This is a stock photo. My dad doesn’t like having his picture online in very many places.
Yesterday was my dad’s 82nd birthday. I called him and wished him a happy birthday on Friday, since I knew he was going to be out all day. Even at 82 he still gets around. He loves going for picnics and drives all over southern Idaho. He says he’ll keep going until the doctors tell him he can’t anymore.
That day is coming sooner than any of us would like to admit. Dad has diabetes, a bad heart valve, and is losing his sight. He’s being treated for all three things, and if all the doctors’ advice and all his medications are taken correctly, we should have him for a few more years. For which I’m grateful, because – like with my mom – he is not the dad I grew up with.
The dad I knew as a child was a workaholic. He was never home. He would work late. Even when he was home he was never “home”. He had days where he’d be distant from all of us. It was hard to be around him sometimes because he watched what my mom did and didn’t do anything to stop her. He let her abuse us and to me it seemed he just didn’t care.
But I do have more pleasant memories of him than I do of my mom. One of my favorites was sitting with him and my sister when he’d get out his guitar. We’d sing all sorts of songs. Folk songs, church songs, whatever he felt like playing. None of us could hold a tune in a bucket, but it didn’t matter. With him playing his guitar, it was magical.
Then there were the summer camping trips. He’d take a week off from work and we’d go up into the mountains. He’d pick a campground and we’d set up camp there. We’d play in the river, fish, cook, play games, and go for hikes. We just enjoyed ourselves immensely on those trips. We’d have picnics and fishing trips on weekends too, since he was a government worker and they didn’t work weekends. Well, most weekends at least.
Now my dad doesn’t play his guitar anymore. The arthritis in his hands has long since made him give it up to my niece. She plays it for her girlfriend and their friends now. Dad still goes camping and fishing in the summer, but he no longer pitches a tent. He has a camper trailer that he takes for him, my stepmom, and my younger sister. He just can’t sleep on the ground anymore. The arthritis in his back won’t let him.
In my mind, I see two people when I think of my dad. I see a man who turned away when his wife abused their children. Then I see the man who was there, in the moment, living and loving and enjoying life. I saw more of him when he retired from the IRS, but not as much as I’d have liked to see because he ended up taking two jobs just to support the family.
Then, after my mom died, he retired from his final job and has not gone back into the work force. He lives off his retirement incomes and does his best. He takes care of my little sister because my mom would have wanted him to. He loves all of us and now plays an active role in our lives. I love him and I hope to have many more years with him, though I know that death stalks him as inevitably as it does us all.