Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 75 years old. Three and half years ago I was in Seattle, WA with my friend Agatha. We were traveling up to Vancouver, BC in Canada the next day. I was to give my first professional talk as a Ph.D student, on a panel with my adviser. At 10:00pm Pacific time I received a call on my cell phone from my 16 year old brother Sean. Agatha and I were about to go out for dinner and drinks. I answer and say "What the hell are you doing up?" Sean replies "Dad's dead." I don't remember much after that. The rest of the weekend was a blur as I gave the talk and mostly drank. The rock of the family, and the sanity of my mother, died that night.

So who is my dad?  Well to me he was a funny, smart-ass, ginger, caring guy.  Oh, and he was old (I mean when you baby pic is in black and white and they used those bulbs to take it you know your old).  His age made him different from the other dads when I was growing up.  By the time I was born he was already 45, was born in the Second World War, lived on rations, contracted polio before antibiotics were discovered (I mean that is pretty damn old), been in the Air Force, ran bootleg liquor in Oklahoma, and had married and divorced.  I was to be the first of 7 kids my mom and him had together (with two passing away), but dad was already a father so when I was born on August 21, 1981 I had an 18 year old brother to look after me.

Growing up on the far Southside of Chicago with a stay at home dad who looked like Santa Claus and a mother who no one ever saw made my family the odd ones in the neighborhood.

But, you know what I liked it.  Times were hard but it made who I am today.  I learned quick that "normal" was relative.  I also learned that my mom had alot of issues that my dad kept secret.  So I guess my dad was also a good mediator.  He knew when to talk and when to keep quiet, what to tell and what to "forget."  After he died, I saw the work he had put into the family to keep us together.  It killed him in the end really.  His mind and body just gave up as old age and the affects of polio rippled through his body.  I was told he died of pneumonia, but I will never be sure.  Mom can never give you a straight answer. 

But today I remember who he was, and is, in my heart.  Dad was my best friend.  I told him when I first kissed a guy (his response was to tell me, after I asked why the guy wouldn't talk to me again, to "not give it up so easy next time" with a big laugh attached), he bought my first pads and bras, watched me play sports in high school and college when he could, and ordered me my first Archaeology magazine (even though I was doing Anthropology he at least got the overall field right).  We would talk every other day when I moved to Louisiana and then to Michigan (one day he told me I needed friends).  I would ask for his advice and he would always say "I can't live your life, you have to decide what is best for you."  I liked that because even though he missed me and worried about my random travels around the country, he let me be free and allowed me to explore places, things, and ideas that he never could imagine.  He loved me for me and that is all you can ask for in a parent. 

This picture was taken on his 68th birthday.  I was living in Louisiana and my older brother Rob and his wife were still stationed in Sicily.  Schyler was in college somewhere in Iowa and the other three kids were in Chicago, living at home.  All 7 of us had not been in the same country, in the same state, or in the same house for 10 years.  So we decided to surprise dad and all come home.  Rob bought my ticket up and picked me up from the airport.  Dad was already shocked to see his oldest son and daughter-in-law in the country, but he was double shocked when he walked up the stairs and saw Schyler and I sitting in the kitchen.  By this time I had lost 70 lbs, grown my hair long, and wore make-up.  My dad looked at me and said "You're beautiful".  It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever told me.  I looked at him and said thanks and gave him the cowboy hat you see in the picture.  Being dad, he said "Ok no more surprises, I don't think my heart can take it."

So now he is gone, but his spirit is somewhere.   Us kids have become a little closer since his passing, but the family is a bit broken.  My mother can't stop her grieving and so takes is out on us, but I am learning to deal with her.   As I come to terms with my dad's death I realize that all I can do is pass on his memory to my kids and let them know that their granddad was a one wild, crazy-ass man who I love with all my heart.  In my quest to live my life I honor my dad.  

Happy birthday dad.


Celeste said...

Nicole that was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful, you made me cry!!!

Angela said...

Your dad sounds like a great man, Nicole.