Monday, June 16, 2008

Dad, 14 Years After

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.


Balcony Gal said...

Those are fantastic and thanks for sharing. I shouldn't be shocked but wow, you sure look like the younger version of your dad.

Chris Stone said...

Sweet post! The pictures are great. Your dad sounds like he was a great guy... despite kicking cats!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading about your dad; as well as seeing him in the photos. What a nice tribute!

David Sullivan said...

As a kid I always dreaded Fathers Day. Now its bittersweet, so I'm with you cuz. Like I've said ad nausuem, one of the biggest sins my father commited was not enabling me to know the Sullivan side of my family. These were some great pictures and you can tell that he had a zest for life..."Celebrate we will, for life is short, but sweet for certain" DMB

lime said...

Thank you for sharing from your heart, Jim. You've painted a very realistic picture of a man you loved in all his humanity. I'm glad to meet your dad through you and see a bit more of one of the people who shaped you into the man you are today. I'm glad you have such rich memories and I hope they make you smile every time you remember your dad. I'm so glad you were with your wife too when you got the sad news. (in a side note, it warms me so much every time you mention your wife. you guys seem to have such a great relationship.)

Jeni said...

Between your post and that of the "Magazine Man" that I read today, you guys are gonna have me bleary-eyed with the tears. Such a great, very poignant, post. I hope some day -if any of my kids every get interested in blogging -they can write something along these lines about their Dad and their relationship. Keep up with the great pieces!

SandraRee said...

Look at you with the red hair! :)

Sul, what a great, wonderful tribute to your dad. As I'm sure you know, you're are very lucky to have those memories and those awesome pictures. The radio clock on the headboard of the bed I remember so well from my youth. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm sorry you didn't have more time with your dad but the time you did have was just beautiful!


Buck said...

A wonderful tribute, Jim. It's been 17 years since my Dad passed and your words about appreciating your father... if you still have him... struck home. Given the nature of what I did for a living, I was usually thousands of miles away from my father at any given point in time and only saw him once or perhaps twice a year. Missed opportunities, regrets, and all that.

Such great pictures! I can see your father's zest for life quite clearly. And... "like father, like son."


Rhea said...

A really nice tribute to your dad!

John-Michael said...

To know the honor of sharing in this wrap of affection and genuine adoration of a Man so significant, and dear to You, SulDog Man, is a moment and compliment that I am grateful for ... and humbled by. Thank You, Dear Friend, for your generosity of Heart and Spirit in this treasure.

You have become an integral part of that part of me that is treasured and held sacred. In brief, I Love You Jim.

FĂ©nix - Bostonscapes said...

Lovely post, Jim.

FHB said...

That was a wonderful story man. Loved it. I always envied guys like you, with cool dads who they were able to be friends with. I envy that a lot. Love those pictures. Very cool. Consider yourself picked up, hugged and shook around. We all need it on a day like this.

Judi FitzPatrick said...

A wonderful rememberance of a man you obviously loved and miss. Thanks for sharing.
Peace, Judi said...

Wonderful post my friend...what a good daddy he must have been...after all, he raised you right. He was always proud of you, and would be especially proud now.

david mcmahon said...

Jim, a great tribute to a great man.

I revelled in this post, because I am a son as well as a father.

Most important, at least you got to say goodbye and that you loved each other.

Anonymous said...

Jim, thank you for sharing your dad's story and pictures.

My dad had passed after he'd been in and out of hospital for over a year. He was only 46. I'd known him as a strong, hard-working man only to see him turn fragile.

I've always avoided going to the hospital to visit him because I couldn't bear to see him that way and I knew he would come back. Well...

Something you wrote struck a chord: "being home to receive it was my Dad’s last gift to me."

I'm speechless.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I know your dad just a bit better now...

I lost my own dad 18 years ago. There isn't a day that passes that I don't think of him, miss him.

Thanks for sharing your dad with us today.


