Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My dad went to the great longhouse in the sky

My dad developed Parkinson's some time back. Maybe 15 years ago. Like many, he did the best he could with it. He was already retired so that helped him get the most out of treatments. Of course, it is a progressive disease and he would get worse. 12 years ago my parents and brother joined my sister in Arizona. The move was bittersweet. The winter's here were tough on them so I was happy for them, but I was also saying good bye to having them around.

As many of you know, my wife and I came late in the baby game. I was 42, she was 36 when our daughter was born. About a month before my daughter's birth, in January, my dad went to McDonald's and never came back. He had suffered a stroke. He was treated and released but was never the same after that. He would fall, forget things, he couldn't drive anymore. He had another stroke that put him in a hospital for good. He had bleeding on the brain that required surgery. A nursing home would become his new residence. All this in just a couple of weeks.

He was partly there when we came with our new baby a couple of months later. He held her and seemed happy. But the moments were fleeting. After that, it wouldn't take long for him to deteriorate and become rather demented at times, and catatonic other times.

The past several years have been the hardest. He needed constant care, couldn't walk, talk, or use his hands. No one is quite sure just what he was able to comprehend, or what brain activity there was. Whatever the case, he was not the same person he was some years ago. He was brain dead, but the strokes left him very brain damaged. It's been particularly tough on my mom and she's had to witness this first hand.

Well, his body finally gave up. The other day they stopped feeding him as he was choking. Between my mom and the facility, the decision was made not to place a feeding tube. It didn't take long. Maybe a day. He passed quietly in his sleep.

My dad was born to two Oneida indians on the reservation. He was raised poor and suffered some discrimination. As he grew he knew the only way to "make it" was to get off the reservation and get an education. He left the reservation to attend UWM. He met my mom in the Florentine Opera Company. He played clarinet in the Green Bay Packer Marching Band. Three kids would soon ensue. A daughter first, a son who would be mentally retarded, then me.

I don't speak highly of my dad very often as there's little in the way of fond memories to pull from. He was a proud man, dedicated, hard working, patient . . . he did his best as a husband and as a father. While I have very little to pull from in terms of happy or fond memories I have no doubt he loved his kids and did the best he was able. I'm like him in that I'm also very patient, dedicated, and a hard worker. But, my pride isn't fed by my heritage or by my commitment to duty. Being a good husband makes me proud. Being a good daddy makes me proud. The things that were a priority in his life is certainly different from mine. He took on the strict role as provider. I am a provider, but also a husband, a daddy, and many other things that I want defined as me. It is a top priority for me to make life long memories for me, my wife, and my daughter to savour, and to make everyday happy and fun.

I think my father looked at his life as a means to an end. Work hard, make the sacrifices, be dutiful, and your day will come. He lived life that way exactly. It was very neatly planned out. He worked toward the goal of having a job with the city so he could reap the benefits and retire with a pension. You have to respect that.

What he didn't do is stop more often to smell the roses. Or at least appreciate what else life had to offer. I can't help but think his life was unfulfilled in many ways. But it really isn't for me to say. While I appreciate how hard he worked to make a life for his family, I wish there would have been family vacations, traditions of our own, time with just dad and son.

Yes, I'm sad that he died. He is my father, after all. But I'm also content knowing that he fought to live as long as he did. His iron will prevailed right to his final breath.

Rest in peace, dad. You deserve it. I love you.


Ms. Ally said...

My prayers are with you and your family, Jim.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your Dad, Jimi, I always liked him. True, I only have a handful of memories from many many years ago, but I remember a caring, even gentle (and ok, sometimes stubborn) man who said little but observed everything. I always thought he was proud of you. I thought he was always looking out for you, always willing to teach you little things. Like many fathers of that era, he probably didn't let you know how deeply he loved you, and probably thought being critical was the best way to show how he cared.

May your good memories sustain you through your loss.

Real Debate said...

I'm very sorry for your loss my friend.

jimi5150 said...

Thanks everyone (I'm guessing Kathy?). My mom is doing exceptionally well. She's really been living on her own since he went to the nursing home some 8 years ago. So, she's adjusted. I spoke to her the other day. She saw him, kissed him, and said good bye. She's good. We're all somewhat relieved.

Sure, I wish his final years could have been different. But they weren't. Life is about living, and living is about family, friends, and the love that is felt and shared.

Anyway, off to Arizona for the weekend. Take care, and thanks again.