Death, Be Not Stupid
You know how you have those moments when all of a sudden you see your whole life?
I had one humongous such moment when I was eleven. I was in my bedroom, standing before my dresser. With my left hand I had just placed atop the dresser an object I can't now recall. To my right, along the same wall as the dresser, was my bedroom door, which was slightly ajar.
Between dropping off whatever it was on the top of my desk and moving to the next thing I was going to do, it hit. In mid-movement, I froze. I didn't stop much when I was a kid. For this, though, I sure did. It was like having an entire weather front move right through me.
The challenge of your life is going to be getting over your father. That's the Big Truth I suddenly found myself processing.
As raw information goes, this wasn't exactly a news flash. My dad, I'm afraid, was always, just ... well, mean, and furiously angry. You never knew a guy so angry. My dad had two emotions: so angry he could barely see, and asleep. He even slept angry; he had a snore like a jet engine someone had tossed a blender into.
It's scary, living in a house with a guy like that. He was six-four, and built. I always thought he was about to kill me—or punch out a wall, or … eat the chimney, or something. I was always sort of waiting for the other (size-12, in his case) shoe to drop.
Anyway, as a dad he was pretty much of a disaster. He'd definitely already failed as a husband; he and my mom had divorced some three years earlier, and he had moved out. But my mom was 100%, full-on crazy—and not in a fun way. So it didn't seem to me that it was particularly my dad's fault that they'd divorced.
Really, I had zero idea why those two did anything they did. They both seemed nuts to me. All adults seem nuts when you're a kid. Adults still seem nuts to me. But … whole other post.
I've written about this before (in My Runaway Mom), but one day, two years after my dad left, my mom literally disappeared. She said she was going to the store for some bread and milk, got in her car, drove away, and didn't come back—for two years. She just completely disappeared. Two years; no phone call; no note; nothing. Gone. Vaporized. Where my mom had been was now just space.
The morning that came after the full night of my mom's Surprise Exit, my dad returned to our house. He just … walked in the front door. He was home!
And he had a woman with him! That he wanted us to start calling "mom"!
He was married!--to a woman who, as it turned out, made my original mom seem like June Cleaver. Yowzer, man. Talk about your evil step-mother. (Poor woman. She tried. I guess. I dunno. She failed, I know that. But it's not her fault that I happen to be fodder in that failure. As she was fond of saying, she never wanted children. Again: not a news flash.)
Anyway, I'm eleven, hanging out in my room, trying, as ever, to have a life of some sort. I put something on my dresser, and whoomp! there it is:
Your life's challenge is getting over your father. If you don't
untie that knot, it will choke everything else out of you. You've got a
giant hole in your boat, and your dad put it there. And he's not
going to help you patch it. You know that. You know that when it comes
to your dad, you couldn't be more alone. Fix that hole within yourself,
or go down. That's your life. We now return you to your regularly
So. There it was.
And sure enough: all my life I've been singularly concerned with coming to psychological and spiritual terms with the awful fact of my awful parents. If you start your life with parents who weren't fit to properly tend houseplants, let alone children, you have no other business in life but getting over that fact—since, if you don't, your life will surely be spent spinning in the vortex they placed you in. So that's what I concentrated on: coming to terms with Mom and Dad.
One of the things that has meant is always trying my best to make sure that I would be okay if my father, right then, actually died from, say, yet another of his heart attacks.
If at any given moment I'm not ready for my father to pass away, then I know I've got some work to do. Because that, I've always known, is what I must be okay with. So throughout my life I've tracked myself relative to that dynamic. I've always asked myself if I've said everything to my father that I need to. If I have any avenues of Dad Trip I still haven't been down. If any new such pockets have opened up, and now need exploring. If there are any issues at all, relative to my dad, about which I feel unresolved. And if there are, I resolve them.
I've been on that stuff like a dog with a bone, all my life.
And it worked! I don't know how to say this without sounding insane, but outside of my wife I think I'm the most psychologically fit person I've ever met. I'm good with that stuff. I did it. It took me about forty years to nail it, but I did. I know who I am in relationship to my parents.
And good thing I do, too. Because now my dad, by all accounts, is dying.
And he wants to see me.
I'm barely going. But, you know: honor thy father, and all that.
So in very short order my wife Catherine and I will fly to North Carolina, to be with my dad in the home he shared for some twenty years with his second wife, who this month three years ago died of cancer.
He needs to move into an assisted care facility. Now. He's in terrible shape.
He doesn't want to. He's afraid to live alone anymore—but he won't move into a home, or let anyone take care of him in his.
And though he asked me, a year ago, to arrange for him to come live near Catherine and me in San Diego, at the last moment of that Big Move, he backed out. As I'd known all along he would.
Poor guy. He's just so … deeply, deeply tweaked.
Anyway, now Cat and I are doing this thing, that middle-aged people do, with the parents. (And with, in my case, the sibling. Who lives in Hawaii. Whom I've seen once in, like, thirty years. Man. Some family.)
I've arranged for Internet service to begin at my dad's house the day we arrive. While I'm there, I'm pretty sure that being there is what I'll be blogging about. I can't imagine I'll be thinking about a whole lot else.
Boy, it sure is times like that that make me grateful to have the relationship I do with God. It was my awakening to the truth of Christ that compelled me some fourteen years ago to move back into full relationship with my father, and it's knowing Christ that will show me the proper way through this next, final chapter with him. I feel God's blessings on my life right now more than ever.