In the divorce court I had to decide which parent to live with. I chose my mom, but my dad was undeterred and moved into the same neighborhood. He kept his distance when necessary, but he was always available and helping me out: bailing me out of trouble…taking me to different colleges...loan stuff…applications…negotiating with the schools. When I went to Berry College in Georgia he sold his house and moved to the same town.
In the years after college we spoke daily. How to make money. How to date girls. How to run a business. We were best friends.
After I graduated college he moved to Signal Mountain, Tennessee to start a new business. I visited him two or three times a year. He looked fine in his early 70’s but in his mid-70’s he started aging rapidly. When he was 77 he survived an aortic aneurysm. Then he got stomach and liver cancer. By the time they found the cancer it was all over.
Every day after the cancer diagnosis I asked him how he was doing. He always said, “Everything is fine.”
In 2010 around Thanksgiving I got a call from the emergency room, “Pack your bags – you need to get down here now.”
When I got down there he was already on morphine in the hospice. The whole family was there (sans my mom and sister) and it was really beautiful. We all talked and looked at old family photo albums.
At one point I turned to my dad, “Dad you’ve taught me a lot. Mostly you’ve taught me what not to do as a father.”
He smiled. “I still have no idea what I’m doing.”
There was a really profound thing that happened that day.
At one point a nurse came in and said, “Who is in charge here?”
My dad pointed at me. It was the first time in my life that he wasn’t calling the shots and passed the responsibility to me. That really affected me – I knew I was in control from there on out.
His last words to me were, “I love you.”
He died at the age of 78.
After he died I cleaned out his house. I found the photos and the love letters my parents had written each other in the 70’s and 80’s. He had saved all of them. I can’t recall if he ever expressed remorse, but I know he regretted what happened – he found the woman of his dreams and then he lost her. He was still madly in love with her when he died.
At first I didn’t know how to deal with his death – he was the first person I really cared about that died. But I don’t really think of him as dead. I know I won’t see him with this set of eyes again, but I have a worldview that I’m still spending time with him.
I believe that all time and all space happens at all times and everywhere. In that way life is like a book. There is a page in the book where I am a six year old kid playing t-ball with him. And another page where we are sailing together on his boat. Both are happening right here, right now, on different pages in the book. So those feelings are not gone – at any point I can flip back to those pages and he’s still with me.