Fathers and Sons
Fathers and Son
My dad and I had a challenging relationship. My dad loved kids, and was the greatest father, playing hide and seek, even "booping" when we were unable to find him. He made funny noises, made up stories about the squirrel whose hair fell out and he needed a fur coat. He gave us piggy back rides, and went on hikes with us, and he played games with us, Parcheesi, Monopoly, Sorry, Croquet, Lawn Darts, Table Tennis (NOT Ping Pong), Catch...you get the idea. He was there for us. He never got to go to college, his father told him he was too "dumb" and paid for his older brother Charles to go (Columbia). He was Gay, a secret only my father knew in the family while all the rest of the highly religious Christians just thought it was nice that he found a roommate Uncle Paul, a man he lived with for over 35 years. My dad felt rejection on so many levels, that when he met that "Fast New Yorker" at a USO Dance in West Palm Beach, he had no problem relocating to her home in Flushing, New York, where I was born. He worked in the City during the day, and went to school at night to earn his Associates Degree, and worked as a Plant Layout Engineer at half the salary of "real" engineers with college degrees like his big brother. I had the most profound respect for what he did, and how he provided for my mom and my two sisters.
I said "challenging" because although my dad loved kids, once they developed minds of their own, for me at 13, they weren't much fun anymore. Anyone that knows me at all, knows I question everything and can hold my own in an argument. This did not bode well for our relationship. On top of that, my dad was quite the athlete. He played tennis (Table and Court), he bowled, he played golf, he pitched fast pitch softball. I played "none of the above". I swam, he did not.
I couldn't wait to leave home and when I left for Virginia Tech at 17, I never looked back. When I came home on my mother's invitation, my hair was shoulder length and my dad was convinced his brother's Gay Genes had been passed down to me. He didn't understand how in the late 60's, long hair was a chick magnet. We had our ups and downs over the years, and even after I married and adopted two kids from my wife's first marriage, since they weren't "really mine" there was no attraction for the "adopted grand kids." This didn't further the relationship.
By the time my dad entered his late 70's my mom was making sounds like "He isn't the same man he was," as though he was only strong when he was yelling about something. Which was quite often apparently. I just stayed away. For three years. When he turned 80, I figured it was time to reconnect. I reached out to my younger sister Julie who was VERY close to mom and dad. She told me quite clearly, "You know how dad is about birthdays. We are NOT celebrating his 80th. Send him a card on Fathers's Day, that's close enough." He turned 80 on June 30th, 2000. I called him on his birthday just the same to hear laughter and celebration in the background. It saddened me greatly.
Determined to reconnect with my dad, I reached out to my mother who insisted he did not want to see me, and if I showed up unannounced at his door he was likely to slam it in my face. Undeterred I insisted we meet, and my mother reluctantly agreed to meet at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. When I arrived, my mom was using the bathroom, my dad was sitting by himself at the table. I went over, patted him on the back and said, "Hey Dad." His eyes lit up, he stood and gave me a huge hug. I was home. When we parted I gave him another hug and kissed him on his cheek, something I had not done for years.
Even though I lived in Maryland with my family and he lived in a trailer park in Port Charlotte Florida, I made an effort to visit twice a year. We played cards, we played shuffleboard (he ALWAYS beat me) we told stories, and I got the chance to tell him how much I loved him, and how much we were alike.
He called me one night to tell me he was going in for surgery. Nothing big, just a stent to open one of his arteries. He'd been having fainting spells (Light-headed in his words). He always loved my Cheech and Chong routines, so while on the phone from his hospital bed the night before surgery, he insisted I talk with his physician. I did. He told me, "Your dad is quite the character." I had no argument with that. He put my dad back on the phone, "Didn't he sound just like Cheech and Chong?" "He sure did," I told him, "Hope he doesn't smoke a big joint before he does your surgery," I joked, he laughed.
The surgery went well, but the next day a blood clot broke free. It caused an embolism. He essentially died that day though life support kept his vital organs alive. I flew down to help my mom. Neither of my sisters, both who live in Florida made it to her side. We went to see him, or what was left of him. "That's not my father there, mom, he's already left us," I told her. His advance directives told us exactly what he wanted, his neat initials "GRM" next to each clause. He passed later that afternoon. Glen Robert Miller, my dad.