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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

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Dad

The Cussing Post

I haven’t written in a while.  I’ve been working and making lunches.  And watching an astonishing amount of television. But the time to record a memory has come.  Let’s talk about cussing.

See, a work friend told me recently that I can be tougher than one would think, and perhaps a little course. He said this with the best of intentions – it was all friendly.  One of the drivers of his opinion is that I swear (more than I should, or more than one would expect).

Hear this now – I swear because my father was a priest.  Full Fucking Stop. 

I remember when I first learned about swearing.  I was about 6 and behind our house was a parking lot…the CHURCH parking lot. It had a basketball court. The neighborhood kids would regularly come and play. They were all older.  And they said “shit” every other word.

Doesn’t every kid do what I did: “Mommy, what does shit mean?”

A week later, no more basketball hoop.  My mother was swift with her actions and was not about to have her daughter learning teenager vocabulary.

With the basketball court out, the swearing was left up to my dad.  As a priest he reserved special right to use all parts of the English language and he was awfully colorful.  “Crap” was just the beginning (not really a curse word).  “Fuck” and “shit”, and their variations, were frequently invoked descriptors for music, kid behavior, NYTimes OPED pieces or parishioners.

“God damn it” however, was forbidden. He had his limits, and we did not take the Lord’s name in vain.  “Damn it” was fine.

My kids like to swear. Whenever they get the chance, they like to review the list of the words they are not allowed to say, just to make sure they have it right.  “Mommy, we never say God Damn It, Shit, or the big one…you know…starts with effffff and then…”

Being a parent can be hard. Watching what you say all the time, eating properly in front of your kids, being patient while reading Goodnight Moon for the 758th time, being kind even when some asshole runs a light. But we try.  We try not to swear. I definitely try not to swear around the kids.

But swearing is like potato chips – hard to open the bag and eat just one – hard to compartmentalize swearing.  I might try harder not to swear. Seems like the right thing to do (on a VERY long list of other right things to do).

Dad, It’s Been Six Years…

Six years ago today, on this date and on this day, was the last day my father walked this earth.  He would have liked the weather today – brisk and gray.  It goes without saying that I think of him often.  I wish he were alive.

But I am not sad.  He lived a big, long, full life.  We anticipated his death – there was nothing sudden about it and for that I feel very blessed. Though six years is starting to seem a little distant, it is not hard – not one bit – for me to sense him whenever I want.  I can hear his voice, I can see his smile, I can listen to his laugh.  I know what he smelled like (an odd mix of Listerine and 4711…I don’t suggest anyone try it but it worked for him).  I can hear him say my mother’s name “Loring!” with love and exasperation.  I can recall how it felt to hug him at different stages of his life – when he was overweight and full, when he was post cancer treatment and without hair, when his body was starting to give out and his shoulder bones became more apparent but still so warm, so loving, never letting a hug go first. I can dial up music that he loved and go straight back to 6PM any given weeknight in the ’80s and imagine him downstairs in his chair post work, waiting for dinner. I know what it felt like when he touched a cheek or laid his hands on my head, as he did so many times, to give a blessing.  I can see his stance in the pulpit delivering a sermon. On that front, he was more Bill Clinton than Typical Preacher…I could have listened to him for hours.  I can see him swirl his pen before signing his name.  He drank black coffee.

So he is never far.  But there are times when even I am amazed by the closeness.  See he was a crafty guy – especially for a priest.  He loved a good joke and one of his biggest life lessons to me was “You might get what you want but it probably won’t come in the package you expect.”  At the risk of sounding supernatural, I am pretty sure he continues to reveal himself to me often…

