My dad passed away just before New Year’s, at 75 years young.
I was the most involved with him near the end, so I’m also helping with everything that is now happening afterwards.
He was in hospice at the Veteran’s Home in King, Wisconsin. It was not sudden, and everyone else around him is doing OK. He was a cook in the army, and let me tell ya… his approach to cooking did not deviate very far from what he learned there.
He bought me my very first computer (maxing out a credit card at Sears in the process) that I used to teach myself Visual Basic and did a ton of early-internet experimenting with, even though he didn’t really understand why I wanted it so desperately or why the phone line was always clogged-up because of it.
It was a Packard Bell Pentium 100, with 8Mb of RAM and a SoundBlaster 16. Most of the time it smelled like cigarettes and warm plastic, but I spent nearly every waking moment on that thing until its heart gave out.
My dad was a hard worker. He was cantankerous. He was loyal and dedicated. He wasn’t school smart (he never really learned to read or write) but he was a veracious observational thinker and enjoyed sharing whatever his latest epiphanies were. He was always ten steps ahead, and always had a hard time explaining how he got there.
He… did not really care about what was appropriate. He spoke his mind, right or wrong. Sometimes funny. Sometimes mean. Sometimes really mean. Sometimes really funny.
He only ever had a single job, from age 15 to 60, as a Sexton at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee. It was not an easy job, and I think he secretly enjoyed the hour commute from East Troy because it gave him some alone time, but he did not look forward to his working overtime on Saturday or Sunday as much as I did.
For me, it meant I’d get to go with him into the big city and ride my bike all around his work, possibly scoring a trip to Toys-R-Us afterwards. For him, it meant a few extra hours of overtime to give up his entire weekend, which was usually reserved for keeping the house and cars running, or splitting wood to prepare for winter.
He did his best with me, and I think that’s all any dad can do with a boy as uncompromising and intractable as his daddy.
A lot of people spend their whole lives trying to not be like their parents. I’ve tried to embrace what they made me to be, the next version of them both with the hope that their next revision ends up as more than just bug fixes & performance improvements.
My dad did what I think good dads are supposed to do. He made sacrifices and learned from most of his mistakes. He was always there when I needed anything. He made me figure stuff out on my own. He cared in all the ways he knew how.
His version of teaching me to drive a stick-shift was “here’s the key, figure it out, try not to wreck it, I need it to get to work.” I figured it out, I didn’t wreck it (right away) and he got to work just fine.
Alas, my dad’s overworked heart gave out too, as overworked hearts are prone to do. Dads aren’t perfect, and but mine was for me. Even as thorny as he could be.
Gonna miss ya, pops. You were the tops. 💙