Monday, June 16, 2008
My father died 14 years ago today. He was 62 years old.
At the age of 56, while he was in the hospital for something else, he suffered a heart attack. The doctors who examined him determined that he had had multiple previous attacks, but had probably passed them off as an upset stomach or perhaps a muscle spasm. Shortly after this diagnosis, he underwent triple-bypass surgery.
He was never quite the same afterwards. That isn’t to say he never had any good days again, or that he never laughed, but the bad days far outnumbered the good, and the laughs were less numerous than they had been before.
The main problem was this: before the surgery he carried an inner sense of utter invincibility. He had been a boxer earlier in life, so he feared few men when it came to physical encounters. He served in the navy during the Korean conflict, so had discipline and grace under fire. He had briefly attended seminary, so had a rock-solid belief in God. He also had innate inherited intelligence. He wasn’t some pug with a cauliflower ear, ducking imaginary flocks of birds. He was erudite, had a great memory for jokes, and trained his somewhat pudgy fingers to do amazing things with cards. He also trained himself to become a very decent amateur chef. So, he was extremely independent, with a belief that he could accomplish almost anything he set his mind to. He asked others for help on occasion, but he always knew that, when push came to shove, he could do it himself if need be.
After the surgery? He was as weak as a kitten. He became exhausted from a walk around the block. Just getting dressed was a chore. He did almost no exercise because he feared another attack. As a result of the no exercise - and by not giving more than a cursory nod to changing his diet - his heart went from bad to worse. He was regularly in the hospital with congestive heart failure.
He had almost always been a bit overweight during the years that I knew him, but heavily muscled. As time passed following the heart surgery, his weight went up and he lost muscle mass. I recall trying to make him feel better, on a visit to his house in New Hampshire, by giving him a nice backrub. I was shocked when I felt bone under my fingers, where once there had been thick slabs of muscle.
Before I go on, I’d like to make sure that you know my father wasn’t some pitiful character. He had a pretty rich life, overall. He traveled to exotic places, made love to beautiful women, ate high off the hog, and got to realize more dreams than most. One of his favorite expressions, usually spoken about some poor unfortunate soul who never even had a chance to realize his dreams, was “He never got a kick at the cat.” Well, my father had enough kicks at the cat to cost it all nine lives and then move on to a new cat altogether. This is the anniversary of his death, however, so despite the abundance of good times, that’s what I need to get to.
On the day he died, he was in the hospital - again. I had taken the day off from work, and I planned on driving from Boston up to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where the hospital was, and visit with him. Then I’d go to his house in Thornton, about 15 miles up the road, to mow the lawn and do a couple of other housekeeping chores. I was going to get an early start, perhaps 6am or so, to avoid traffic and to give myself plenty of time.
At about 4am, our phone rang. It was my Dad. He told me that he wasn’t feeling too good, that the doctors were going to have him doing some tests, and that I should just enjoy my day off and not make the ride, since we wouldn’t be able to spend much time together. I asked him if he was sure about it. He said that he was. I told him I loved him, he said that he loved me, and I left it that I’d call him the next day, or maybe the day after, to re-schedule a visit.
At about 8am, the phone rang again. It was my Dad’s primary physician, calling to tell me that he was dead.
If I had taken the ride up there as scheduled, I would have arrived at about 8:30 or 9:00. He would have already passed. And there I would have been, alone in Plymouth, crying. In addition, MY WIFE would have gotten that hideous phone call, and then had to wait in dread to pass the news on to me. Instead, I was home, and MY WIFE hugged me as the tears came. MY WIFE gave me the hug, God bless her, but being home to receive it was my Dad’s last gift to me.
He died on Thursday, June 16th, 1994. His wake was on the following Sunday.
It was Father’s Day.
These are some pictures of my Dad, from infancy up to the year of his passing. I hope you enjoy them. If your own father is still living, even though it’s the day AFTER Father’s Day, do yourself a favor. Give him a call. If he's near you, and he likes such things, give him a nice backrub. I guarantee you won’t be sorry. Ask anyone whose Dad is no longer around. Being sorry only happens if, while you have the chance, you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.
My Dad, with his Mom & Dad.
With his cousins, Patty & Dorothy.
Confirmation, probably at Saint Andrew's.
Wedding to my Mom, 1955.
With Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, during my Dad's run for Congress, in 1956.
I'm in this picture, but you can't see me. I'm hiding in my Mom's stomach.
Me, My Grandmother Sullivan, My Dad - Hialeah Race Track, Florida. I was such a snazzy dresser in those days.
With My Dad in Monaco.
With Mom and Dad in Amsterdam.
My Dad with my Grandfather Sullivan, London.
The realization of a lifelong dream. My Dad's thoroughbred race horse, More Now, winner of the first race at Suffolk Downs, East Boston, Massachusetts. He owned a minority share in the horse. It was the only horse he ever owned any part of, although he had money invested in many horses throughout the years...
He and My Mom were divorced about a year later. Not the only factor, I'm sure.
My Dad was Tony Soprano before Tony Soprano. Note the defunct brands of beer - Schlitz and Schaefer.
One of My Dad's lovely culinary creations. He crafted this bird from an apple, using his jackknife, while on an airplane. Nowadays, you could get arrested for such a thing.
Always a well-dressed man. He took many cruises in his later years. No doubt, this was just prior to one of them.
On one of his many trips to Singapore. He worked for Singapore Airlines, so attended many meetings there. It was a long haul to go to a meeting.
My Dad and I in Thailand, circa 1977, I'd say from the clothes and my skinniness.
Hong Kong, same trip as above.
My Dad during a trip to Teheran, Iran. This was prior to the Shah being deposed and Khomeini coming into power.
As I said, always a well-dressed man. Not his car. He looks right at home with it, though, doesn't he?
In the press box at Suffolk Downs. Note the carrot/pepper palm trees on the table, which were no doubt his creation. Everybody else worked there. My Dad hung there. The professional handicappers considered him their equal. He really was quite good.
With his friend, Sidney Yeung, on the occasion of their joint 55th birthday party.
My Dad's street sign. He petitioned the town to have the name of his dirt road in New Hampshire changed. They said OK, as long as he had a sign made. He did, and there it is. He was mighty proud of it. After his death, the bastards changed the street name back and took down the sign. I wish I had it. So far as I know, it was just taken to the dump.
This is what I said to my Dad every night I was in the same house with him at bedtime. It was said as it is written here, without what would seem to be some necessary punctuation. It was said without pauses, like a magical incantation. I haven’t said it for 14 years, but one last time, for good measure.
Good night God bless you.