The Godfather

I recently took a month off from my life to travel and explore. The genesis for this trip and my final destination was to see my Godfather in northern Idaho. He’s not an easy man, actually he’s a nightmare, so it took me a year to decide that I actually wanted to make the journey. Knowing that I was driving into a week of deep breaths and tongue biting, I devoured each day of my spectacular adventure on my way.

Along the drive I camped in Big Sur with a friend, solo’d in Mt. Shasta City, and visited friends in Diamond Springs and Grants Pass. I happened into a charming estate winery in Ashland, Oregon, and chatted up the owner as the two of us enjoyed sips and views.

I swam in alpine lakes, wrote in my journal, shroomed in my hammock, sketched, napped, and drove through magnificent forests, and deserts. I ate at a mediocre food truck in Bend, Oregon but totally enjoyed chatting up locals and tourists at communal food tables. I slept alone in the high desert under new moon stars, and filled my water bottles at the Sacramento headwaters at the base of Mt. Shasta. I sipped coffee cuddled on the deck with my sweet friend Kim as the sun came up and the Rogue River flowed before us.

I savored each moment of my journey north knowing that my destination would be challenging, trying, and exhausting but hopefully rewarding. I wanted to know more about my family. Specifically my dad. They’d been best friends since high school. No one living knew more about dad than him. 

Godfather and I had planned all year to work on a 1968 VW Beetle that he was giving me. We were going to pull off the original steering beam with its drum brakes and install the front end of a Gia with disk brakes. That and a carburetor rebuild and she’d be good to go. He’d finished the rest of the restoration in years past.

I thought we could have a common project, the car, and talk family stories with distraction and that would make it easier to take his noxious personality. I’ve done worse. I can handle this for a week and learn all kinds of cool shit about my family and get mentored in Bug repair.

When I arrived he didn’t come out and open the gate to the ranch. I let myself in. The dogs alerting the universe to my presence I was surprised he wasn’t striding out to greet me, but he wasn’t. His ranch mate, Chuck, materialized from the shop greeted me. 

Hey, Chuck, where’s the old man?

Uh… he didn’t tell you?

Noooo… Tell me… tell me what?

He’s sick. Been sick. Has barely been out of bed in a month except to do the goats. I’ll walk you in.

No, I got it, thanks. He’s in his sitting room?

Yeah. Probably. 

Deep breaths, cold skin, I walk into his room and there he is. Skinny as hell. Propped up in bed looking every bit like my dad on his deathbed. Queue every trigger from my own parents’ palliative care and subsequent deaths.

My week with him went absolutely nothing like what I had prepared myself for. It was infinitely worse. I advocated for him medically as much as he would allow me. I cooked, cleaned, listened to his lectures and endured his incessant critique of absolutely everything I did and the ways I did them. If he was unbearable before he was noxious now that he was alone, sick, and terrified.

I had a panic attack in a coffee shop, set and held boundaries around him that were exhausting to my core but necessary for my sanity. I created a little sacred space for myself in his living room and walked with the dogs. I learned to manage and feed the goats daily and in the week I was there the ranch life got under my skin. For all the insanity inside the house, the land was steady and serene.

I left the ranch eight days after I’d arrived, my bug hitched and ready. When I said I was ready to go he turned his back to me and walked away without a word. 

I stood speechless as he hobbled away from where I stood. Tears welling despite my wanting to hate him. I looked at Chuck.

Is that it? Is he coming back.

Well now he’s not real good at goodbye’s. That’s about it.

Despite myself I was devastated. I got in my car, Chuck rode his bike down to the gate and let me out. I cried myself the twenty five minutes to town, washed my cars, checked the tire pressure in all eight tires and started the fifteen hundred mile journey home.

Yesterday he was diagnosed with lung cancer that’s metastasized to his bones. I’m helping to coordinate care and hospice from here but that’s as far as I go. I feel for him. He’s scared. He’s dying. He’s the last of an era in my life. I imagine when he gets to where we go, he and my dad will be riding bikes, with no helmets, shit talking each other, and smoking joints for the rest of eternity. 

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