Urbie said...

Hi, Suldog --

Thanks for posting that. My dad (88) is doing pretty well -- it's my mom who isn't; she's been in hospitals/rehab/nursing homes since December, with serious physical and psychiatric problems that may or may not get better.

Thanks for posting, in any case. Great that you have so many pictures (I hardly have any photos of my parents).... Urb

Neponset River Bridge Dig said...

Very touching post. This is a real tribute to man that was truly your hero.

thanks for sharing this.

Suldog said...

You're all very nice. Thank you for the wonderful comments!

Obviously, there's a lot more to My Dad's story than what appears here. The photos do give a decent impression of his journey, though.

Unknown said...

Wow Jim what an amazing tribute to your very well traveled, well loved dad. He was such an eclectic man and I feel honored to get to know you & him a little bit more through your wonderfully told story here.

Great photos as well, I especially loved the Schlitz...did everyone in Boston have that kitchen table & drink Schlitz in the 70's? I distinctly remember getting a can (or ten) for my grandparents and getting to pull the tabs off for them. It was a treat when they stayed whole & I got to keep it :)

Michelle H. said...

You took me on a whirlwind tour of the world with those photos. An excellent tribute. And you're right about that sign! The town should have had some decency to contact the family before taking it down.

A wonderful read. And you looked styling with that goatee.

Anonymous said...

Came over here from Jeni's blog... what a wonderful tribute to your dad!

Janet said...

This was wonderful. So many great pictures. You guys did a lot of traveling! (And I think we were all snazzy dressers in those days.)
The picture of your parents with you lurking is so sweet. And the fruit and vegetable sculptures are awesome. Thank you for sharing. My father died at age 27 when I was 3, so everything I know about him is hearsay.

Magazine Man said...

Late to the party (as usual), but just had to say, Preach it, brother. Stellar tribute that speaks to the heart of every son who ever loved his Dad.

Love the Irish afro!

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

What a lovely tribute. Your father appears to have lived a rich and eventful life.

Shrinky said...

My, but he packed a lot into his life, didn't he? Seems the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree, either. You bear an uncanny resemblence to him, and I suspect it's more than just a physical one. He sounds to have been a remarkable character.

Sharfa said...

That was very, very nice. I loved the pictures. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and sweetness yesterday. Maybe, someday I'll be able to write something as beautiful as what you just did, just not yet.

On another note - let me be congratulate your faithfulness.
WORLD CHAMPIONS! I realize you haven't posted about it yet because you're probably still celebrating, but congrats man.

Maggie May said...

That was a lovely post, very moving. He was no age at all when he died.
Lovely photos. A great way to remember him.
I came over via David's!

Cath said...

Jim, you got me smiling and crying at the same time! I came over just now cuz I just found out we are both POTD at David's along with Tom. I've been in hospital so absent, but home tonight and ok. This post is just so touching on so many levels for me.
First - because (as you know) I am a daddy's girl, and I totally empathise with what you say.
Second - because of the way you write. You might not know it, but you are some writer. You take us right there. In the thick of it. And no matter how personal it is, it's balanced. That takes some doing. Stuff the photos mate, you're a writer.
Third - because a very dear friend died at a similar time (8th June). His funeral was the 14th and his 38th birthday was on the 16th. Father's day. He left 3 children and a widow and also my son who he was a real father figure to.

I just can't find the words to tell you how brilliant this is. How you honour your WIFE too as well as your dad, without any disrespect to your mom or anyone. You are a kind and gentle soul. Bless you.

Hilary said...

What a beautiful post. You weave your words wonderfully well. I have no doubt that your Dad was intensely proud of you.. as you were of him. Thanks for sharing your tender memories.

eeka said...

Beautiful! Your dad sounds like an amazing and well-rounded person, much like yourself.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog purely by accident. I am glad I did. I found it very touching and it helped me in my time of need. Thank you for that.

Unknown said...