Seven Year Ache
[NB: this is totally personal and totally off-topic, but it’s still my blog, and I claim editor’s prerogative. Besides, if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going, and I never know where I’m going.]
Seven years ago today I was perched on the edge of my father’s hospital bed, understanding that it was over. He’d lost his fight, I was losing my dad, and it was all terrible and terribly banal. Death is like that sometimes. Probably most of the time. Anyway. There isn’t really anything more to say about that. It’s a thing that happened, and I feel the need to mark the occasion somehow, hence this blog post, but I mean, I don’t expect anybody to remember or care or anything.
But oh, I wish you’d known him.
I’m occasionally asked where my interest in guns and conflict comes from, and I never have a good response. Of course it’s my dad, but not for the typical reasons. We never went hunting together or anything – the Weatherby that lived under the bed would probably have dislocated my shoulder – and I thought myself a massive hippie as a teenager. The gun thing came much later and was broadly unrelated to my dad.
But his Vietnam and Cold War stories left their mark. He gave me early exposure to how America acts in the world, for better and for worse. He took the time to explain why he did what he did and never treated my questions or ill-informed opinions as a nuisance, and as a result, I had an ideologically neutral introduction to international relations. I learned that America is great but imperfect, because people are great but imperfect, and that you can love your country and disagree with her at the same time.
My interest in gender equality also stems from my parents’ rather remarkable relationship. I grew up thinking there was nothing odd about having a mother who worked more-than-full-time and a father who made dinner every night. If he thought it strange or uncomfortable for my mom to be the primary breadwinner, he never let on. He didn’t treat my brother and me any differently (though Adam was the lawn mower and the game-of-catch partner – I didn’t care to be outside in Georgia summers). I was never a princess or a daddy’s girl, never made to be particularly conscious of the gender roles I was expected to play. It was only later that I realized we were a little out of the ordinary, and that not all women got to do what my mom did, and that not all girls were as lucky as I was.
There was a strength and a goodness to my father’s character that I try to emulate. It’s not that I live my life for him – that’d be a little nuts – and he was far from perfect, but my value system is based on his: Don’t whine. Solve your own problems – don’t wait for somebody to do it for you. Education is important. Everybody deserves your respect – you are no better and no worse than anybody else. The world doesn’t owe you anything; you owe it. And most importantly, above all, do the right thing no matter how hard it is. I don’t always live up to that, but I’m so grateful to have had these values instilled in me.
My dad sacrificed a lot for his family and his country, and he did it without bitterness or complaint. In the end, he died of esophageal cancer, not entirely unknown among those who spent time roaming around in Southeast Asian jungles, but also not unknown among those who drink and smoke heavily. There’s no blame to be laid; there’s just a lingering sadness, the sense that he should’ve had more time. We should’ve had more time. I have so many more questions.
Rosh Hashanah begins tonight at sundown, and it feels fitting somehow that a new year is starting today. I’ve had more success over the past year than I ever dreamed possible, and I’m only sorry he’s not here to act as my sounding board anymore. He, of course, would never dream of telling me what to do – my decisions and my mistakes have always my own to make – but he’d provide the supportive silence that allows me to find my own answers and my own way. Nevertheless, as much as I might want some kind of outside validation of my choices, I know I can stand on my own.
So thanks, Dad, for that and for everything besides. I miss you more than words can say.