My Father Sept 12 1914 to Jan 26 2006

Posted by on Feb 7, 2006 in Dad, Death and renewal | 0 comments

“Twenty six inches from elbow to elbow”, said the funeral director, and we searched with a yardstick tucked against the padded coffin walls, for one that would hold a man who was larger than life to me. I thought of all the foolish risks he had taken in his life, like dodging the railroad cops when he rode the boxcars in his teens, traveling to the 1933 Chicago World’s fair penniless, in a car with no brakes, and piloting a new $100,000 boat over the Rodchester Dam in high water. I am astounded that my father had just slipped away quietly, in his sleep.

Before he married Mother he had been a desperado, a fatherless child during the great depression. She gave her heart to this handsome, slightly dangerous, young man in 1936, and worked her whole life to domesticate him. She was so successful we never knew his weaknesses until she died in 1994, after a romance of fifty eight years. Even considering the foibles of his youth, and his anchorless old age, I believe when he is weighed on the scales of justice, good will overbalance iniquity by an easy margin. In his eulogy, the minister he had know for 40 years, made it clear that the moral sanction for that judgment was not in mortal hands. I only know that if God loves him half as much as Mother did, he will be received with open arms.

I will always remember him sitting quiet in the early dawn, watching the mist rise off the river. I loved to sit beside him, and in those moments, the conversation connecting us did not require words. I reach out into the silence between us now, and try to recapture the unspoken understanding we always shared, but I am here alone. I touch his manicured hands, now icy with death, and remember the many times I slipped my childish hand into his. I would marvel at the tattoo of grease, permanently ground into the life and heart lines of his palms. I am told that these are the hands that held me first, even before my mother touched me, tenderly cleaning and dressing his newborn daughter. My gender role was predetermined from that day on, yet my father could be counted on to let me do dangerous things forbidden by my mother. Because of him I stood on many a rocky precipice, gazing downward, and grew up fearless, with a love of all things wild.

I stand now in my mind on that cliff, and see him in his boat, floating into the distant mist. He has his fishing pole in hand, and is casting expertly into likely spots. I am too far away for him to hear, but even if he could, I know that noise is not the fisherman’s friend. I smile and wave, and I think I see him lift his hand to me, or maybe he is adjusting the oar. I don’t know where that stream runs, but I am content that he is at peace with where ever the river takes him.

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