  • A few months ago I was standing in Times Square with a million other people and a man walked up to me.  Before he spoke he struck me as peaceful.  He approached me from pretty far away and said “Excuse me, can you tell me how I might get to The General Theological Seminary?” Not Rock Center, or the Empire State Building but GTS.  Since my dad happened to have gone there indeed, yes I could.  In that crowd of thousands I was the perfect person to ask.  What do you know.
  • I look like him more and more as I get older.  I never saw it until a couple of years ago.  And now in pictures and the mirror I see it everyday.
  • Standing in a deli recently, buying my coffee, I noticed a chocolate bar on the counter.  Not just any chocolate bar. This was a Tabasco Spicy Chocolate Bar (dark…not milk…an important distinction as he never would have approved of milk).  For those that knew him, you may agree the combination of those two things in a bar is nothing short of a direct gesture from the heavens.  Had he been alive he would have bought as many as they had.
  • And then last weekend, the same night six years ago when we last had a family dinner with him, he showed up again.  See last Saturday at that very same time, my husband and I called a restaurant to see how long the wait was.  The hold music struck me – I couldn’t place it but knew it.  It was a hymn.  I recorded it and texted it to my sister who in an instant identified it as the hymn “I Bind Unto Myself Today” which was HIS hymn. That was the one.  He had it played at his ordination and then at his funeral.  What are the chances that a Thai restaurant chose that as their hold music and we happened to hear it at the very moment when six years prior we were all together.

This is how I felt six years ago: http://wp.me/pvg99-1y.  At the time I was worried I would lose the sense of him.  But now with time passing it seems he’s still as close as ever.  I have no doubt.

Dad, Meet Me In NYC

Sometimes you sense something bigger is going on around you.  Today my larger power manifested itself in Pandora.  As I arrived at work and booted up my computer, I also started Pandora and wouldn’t you know, the station that launched was “Dad Inspired” and the first song was Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue.

See, I started this post last night so the addition of the music is only additive.  And telling. Four years ago today, October 24, 2008 was the last day my father walked this earth.  He died at 12:05am October 25th.  So really the 24th is the day I like to focus on. The day he went to the Olive Garden to “have some soup” and the day he had a burger and a milkshake for dinner and then offered a toast to my mom and the hospice nurse at the house as one of his last conscious gestures. The day I last spoke to him and before telling me he was going to have soup he told me about the visit he’d had from the bishop of Washington which he described as a “rather grand occasion.”  Indeed.

So what of Rhapsody?  Wasn’t he more of a Grieg or Rachmaninoff guy?  Mostly, yes but my dad and I shared a love of NYC that is best captured in that work.  He took me to Manhattan when I was maybe five or six.  We trained down from Scarsdale where we were visiting friends and we walked.  And walked and walked and walked.  We did this every year and he even took me there as a gift when I finished middle school.  The memories are vivid and capture not just dad and our relationship but New York at it’s best.  We went to Wolf’s Deli and I ate a ruben made for a man (I was about nine) and pickles which were always on the table and maybe a coke. We went to Bloomingdale’s when I was maybe twelve and he bought me a Keith Haring Swatch.  We went to Tower Records (also 12…I was nearly kidnapped.  True story.) and Academy Records.  I dragged him to vintage and punk stores on Broadway because we just didn’t have places like that in Maryland.  There was a handsome cab ride in Central Park.  We had burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe and of course we got the t-shirt.  We always took cabs.  Dad was not a subway guy.  NYC was our ritual, dad, daughter and the big city.

Because of him I think I knew when I was five that NYC was to be my home.  Last year we nearly moved to San Francisco.  Plans changed and we are happily still in Brooklyn.  We were excited about moving – good time for a life change, friends out west, wine country…what’s not to like.  But NYC was the last place he knew me to live.  He’d been to our house in Brooklyn.  He’d been to all the places I lived in NYC – all six apartments.  How could I move?  What a weird feeling.  Leaving NYC was like leaving a piece of him behind.  How strange.

We may move someday – you never know – but for now we are here.  And even though Wolf’s is gone and Tower is a distant memory, NYC still lives and breathes on and in many ways so does he – TLD, DAD.  And that is a good, nice and wonderful thing.

Letter to a Granddaughter

Sometimes I wonder why I am still awake. 

Right about now, 12:34AM, was my father's favorite time of day, other than dusk.  He was a night-owl.  I get it from him.  And he used to love staying up late to chat.  So perhaps now he wants to chat from the grave, as they say.

