Eulogy for my dad

17 Dec

Part of this is something I started to write years ago. I honestly tried to sit down and write about dad 20 different times over the years. I wish I had really done it, because he was just a fascinating dude, and a story about him written while he was alive would have been a damn good one.

Here’s the part I wrote before:

There is a line of thinking that says that you stop being a “little kid” when you realize your parents are fallible, or at least aren’t invincible. It’s hard to cling to the little-kid worldview when at the same time confronted with the reality that your parents aren’t invincible or close. And by that definition, I stopped being a child really young. It’s hard to win a schoolyard “my dad could beat up your dad!” contest while at the same time having to help care for your dad’s foot after he slipped when cutting the grass and managed to mow his own foot. He had his first major surgery when I was in seventh grade, and from then on we always knew dad could theoretically go whenever the fates deemed it time.

On the other hand, there’s a line of thought that says that you aren’t really an adult until you’re totally out from under your parents’ care. And by that definition, hell, I didn’t stop until Sunday. I’m the guy who would take my dad shopping every week, and yes, that was partly because I’m a good guy, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use that time to fill out some of my own grocery list. Gatorades, meat, even a tank of gas… dad paid for more of my life than I should have been going for at 32 years old.

It’s all part of a complicated relationship dad and I had. It was almost universally good, save for me yelling at him for not remembering how to work the TV or a phone. (A fun phone call to receive is a nearly blind 70-something man calling you and saying “My phone made a beeping noise. What does that mean? How do I stop it?”) I was, I don’t know, 8, when I heard him say “Daniel is a product of the unreliability of birth control.” And when I say “I heard him,” this wasn’t some eavesdropping situation. This was “I’m walking next to dad and he said it out loud.”

I want to be clear there: He wasn’t complaining about me. Dad loved me. The last time I saw him cry was when I was packed up to move to Oklahoma a few years ago and I came inside to tell him goodbye. He spent every doctor’s appointment earlier this year asking the doctors to “just keep me alive until the wedding.” So he wasn’t sad I was here. He just … said things. When he met my junior prom date, he looked her up and down, and said “I wondered what a girl who would go out with you would look like.” Yes, she was still standing there.

When I was a kid, dad wasn’t a happy man. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate. Dad was never a happy man. He had moments. Baseball made him happy. Feeding the animals made him happy. Buying presents for his grandkids made him especially happy. Our grocery store trips often included diversions to the toy aisles. No reason, no gift-giving occasion, he just had nine grandkids and they needed presents, dangit. He also enjoyed renaming cats, for whatever reason. Tuskegee became Drakeford became Duckworth, and the exact steps behind the transition were need clear. The rest of us would call the cat by the name we had decided upon, and here comes dad, with some other name that we then had to learn ALONG with the original one. Those things made him happy. Not a lot else did. Which in no way stopped him from being ridiculously smart and ridiculously funny. He was very popular. When mom would host parties, he would hide out in his TV room, sitting on his recliner, watching baseball. He’d inevitably make an appearance at some point, walk in, say something that would be very funny, and disappear again. It was, in a reference he ABSOLUTELY wouldn’t get, very George-from-Seinfeld. He was, and this isn’t a stretch at all, Eeyore. Everyone loves Eeyore. You guys know all this. It’s why you’re here right now.

I’ve dealt with some of those same feelings myself. There was a while in my life — years, really — where I was depressed, and whether that’s a clinical diagnosis or just a casual description, I don’t really know or care. Between him being my dad and me spending half my adolescence sitting next to him in a half-dark room watching TV while he was sad, there’s no way to tell whether my adulthood outlook was nature or nurture. Either one would have gotten me there.

He knew it, too. And it bothered him. I’d take him shopping or to a doctor’s appointment, and every once in a while he’d ask prodding questions. He wouldn’t come out and say “are you happy?” — I think because he was afraid of the answer — but there’d be a “how are things?” or a “how do you feel about…?” and none of it was subtle. Subtlety wasn’t dad’s strong suit, all in all.

And for a long time, the answers were disappointing to him. Things were middling-at-best. I felt bad about whatever it was. And because I felt bad, he felt bad.

Until this year.

I mean, it wasn’t as simple as “calendar turns to January.” I started dating Laurie in 2015. I got a book deal a while back. But 2016 saw a lot of things go right for me. I got my dream job — if you don’t know, I started the year as a freaking O’Charley’s server and I’m now a fantasy football editor working with Cris Collinsworth, and I’ll be going to the danged NFL Combine this year. I published a novel, which has been a dream since I first gave it a shot in second grade, and couldn’t have been more of a lifestyle homage to dad if I wrote under the pen name “Brent Kelley no really Brent Kelley not his dumb kid Daniel.” And the biggest one of all was the wedding. I’m 33 now, and spent, what, 30 years as a perpetually single-and-bad-at-it guy. But in his last year, dad saw me go from that to a guy who is married with a 6-year-old. The last week excluded, and ignoring, you know, the disaster that is the world-at-large right now, my 2016 has been one hell of a year for me.

People have asked me over the last week how I am. It’s the standard question, I guess. I don’t have a good answer for it, though I’m not sure what a good answer for that question would be. It sucks that he’s gone.

He wasn’t healthy for a long time. When you look at it that way, maybe it’s good that he’s not sitting around, getting less healthy, being more unhappy in his chair with failing vision and painful limbs. Still, though, selfishly, I wanted my baseball-talking buddy around forever.

I’m sorry he’s gone. But I’m glad he made it as long as he did. I’m glad he made it long enough to see me happy. We both wondered if that would ever come. At times, I seriously doubted it would. But it did. My life’s good now. I’m happy. And I’m glad he saw that. And I think that made him pretty happy, too.


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