Dad came by this morning. He dropped in but not for long, just a quick passing through on his way to whatever he does, or doesn’t do these days. I know it was him because as I walked out of the bathroom, past the stairs, and into the living room, I caught his scent in the air. A mix of cigarettes and clean laundry. Dad smoked two packs a day, hot boxed in his tiny house with nary a window open so even after washing, his clothes carried the dank stench of old cigarette smoke and an unsettling chemical smell that never came out.
He swings by ever so often to say hi and check on the place and us. I always hope he approves of what I’ve done with his cottage. His property. His old workshop. The ‘big’ house. After he passed I tore through it all with the determination of the next generation. Hell bent on monetizing the smaller of the two houses on the property so I could afford to keep it in the family. I renovated, demolished, built, and planted until our family compound barely resembled its former self.
I think he understands why I did it. And I like to believe he’ll understand my future vision for it all too. I have to believe that. He was a stubborn old coot who lived fifty some years as an undiagnosed, self-medicating bipolar. His life was sad in many ways. Unfulfilled. His illness took much from him and his horrifically abusive childhood haunted him to his dying day.
By rights he should also have been a short tempered alcoholic abuser but he wasn’t. Dad was a soft hearted, kinder than most, severely broken man who would give you his last dollar and fix anything you needed for free or close to it. He loved dogs more than most people though he’d never have said it outloud. He helped anyone that asked him to the best of his ability.
One night there was a petty drug bust at a friend’s house down the hill from us. The mom was hysterical, the kids were scared, and she called up for mom to come down but she was out. My dad, with his right leg in an ankle to hip cast, hobbled up the twenty seven steps to the five speed Ford F-150, frightened me in tow (can’t leave an eight year old home alone), and proceeded to use his left foot for the gas and break and his crutch on the clutch. I was young but I will never forget that night. He was calm and kind, he talked to the cops and the mom while I sat between my friends. A brother and sister watching their mom getting rousted for weed in the early eighties.
Dad was a really good and generous man. I didn’t know how true that was until his death three years ago. The friends and strangers that spoke at his service or reached out to me after the obit was published, told stories of a dad I didn’t know.
I felt humbled and shamed at how little I knew him. And it also made me love him and understand him more. Our relationship was rough. Fraught with emotions neither of us understood or had the capacity to communicate about. But in the end, we did okay.
The year before he died I moved home with my youngest. Me in the big house, him in his cottage. A lot of healing happened for us that year and I will die grateful that we had the opportunity, and I the maturity, to spend that year together peaceably, even enjoyably.
Come by anytime, dad. I miss you and I love you.
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