Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dad, 16 Years After

[Originally published two years ago, and entitled "Dad, 14 Years After", I've made only the slightest of edits.]

My father died 16 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 to which he set his mind. 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 if it’s a few days before or 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.

I bought the same tie My Dad is wearing in this photo, independent of knowing My Dad had once owned it, years after his death. The pattern is a plaid, Dress MacPherson. That was his mother's (My Grandmother's) maiden name.

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 on April 15th, 1971, 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 to him for 16 years, but here again, for good measure.

Good night God bless you.


Jazz said...

Wow, the two of you look alike!

Beautiful post Sully.

The Good Cook said...

What a lovely tribute to your dad. You know he at that big race track in the sky smiling down at you. Well dressed too I'll bet.

Ragtop Day said...

My dad also died at age 62, 13 years ago last Sunday, right before Father's Day.

You have such rich memories of your dad and so many pictures too - I wish I had those! My dad drank Schlitz too!

Beautifully written - you're keeping his memory strong.

Bruce Coltin said...

Mine made it to 67, and also had a lot of kicks at the cat. This was a tough post for me to read.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Our dad's died about the same's been 16 years for me, too...only my Dad was older...69. So sorry, matter how long it's been, it's still hard...and there's always a hole. This was a beautiful way to remember him...and I'm sure that is as important to you as it is inspirational for the rest of us. You will be in my thoughts this week especially. God bless you, my friend!!! Big hugs, warm thoughts and prayers, Janine

CiCi said...

What an amazing and full life your father had. And it overlapped into your life too. Lots of traveling and adventures. This is a lovely tribute to your dad. Thanks for sharing this life story.

Chris said...

Great tribute, Jim. I thought "Tony Soprano" immediately before I read the caption.

Buck said...

I was gonna recycle what I said two years ago but will keep it to this: "Like father, like son."

You know my father was high in my thoughts last evening and we're coming up on the 20th anniversary of his death; he was 70 when he left us. I still miss the man.

Craig said...

Funny - I never watched 'The Sopranos', but that's what I instantly thought when I saw his photos. . .

Thanks for this, Jim. My dad is still living - he'll turn 88 tomorrow (his birthday has often fallen on Fathers' Day) - but I know whereof you speak. Our fathers are just huge for our lives. And blessed are you that you had a good one.

It has been a little disconcerting to see my dad getting old; his 88-year-old self just ain't quite as spry as when he was, you know, only 70 (and weird to think that I've had four kids since his 70th birthday). I know that his death, when it comes, will be an absolute earthquake in my life. . .

Thanks again. . .

Unknown said...

What wonderful photos and memories. My post on Father's Day is about my deceased Dad. too.

Sueann said...

Beautiful tribute to your Father! Wonderful memories!
My dad passed in 1985..heart attack as well.
He had many dreams but never really accomplished a one of them. So sad!

Saz said...

wonderful post honouring your father...l dont recall reading it afore...

the green triumph stag was a favourite of mine too late 70's..

saz x

Angela Christensen said...

Suldog, this is truly, as others have said, perfectly lovely. As you know, we dealt with Rodney's dad's Alzheimers for some long old years. It's great to read a recollection like yours, in which a dad lived a long happy life (though broken by the loss of his confidence in his unimpeachable health) and died quickly, having tasted those many sweet things life can offer. Thanks for sharing. Love, love.

Cleary Squared said...

Great story. I'm going to add your story to my page, if you don't mind.

Jackie said...

I love my Daddy...and reading your post about your Dad caused me to pause...and I phoned my Daddy. Yes, he's still awake....and I had just phoned him about 30 minutes ago, but I wanted to talk to him again. That is the impact this tribute to your Dad had on me.
Thank you for this beautiful post, Jim.
I love the photographs that you posted....and I especially love the one of your Dad swinging. He looks like he had fun.
You look very much like your Dad....and I thank you again for the reminder to take the opportunity to show and share love.
Hugs and warmest smiles to you, Jim.

Linda said...

