Somewhere, in a box that is mislabeled, but hopefully still in my house is a picture of my Dad smiling, his eyes all a-twinkle. There aren’t many of those. It was a professional photo from a group photo shoot that the Thorncreek Township Volunteer Firemen arranged. I see that photograph in my mind when I think of Dad. I hope to find it some day.
He usually was photographed in our house by my mom who was the world’s worst photographer. She had a knack for cutting people’s heads off, having what should have been the center of the photo appear at the far left, or right, of the image, and insisting on only taking posed pictures that took so long to pose that everyone looks annoyed.
So I am using an image from when he was around age 21 at the featured image. He lived another 50 years after this image from his youth. He took his last breath in this life around 6:17 p.m. on December 25th, 1986. I was with him. I was 29 years old. He was 71.
I do not really write a post every year. I write something every year during the season but I don’t post it.
Mom always told me that Dad did not like Christmas. I am not sure that was true. He never talked about such things. I’m sure he did not think that money should be spent on things that were not absolutely necessary. Christmas gifts, beyond some chocolate, an orange, and some nuts, were frivolous. He loved peanut brittle and peanut clusters, he would buy those at Christmastime. He enjoyed sitting around the table at holidays and telling stories. Like so many men of his era, he did not know how to talk to his kids. But he could spin a yarn.
But I remember Christmases before I was in school. Dad was always one to retell a tale a little bit differently than tradition dictated. I remember stories about Rudolf needing a new light bulb for his nose, about trolley cars jumping the track, and other near-miss adventures. I think he liked Christmas when little kids were involved.
Anyway, I think Dad’s brain died not quite two weeks before Christmas. Somewhere I have notes, but I have no interest in looking at them. His heart and lungs continued on for far longer than we thought they would. Mom must have had them continue some sort of fluids in order for his body to keep working so long, but I honest don’t remember that. When the family agreed that Dad would not want to be on life support we removed the intubation and ventilation after the physicians told us he was brain dead.
My mom scarcely left his bedside in the hospital those two weeks. I stayed with my Mom, not because I wanted to, but because I thought I should. Sometimes it felt like Dad was there. Really. Then the afternoon of Chirstmas, I was so tired, exhausted really, that I saw things that could not have been. I was in a waiting room down the hall when I guess I must have been dreaming while I was awake. I swear I saw my best friend from High School, who had died 8 years earlier, wheeling a gurney with a body on it out of my Dad’s room. I got it together after trying to nap for a few minutes and then realized that Dad’s body was finally giving up the fight for life. I ran to the cafeteria to get my brother so he could be there for Mom. Mom, he and I were all there at Dad’s side as he passed away.
My brother and I were in the hall a bit later, both leaning backs against the wall when we looked at each other and said to one another, “Well he did it. Christmas Day. He finally ruined it.” I no longer feel that way. I have rediscovered my dad. I know of all the animosity my mother held inside herself and how it corrupted her ability to love or be loved. I’m just thankful I have come to this place of understanding.
But yes, my Dad died on Christmas Day. I am writing about this before Christmas, because, I want the actual holiday to be about the family I started after Dad died. I didn’t think it would ever happen, but last year I didn’t think about all this, any of this, on Christmas Day. Not quite 30 years, it has taken me to separate the bad from the good.
I’m writing this now so I don’t have to write it, if it comes up, closer to the twenty-fifth.
Merry Christmas Daddy.