If he were alive at this moment, he would provide me with several snippets of wisdom and memories that he'd want passed to his granddaughter. 

Dearest Avery,

I used to call your mother "Minny" when she would call on the phone. I would say in a big voice "hello, Minny!"  I used to call your grandmother "Duck" and she returned the favor.  These are fun little things you should know.  Terms of endearment.

Always listen to your music a little (or a lot!) louder than your parents like – but none of that tinkle music crap (no Vivaldi, no Harry Connick) go for the good stuff – Schuman, Sinatra, Ella.  If these names are not familiar, ask your mother.  I shamelessly bought her CDs until the day I died and she better still have them!

Eat chocolate every day…DARK chocolate.  Milk chocolate is for the birds.

When you start at a new school or a new job, ignore everything people tell you about themselves in the first month – all lies!  The truth comes out later.  And then you should pick your friends.

Don't worry so much.  If you do worry, don't worry about that either as you cannot help it.  It's in your Finnish and Irish blood.  Just do as the Brits say and "Keep Calm and Carry On"

Watch as many black and white movies as you can. 

Give your father a big hug every day and call him as often as you can.

Give boys a break when you are a teenager.  Boys are stupid but usually nice and just cannot help themselves.  Be patient with them.

Go to church.  If you don't understand why, keep going. (and make sure your mother and father go too)

Martinis are good.  Vodka straight up.  No ice.  Extra olives.  Save this piece of advice until you are of age (18).

Go to Paris.  It was my favorite city – Oh Paris!  Try to live there. 

Take piano lessons!

When you like something, buy at least two.  If you really like something, consider starting a collection.

Appreciate the beauty of sour cherries.

Good friends are not always the people you talk to most often.  Sometimes there are people you talk to infrequently, but it's as if you are picking up mid-comma.  These are great friends.

I am more interested in your editorials than your headlines. 

Avoid Repubicans.

Gray is a fantastic color.  Brown is hideous.

Remember where you come from.

Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you will certainly meet them on the way down!

Always have a good TV and pay attention to what's on.  Your parents are certain to disagree with this but I loved TV and know better than they.

Whenever you visit a restaurant, be sure to grab as many of their cards as you can.  They make fabulous bookmarks.

You should know that the day I baptized you I was not in good shape.  Things were going down hill fast, as they say.  But the MOMENT I baptized you it all lifted.  No pain, no weakness, only strength and the peace of God himself came through me. 

Always order dessert.  The chocolate dessert.

Love, your Grandfather

p.s. I am certain there is more to come on this later…not sure this is kylie or dad speaking.

Dad, seven months later

Status: 8:41PM; baby in bed for about an hour now.  Chicken stock on the stove (just cuz).  Pasta makings also on the stove (waiting for the husband to get home to truly fire that up).  East India Pale Ale.

So what to talk about?  How about Dad.  Seven months later.  Seven months since he died. 

I will admit, I feel weird writing about this because some readers might say "enough already!"  Or something like that.  But this is my blog and I will write what I want to (just had to say that).

So what is it like, to be 37 and be done with having your dad alive in your life?

First off, people are extraordinarily gracious for the first several weeks.  Then, nothing.  They are not rude, but nobody really asks "Hey, how are you doing with having lost your dad?"  I know that people would listen if I brought it up, but sometimes it's nice to be asked.  I am not bitter about this – I am not sure I knew before this that it's nice to have someone ask about it.

You know that flash you get when you remember to call someone?  I get that.  And in an instant, I say "oh right.  can't do that anymore."  it does not hurt in a painful way; rather, in a teary way.  I just miss him.  Plain and simple.  The night of the six month anniversary was bad.  I relived the evening as the time approached when he had died.  I am not excited to get to the one year point, but I am excited to get beyond it.

I have an unusual interest in death and what it's like to die.  Don't get all crazy now, I am not interested in it for bad reasons – just really want to know what happens.  I think he knew.  He said some things that night to my mom and to the nurse that suggest he knew.  He did a few things that suggest he knew.  We will never know I suppose, until, well, you know.

