Thank you for reading. This is the final post from the memoir. Not all of the chapters were posted here for many reasons. This story was written mainly for me but for my kids as well in hopes that some day they’ll read it and understand me at a deeper level than most kids understand their parents. That’s all I can ask for.
“I’ve got a bad disease, but from my brain is where I bleed.” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The RV roared to life at the intersection ambling forward through the last cross street on the way out of Yellowstone National Park. The sky brimmed with white-gray clouds still clinging to an overcast day, but up ahead in the distance, I could see rays of sunlight breaking through as if they were pointing to brighter days ahead.
Tiffany sat quietly beside me in the passenger seat reading her book as I piloted the behemoth vehicle through the park on our way back home. The kids sat in the back engrossed in their own little worlds – a book for Grace and some mindless iPad game for Troy. I couldn’t help but smile after we had spent a week losing ourselves in the wonderful nature of Yellowstone. We’d had the time of our lives visiting the geysers and hot springs and watching lumbering bison cross right in front of us. We had camped in the RV in the heart of the park with minimal connection to the outside world.
Dad had been gone for over a year, and during that time a melancholy sense of being had fallen over me. I kept it mostly to myself not wanting to be a downer to Tiffany and the kids, but in those moments when I was alone and my thoughts drifted to Dad, the sadness was overwhelming. Sometimes, I’d have to go on a run to get away from everyone, driving my legs deeper into the depths of some forest path to escape the grief, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to shake the sense of loss and loneliness. Dad’s death had left me unmoored.
Emerson and Thoreau had found meaning and inspiration from nature, and likewise, the trip to Yellowstone had given me a new appreciation for the wonder around me. Dad’s death had dampened my creativity leaving me morose and rudderless. I struggled to remain positive, but something about watching the sun set over a river in the middle of all that grandeur while my son tried to get a close-up picture of a bison made me positively happy again. I realized the obvious at that moment – my life was wonderful beyond words even if Dad was no longer physically a part of it. He would always be a part of me.
I took a deep breath as I drove under the awning marking the exit to Yellowstone. The sun grew brighter. The sense of a wonderful summer adventure engulfed us. For a moment, I was a kid again playing with my brothers while Dad looked on laughing at our antics. But I wasn’t. It was my turn to take the path he had taken, to raise my kids and watch them grow up to be on their own. They would one day realize that our time together is also limited.
Looking back over Dad’s life, I tried to make sense of it all. I struggled with the fact that he was but another in billions of people who had lived and died with only a handful of people remembering him. He had been happy for the most part in spite of those many years when he wasn’t. He loved Mom, his boys, and his grandchildren. He tried to make the best of the worst situations, and he failed in some cases. I loved him not because he was infallible or perfect but because he wasn’t. Our flaws make us decidedly human and give us the capacity to love and be loved.
Despite the difficult times, Dad never passed up an opportunity to laugh. Often at Mom’s expense, he’d send us all laughing with some comment or story. We’d watch cartoons together and pick up an annoying line and proceed to drive Mom crazy. In many ways he was like one of us boys, and in the best moments, when it was just the five of us, laughter would reverberate through the house because of him. I think I missed hearing him laugh the most.
Dad spent his entire life on the outside looking in, which fueled his overwhelmingly pessimistic view of the world. One of his favorite quips was “I can’t win for losing.” He had that sense of defeatism before he ever even gave the facts a chance. He’d been beaten and chastised by a world that was seemingly stacked against him, a working class man stuck in a monotonous and dreary play that would not end in his favor. I never could wrap my head around his view of the world until the end.
I, too, felt that sense of being the odd man out, but I’ve categorically resisted the urge to let it overwhelm me. I tamped it down because I knew I’d never go anywhere if I succumbed to it. Dad was always there to remind me of who I am and keep me from getting too far ahead of myself. He didn’t do it purposefully. He did it inadvertently, probably for the most part unknown to him. I could see in him elements of myself. The same tendencies that plagued him haunted me too. I am his son.
In the end what matters most is the family around you. I’d been unreasonably lucky in that regard. Words cannot describe how much I love Tiffany, and our children round out the perfect little family. I didn’t have Dad, but I still had Mom and my brothers. We couldn’t all be together, but we were always connected. I had many great memories of Dad, and that picture of him from that last Christmas had assumed its place above my chair in my office. Dad was looking over me every morning. It was my turn to be the father I needed to be, and I am going to do the best I can. For Dad.