I enjoyed reading this post, and it is clear how much you enjoyed your dad. And he sure couldn't deny you were his, you look so much alike!
I'm lucky enough to still have both my parents around and I've been trying to visit more frequently as they, and I, get older.

Shammickite said...

You are certainly your father's son, you look just like him. A nice tribute to a man who you obviously looked up to and respected. dad's are great people. Mine has been gone now for more than 30 years, but I still miss him.

~j said...

this is a beautiful post...what a lovely tribute.

Carolina said...

This is a lovely tribute. You and your father look so much alike (in some of the photos).

Suldog said...

Cleary Squared - If I don't mind? I'm honored! Thanks!

Cricket said...

Wow. I'm not sure how I've missed this one. Great post and an amazing collection of photos.

I've made this or a similar comment on other people's posts, never, I think here:

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher once asked us about our heroes. We all made our answers, mostly celebrities or other public figures. I forget who I said, possibly John Lennon.

He seemed disappointed with us. We asked him who he would have said. He said his father. Maybe also his grandfather. I didn't understand that then.

I understand now.

Ruth and Glen said...

What a sentimental and loving tribute to your Dad. The pictures added such a nostalgic touch. What a great job honoring your Dad's legacy Jim. :o)

gayle said...

What a wonderful post to your dad!! It is such a good feeling to have No regrets!!! My dad died in 1998 so I know how you are feeling!

Michelle H. said...

Again, I am completely amazed by your writing and this post. A grand tribute it is!

Jeni said...

Once again, you've gone and "waxed sentimental" on us and it's a beautiful post we have to read as a result of that.
I never knew my Dad as he died when I was 17 days old so have no memories to fall back on to remember him by. My kids, because of the ex and I divorcing 30 years ago this month, lost out on a lot in that department too but I'm very thankful that, regardless of the issues between their dad and me, I insisted that they try to maintain contact with him, even when he seemed to not give a hoot about them. Since he quit drinking 17 years ago this coming September, he's improved considerably in the parenting department and all three of the kids have very good relationships with him now. Something I'm grateful for and they feel the same way about that too -even though he lives in Nevada and they all live here, they do try to keep that relationship strong and solid. See, something good does come from swallowing back those feelings of bitterness early on and not allowing my kids to fall into that trap with or towards their Dad!

Daryl said...

Still a wonderful post ... yesterday would have been my parents 63 wedding anniversary ... so I was already in a sort of nostalgic mood..

You look just like your dad. said...

I don't know how you feel about it, but in looking at the Christmas photo, the one where you dad is holding a cigarette, it reminded me of the feelings I get in looking a shots of my dad with his Camels. I can't help but think how they contributed to taking him away early (age 57) with, first a heart attack, and then bladder cancer a couple of years later. I tend to hate those shots!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, and I love all the photos.

Suldog said...

Mushy - Yeah, I know. He does have a smoke in hand in many of them. But, that's who he was, as much as anything else, my friend.

lime said...

it's a truly wonderful remembrance of your dad. i thank you for sharing it and the pictures. though others have said it, wow! you look like him a lot!

i beati said...

I feel I know him--

Wow dark socks with shorts you are the Man-

Memories are sharp even now right ??

Elaine Denning said...


God bless you, Jim. x

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Just thinking of you, my friend...Hugs and prayers for you! Love, Janine

Unknown said...

I really love when you repost the oldies, I'd never gotten a chance to read this one before and its such a wonderfully told tribute to your dad. Not to mention the close relationship you had with each other. So well written. The pictures are a great keepsake too.

Karen said...

Loved this post... a fine tribute to a fine man. You look so much like your Dad. My favorite picture is the one of him on the swing!

Ericka said...

aw, dammit, you made me cry. great post, jim.

you've enabled comment moderation? the heck?

Hilary said...

What a lovely tribute to your Dad. You're so right with your advice to those whose parents are still with them. Wonderful piece, Jim.

I'm trying to catch up on missed posts. I won't be commenting on them all but I will read them for sure. Unless of course there's.. you know.. sports involved. ;)