Saturday, October 4, 2008

Remembering My Dad

On a boat of course-- this time in Alaska

I am relieved September is over because the tail end of it will always be sad for me.

Two years ago, during the last week of September, my dad died. I was devastated, probably at least in part because I felt that his move from Oregon to Louisiana to live with me was a contributing factor.

As a friend recently reminded me, it doesn't matter how old you are or how old he is -- when your dad dies, it hurts.

My dad had not been well for so long prior to his death that it was hard for me to remember him as the father of my youth, instead of the father of my middle age, which is pretty much the difference between being the caretakee and the caretaker. As time passes, the essence of him becomes clearer, and for that I am grateful.

So, here's to you Lowell. I dearly miss you.

Here is the letter I wrote right after he died, and some pictures of him doing what he loved to do best.

"It's hard to lose a dad. He hadn't been well his whole life but always triumphed over illnesses. He had had every single illness possible from the time he was a child (including polio and rheumatic fever) and probably survived them only because he didn't listen to my grandmother, who would have had him in bed for the rest of his life, and because my mother watched over his health like a hawk, when he’d let her. And the boys, he lived for his grandsons. In these last years, his main nemesis was his diabetes (which really made him feel crappy because he refused to eat appropriately) and his mini strokes (which changed his personality).

Through it all, however, he absolutely loved his daughter and his grandchildren. If there was ever a person to love you unconditionally, it was my father. Daniel is taking it very hard, as even when he was "in trouble" with us, he could do no wrong in the eyes of his Papa. That isn't the kind of support you get often in life, if at all. So, Daniel has been orphaned, in a way, by this. Daniel and James went over to their house often to visit. Even though he wasn't much of a talker, they loved being with him. I never heard them once complain that he wasn’t like other papas that could play ball or roll around in the dirt.

He wasn't any sicker than usual on Wednesday; in fact, he was just as ornery as usual. On the night he died, he had a piece of chocolate cake before dinner and one before bed. He refused to buy that $7,000 hearing aid right up until the end. And he drove his favorite car (a 1992 white Olds 88 with red leather interior) to the donut shop around the block, even though he was on the verge of having his license privileges revoked! He died at home, in his sleep at 3:00 in the morning probably from a massive stroke. We speculate that after he died his spirit flew to Oregon and went to Long Beach, down the Columbia River Gorge to Multnomah Falls, over to Hood River, and then to the Cascade Locks for a piece of pie. We will have a Memorial Service at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge next week to make sure that the priest can help him find his way home.

My father was a very important man. He was the Secretary Treasurer of the Retail Clerk’s Union in Portland for many years and organized many white collar businesses in town. Even today, the neighborhood grocery stores pay well and have good benefits mainly because my dad unionized them years ago. Later, he was a State Mediator for labor disputes—an interesting job but one he didn’t love nearly as much. He spent a fair amount of time in Washington DC, lobbying important political people, including presidents (Kennedy and Humphrey among them). He took me and mom to all his conventions all over the US; I think back on talking with all of those interesting activist folks at those conventions and how lucky I was to be included, as most times I was the only child in the room.

My dad didn’t have a file folder of friends. In fact, I’m not sure he liked most people. But, for those family and friends that he did love and trust; he was fiercely loyal, in a quiet sort of way. He had friends from his childhood in Hardman and Heppner, Oregon – farming communities in Eastern Oregon – life long friends from Rosenblatts and his union days, a multitude of his daughter’s friends that he took out on his boat or out to dinner over the years, and his son-in-law, who he fathered after Rich’s dad died soon after we married.

My dad and mom married late-- but marrying my mom was probably the best thing he ever did.
She forced him to have an emotional life. For various reasons attributable to both of them, they couldn’t get pregnant. Mom’s doctor arranged to adopt me, although dad was very reticent about adoption. He just didn’t see how you could love a child that wasn’t ‘your own’ but he did it for my mother. Of course, he and I fell madly in love. When we adopted Daniel, he wasn’t for that either. He couldn’t see how you could adopt a child from half way around the world and love him like ‘your own’. Well of course, Daniel came home and it was a love affair for 20 years. Then when I got pregnant with James, all dad could say was, “What about Daniel?”—he was so worried that James would take away Daniel’s thunder. Of course he loved and was very proud of James, who we named James Lowell.

I called him Lowell a fair amount of time but he was my dad. I was lucky."

Dad and I taking a break from a drive, at a rest stop in Oregon

With mom and me in Washington DC where he lobbied for the Retail Clerks Union

With me by his Buick

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