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Friday, July 18, 2003

To GW On His 66th

The phone rings again. Elvis Costello's Almost Blue is playing in the back ground. A freshly poured cup of coffee cools on the coffee table. I stare at the phone. It doesn't get answered much. Usually a bill collector or some such. I am troubled by the phone. That is where the bad news comes from. I got call on a cell phone telling me we were all getting laid off. News of the death of both of my grandmother's came over the phone. And I found out an aunt and an uncle had passed away after phone call. Today is my dad's 66th birthday. I got the news that he had inoperable cancer on a phone call. When I got that news, in October, 2000, I just sat in the shower for a long time, crying. I shouted out loud "Dad, you can't die. I am not done showing you everything I can do yet." That thought is with me today and I think about my dad. He will have been gone two years at the end of the month and although the pain of his passing is still with me and very real, so are so many of the lessons and memories of his life. He taught me how to take a short cut up an alley. How to take the hook out of the mouth of a fish - and out of the ear of a particularly clumsy boy. He taught me how to change the oil and the most important metaphorical lesson one can learn in life "When changing the first brake, it takes a few hours, even a day. After that, the other brakes can be changed in about 20 minutes." I use that one in life a lot when I come across something I don't understand. My dad taught me to be involved in my community. I have let him down there. I must reconnect to family and community. He taught me to accept those things you can't change. I was never the football star and the jock. But I was pretty good in high school band and Boy Scouts. Dad changed his dreams of a star athlete son to fit the person I am. I know that and love him for it. He is the reason I will always have a pet. Preferably a dog. He taught me how to spoil a dog with cheese and leftovers. He taught me how to cook breakfast. He always kept a larder of food holed up in the cupboards and the freezer. That is a lesson I keep and apply today. I shall never starve because of the lessons of my father. He taught me to hunt deer and I still remember a rather uncomfortable lesson on how to gut and dress a freshly killed deer in the field. There is no joy in the killing of an animal but there is responsibility in the hunt and gather. A lesson passed on from father to son. We made and flew a kite once. I keep a kite in the trunk of my car. You never know when . . . We were out on the back patio once, drinking a beer, looking at the garden (we did that a lot) and cooking steaks on the grill. "The trick is the low temperature. You can't rush things." I tried to learn carpentry and woodwork from him. But it wasn't to be. We were not patient with each other in the wood shop. There are somethings a man must do alone by himself. With my dad that was making sawdust in the garage. You can never have too many bungy cords. There is always a reason to go the store to buy a part. Life can be solved with the right tool. If you don't have the tool, go to the hardware store and buy it. Buy mother a very nice, surprise Christmas present and sneak it home the last minute on Christmas eve. (She was always surprised.) Love your sister. Wood glue, duct tape and a hammer are very, very, very important. Don't punch your fist in the wall and break it. Remember to move the snow blower out of the driveway (see the fist lesson above.) Buy a lotto ticket. "You can't win if you don't play." I wear a ring of his on my finger and glance down at it and think of him. My mother has remarried and quickly moved on with her life. She can't loose time, she says and is determined to be happy - and I am so very happy for her. Since his death, my life has been pretty much on hold. I lost a job, an apartment, a grandmother, an uncle, a dog and a cat since that time. It is my turn for lessons. I have no children of my own yet. And perhaps I never will. I am pretty selfish on how I spend my time. I didn't learn that from my parents. But I have rolled up my sleeves and decided to keep showing him what I can do. A growing to-do list of things to accomplish. He told me once he does what he does for himself, in order to have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I can live with that. And through this, I am becoming happy again. I haven't lost anything really. I have most of those material things back - an apartment, a cat, a job. And part of living is what is left behind and I still have parts of grandmother with me. And I will also have parts of my dad. Happy Birthday, Pop.