I found I wanted to know everything about him.  I had so many unanswered questions.  those questions remain.  if your parents are alive, get a book titled Legacy and ask lots of those questions.  document your time.  you will be happy you have it later.  We have a few recordings of his voice.  We have 30 years of sermons.  I am not ready to let any of those items go.  We have tons (I do mean TONS) of his handwritten notes.  I treasure those.  I carry something with me at all times that he carried with him. 

I still cry.  It does not last long, so if you are talking to me and I cry don't be alarmed.  It's not that dramatic.  Just a few tears here and there.

For the most part I am increasingly grateful to have what we have – notes, recordings, memories. It's a duller pain and in some ways, more wonderful than I imagined.  It's something I choose to allow – I don't fight it.  I like remembering him.  I love talking about him.  I have lots of laughs about him.  I can still hear his voice in my head.  I have not had one of those experiences people say they have when they "sense" someone.  I have not stepped into a church since he died.  Not sure I can go there yet.  I remember vividly the hymn that played at his funeral and I hum it to myself often.  I was bummed the other day when I heard a wonderful piece of music which I could not identify…it was at a time like that when I would have called him and asked what it was.  Like a game…he would have had the composer, the work, the pianist and maybe after a minute or two, the precise recording for me.  That was my dad.

I am going to write more about him over time.  It helps me remember things that I want to share with my daughter.  And, for me, it's simply nice to remember. 

What it’s Like to Lose a Parent

For about 20 years, I had wondered "what will it be like."  Specifically, what will it be like when my father dies.  I never even considered that my mother might go first.  Thankfully, she did not.  She is alive and thriving.  But Dad, well, he was like a cat as he tricked death several times starting when I was about 15 years old.

So I wondered, what will it be like to get The Call.  There were moments when I thought he was dying and he did not.  In one such moment I was there right with him.  I was panicked and calm and not thinking of anything more than being right there.  And then, grateful.  Eternally grateful when he came back to consciousness.  That was last April when I took our new daughter down to see him and he had what he liked to call "An incident" with his heart.  There was another time in I think 2004…maybe 2005.  I had to get on a plane when he was unconscious.   That was pretty terrible.  In that instance, I was pretty useless and paralyzed.  My then boyfriend, now husband, had to pack for me.  I was visibly upset and unable to manage tears the whole flight.  I landed and learned that the minute my flight took off, he had stabilized.  Those 45 minutes in the air, in limbo, were some of the worst moments of my life thus far.

And then of course there was the actual event, just over two months ago.  He had been home from the hospital for about a week.  We had all been there the weekend before to spend time with him.  Hospice had taken over in our house, and that was a god send.  I talked to him around noon that day.  He and my mother were on their way to one of his favorite places, The Olive Garden.  He wasn't eating much those days but on that day, he had a hankering for some soup and breadsticks.  When I spoke to him that was the last thing we talked about, how he and my mother were going to go out and he was going to get some soup.  He said "Let's talk later."

My mother called me later that day just to mention that she had spoken to the funeral home to get things in order.  I asked if she thought the need was imminent.  Always the planner, she said she did not know but wanted to be prepared.  Interesting timing.  I think she knew.

Later that evening, my father, mother and the hospice nurse sat down to dinner.  He offered up a toast to them, thanking them for all of their help.  This was odd.  I am not sure I remember him initiating a lot of toasts, but on this night he did.  He had some hamburger, one of his favorite meals.  Only a few bites.  Then my mother made him an old favorite, a chocolate milkshake.  He drank the whole thing. 

