Losing My Dad, and Then Finding Him Again
My dad was a great dad, a devoted husband, hard worker, super athlete, non-drinker, non-smoker, lots of charm, sense of humor. We did fine until I entered my teens and we drifted apart. We came together from time to time, but as the years swept by and his temper reminded me of the one I was trying to control I stayed away. When his 80th birthday approached I figured that would be the time we could reconcile. I reached out to my mother who advised me against it. He would "slam the door in your face" if I surprised him for a visit. My youngest sister, the baby of the family, "Princess Do No Wrong" reminded me how vain our father was and how he hated birthdays, they would have no celebration. That didn't stop me from at least calling him on his birthday, which I did only to hear revelry in the background. Both my younger and older sister "Queen Who Could Do No Wrong" were there.
Inspired by an “ER” Story
A little time passed and I was watching ER. It was a show about a father and son. They were...estranged. Now there's a word for you. "Strange" with an "E-S" at the beginning like escape or espionage though I have no idea what "es" does to cape or "pionage." "Ex-close" might be a better word. Anyway, the father lie in his death bed and his son (who was Gay...not our issue) decided to come see his dad for the last time, even though his father had long ago rejected that role. He walked in, his father smiled and opened his arms. I cried. I decided I would not let my own father die without him knowing how much I loved him. I called my mother.
She agreed to meet me at a neutral location, a family restaurant in a Florida town. I walked in and looked around, there was my dad, alone at the table as my mom went to the restroom. I walked up, called his name and he turned, smiled and opened his arms.
Though I lived five States away, I made every effort to fly down to spend time with him. We played shuffle board (he beat me) and cards (Spades was his game) and we told jokes and laughed. I was able to tell him in words and deed what he meant to me.
When he was 83 he started having fainting spells. My mom was sure to remind me that my dad was, "Not the man he used to be." So he couldn't fast pitch softball, or play tennis or table tennis (NEVER Ping Pong!), or bowl or play golf, or lawn darts (never killed a single person), or catch a string of lake trout, he was still the man who raised me, and taught me so much.
Routine Heart Surgery
He called me the night before his surgery. He had a blockage in one of the veins leading to his heart and he needed a stent. Routine. Oh, and his doctor just came in, "Here talk to my son," he had a heavy Spanish accent, Cuba I was to learn, and he said he was confident my dad would do all right, "He is quite the character," he told me. When he put my dad back on the phone he was laughing, "Doesn't he sound just like Cheech and Chong?" he asked. I told him he did, choosing not to correct him that it was Cheech Marin, one of the two guys I had routines memorized over the years and shared with him.
He Just Died
He died the next day. The pulmonary embolism shut off his lights though his body stayed around for a bit. My mom called me at 6:00 AM that morning and I was in her living room by 2:00 that afternoon. We went to see him, it was clear that "Elvis had left the building." "We need to let him go," I told my mom. He was kept on machines and drugs to keep his organs vital but he was no longer there.
The social worker and another doctor in the ICU sat down with us and reviewed his living will. Next to every clause was his neat lettering, GRM, for Glen Robert Miller. He was making it clear how he lived and how he wanted to die. I told my mom it was her choice, I would support her either way. We told the doctor to honor his wishes . We could stay or leave. We chose to leave. They called that evening.
Where were they?
My younger sister was on a dude ranch riding horses when our father died. She had a cell phone, but did not know how to retrieve voicemail. My oldest sister had car trouble and diarrhea and couldn't make it. Typical.
The Benefit of Reconciliation
I was so glad I reconnected with my dad before he left. I hear him in my voice, and every time I push my glasses up from slipping off my nose. And I thank him for his charm, some of which rubbed off on me, and his goofy sense of humor a lot which rubbed off on me, and I thank him most of all for being my dad.