my Dad in this picture, I realize that he is the better man. When I consider the obstacles he surmounted, the things he accomplished, the moral values he somehow adhered to, his concern for the well-being of others, and most importantly, the amount of people who continue to love him even now that he is gone… I realize that he is the better man.

There is a story that Mom loves telling. It concerns the day that I packed up my car and headed off for college.
Before leaving town I was going to meet two of my girlfriends, Judy and Leanna, at a coffee place on the other side of town. Nothing past there but highway, I’d be on my way! (It was so nice back then… to have groupies I mean!)
I left the house with the usual hugs and good-byes. In fact, Dad was out front mowing the lawn.

Apparently, after I left, Dad came into the house and was restless.
Mom says he was getting all misty… and he was sad nearly to the point of “losing it” because I had actually gone. For real. Really gone!
He wanted a pretext to go see me at the coffee place. And soon, with a clang of the mailbox, he had one. The mail arrived and there were a few letters for me.
Next thing I know, I’m sitting at Smitty’s restaurant with my groupies, and in walks Dad with some junk mail.
“These came for you,” he says… and then he’s just standing there… so, of course I ask him to sit down and we have a coffee (or three)… and soon I have to leave (again).
I hugged my groupies good-bye… but then… out there in the parking lot, my Dad hugged me.

There are some things in life you just don’t forget.
Like the time your Dad raced his way to the other side of town, fresh grass mulch on his shoes, to give you one last hug before you set out on the highway.

Or the morning that your sister woke you up, and quietly said, “Dad just passed away a few minutes ago.”
No. You don’t forget that.
They are events that time has not blurred.

If I could, Dad, I would race across town to see you, today.
And even then, I would do so because you taught me how, and why, it should be done.
So much catching up to do. So much coffee to drink, with you. Letters to deliver.

Thank you for being my Dad. And by the way, you still are.
Just as much as I am, forever,
Your son.


Cold Molasses said...

Wow...beautiful Cip. Think of your dad fondly today...he'd be so touched with this blog entry. And he'd be proud of his son making use of his gift for writing.

rhussey174 said...

What a great tribute!

May said...

What a beautiful and touching entry! One can tell that you grew up in a family where there was a lot of love. I wish I could say more but words are hard to find when emotions are strong.

Stefanie said...

Beautiful Cip. Thanks for sharing your memories.

patricia said...

What a wonderful post. How fortunate you are to have been blessed with such a loving father. And better still, that you know it, and treasure your memories of him. Obviously your Dad taught you some good things about life when he was on this earth.

cipriano said...

Thank you all for your comments. He was a great guy, my dad.

Cleo said...

I've missed you much Cip and was strangely compelled to read you after months away and this post of yours was why...I lost my dad two years ago. Three weeks ago today they told me my mom had lung cancer. Two weeks ago today they took out the lower lobe of her left lung. A week ago today the second pathology report came back as the first. This was a metastases with a primary in her colon. With those words the 5 year survival rate dropped from 87-93% to less than 8%. Today we scheduled her first chemo. Thank you for sharing and helping me hold the good things in my heart for a little while today.