Several hours later he was experiencing restlessness.  This is a sign.  It's even somewhat official, from what I understand, Terminal Restlessness.  My mother and I were keeping in close touch that night on the phone.  Things continued for the worse.  I won't go into the details.  Near the end – we did not yet know it was the end – my daughter who is a pretty sound sleeper all of a sudden started dramatically crying in her room.  This was around 11:45PM.  She had been asleep since 7PM.  I went to calm her.  A bit later, the phone rang again.  My husband answered the call.  I was in with Avery but I heard him on the phone.  I knew this was The Call.  I took the phone and my mother said she thought this was it.  She put the phone up to his ear so I could speak to him.  I said a few things – things you might imagine one says at that moment.  I did not hear him but apparently he was alive, yet approaching death.  Hearing they say is the last thing to go.  After only a few seconds of this my mother got back on the phone and said she thought he was gone.  It was 12:05AM.  I told her I would call my sister.

Deep breath.  That is what I did.  I stood in my living room and took a very deep breath.  That was quite a moment.  My husband came out with my daughter – and then took her back to her room.  She calmed down right away, right around the very moments after he died.  I called my sister.

And then I felt an incredible sense of calm.  Calm like I had not felt in years.  All anxiety about pain and suffering was gone.  He had finally found peace.  And for me, his daughter, that was joyful.  I know it sounds odd to say – surely, I was not happy.  But I was calm.  I thought I would be non-functional.  Not at all.  I had traded anxiety, fear for him, hurt for him and concern for him (and much for my mother too, by the way, who was a saint through the entire 20 year health management process – that is another story) for loss.  Big, deep, fundamental loss.  But not entirely.  I did not and do not feel emptiness.  I thought I would.

I miss him a million times every single day.  I cry.  I have so many unanswered questions.  But I don't fear for him anymore, and I must say, there is a lot to be said for that.  He lived an amazing life, and I had an amazing time with him.  I can still see him and hear him.  I have no regrets about my relationship with him and I don't think he would either (though I am sure he would still say I should go to church more often).  We spent never enough time, but it was excellent time.  I have a lot to hold onto.  And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Untitled.

Well…my friend was wrong.  My dad died last week, October 25th, at 12:05AM.  For the last week, I have had about a million thoughts going through my head.  This experience, losing a parent, is extraordinary and worth significant reflection.  It may be something I write about.  I am not sure yet.  I am a person who likes to write, and I have missed it this week.  But this is a post I don't really know how to start. 

So rather than start, I thought I would jot down a few notes about a few things I have on my mind. 

  • Atheism

  • Does God exist

  • What happens when we die

  • Why did he type a list of shampoos?

  • I am glad he voted

  • I am sad he did not see the outcome.

  • I never thought he would see me or my sister get married.  He married both of us.

  • I never thought he would meet my child.  Damn it, he met her and baptized her.

  • I was out of "I never…" thoughts when it came to my dad.  He did them all.  I wonder if he was out of "Maybe I will never…" thoughts as well.

  • How will my mom deal with this?

  • Maybe she will have new worlds opened to her.

  • Did he hear me when I was on the phone with him in the last moments?  When my mother held the phone to his ear while I had my last chance to speak to him.  We don't know if he heard.

  • If you believe in heaven, dad is now chatting with Rachmaninoff, Toscanini, FDR, others. 

  • I don't know if I believe in heaven.  I really want to more than ever now.

  • The colors of this autumn have never seemed to vivid to me as they have this week.  Autumn was his favorite season, and mine too.

Also, he never really explained to me why he converted from Catholicism to Episcopalian.  And he did the biggest conversion of all – becoming an Episcopal priest.  I asked.  He always said "Oh, I will tell you that when we have a lot more time."

Hmmmm.

[Imagine a big sigh and a long silence here.]

So that barely scratches the surface.  I had my first moment tonight when I thought "Oh I will call my dad." and realized I can't. 

People say I look like him.  I wish I saw that.  I do know that he and I could almost always predict the others' thoughts.  But when I ask myself, "What would he be saying now?  What would he tell me to do?" I am coming up a little empty.  He would probably say the usual "keep on living" things but there would be something else.  Something uniquely Tom Dixon.  And damn it, I don't know what that would be.  I need that, and I can't get it.  

I suppose that was one thing that made him great – that he was not so predictable and that he would have that something special to say in a time like this.  So perhaps I can hold onto that – whatever THAT would have been.

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