Thursday, May 13, 2010


My dad is dying. I guess we're all dying, if you want to look at it that way, but this is the real thing. The kind of dying where the doctor walks in to your hospital room and tells you that there's nothing they can do, the cancer (which was only discovered last Thursday) has already metastasized, chemo might make you more comfortable but there is no chance of a cure or even remission. He has a few months at best, a few weeks at worst. A month ago, he was a healthy 77-year-old. Now he could go at any time.

It's a strange feeling for me. My dad and I have never had an easy relationship, but he's always been there. I don't mean "he's always been there for me," I mean that he's always been somewhere on planet Earth, somewhere where I could find him if I wanted to, or call him, or he could call me. I could dread having to see him, or look forward to seeing him, or do my best to ignore him. But he was somewhere. Apparently that won't always be true. Quite soon, that won't be true.

Other than the occasional brief mention, I haven't written about my dad in this blog. I almost never write directly about the people in my life at all, because I don't know if they would choose to be here. It's my blog, told inescapably from my point of view, and it seems unfair to drag the people I love and live with into it. But if you know my dad and you know me, you will have seen that he is written into every post. His influence on me has been enormous, inescapable. The way I think about faith and theology, the way I read and analyze and dissect, the way I can't ever leave it alone-- it's all him. Every good thing I believe about Christianity has its roots in his teaching. And many of the angry, resentful thoughts I have about Christianity have their roots in the ways he couldn't live what he taught. Couldn't accept grace, couldn't forgive old hurts, couldn't allow himself to be vulnerable enough to admit to his own failings. And those flaws sound awfully familiar, because they are my own.

My Dad was and is an amazing man in many ways-- a brilliant teacher, an inspiring leader, a visionary who could be generous, thoughtful and kindhearted to those around him, even to people he barely knew. He spent hours talking to and counseling students, often at the expense of his own free time, his own sleep. He inspired awe and admiration in people because he was so good at what he did. But he wasn't easy to live with. You might say he was easy to worship, but difficult to love. Those of us who tried during his angry years have the scars to prove it. When his unhappiness was at its worst, he took it out on us by either withdrawing into cold, supercilious silence or scathing us with sarcastic, angry outbursts. But then at other times, he could be the best daddy in the world.

It's nothing new. It's the story of millions of parents with their children, and as I raise my own kids, I see firsthand how impossible it is to be the parent you wish you could be. The passage of time (and plenty of counseling) has helped me put my dad into perspective, to see his flaws and his brilliance as part of the whole of the complicated person that he is.

Proof of that complexity: my dad is happy now. For the last half dozen or so years, he's been the happiest I've ever known him to be. Some of it is just the passage of time. I remember after seeing him one time when I was in my early 30s, I told my husband it was like he had been de-clawed. He just wasn't so angry anymore. Maybe the idea of grace was finally sinking in.

But another reason for his happiness is his second wife. When we were growing up, he was doing a not-particularly-good job of surviving in a marriage that wasn't working. But when my mom finally had the courage to call an end to that about ten years ago, he remarried a woman who suited him to a T. She isn't really my stepmother-- she's only eight years older than I am, and I didn't meet her until I was in my late 30s-- but she is an amazing person. Not only in what she does and how she lives, but because she made my dad happy, something none of us who had lived in the same house with him thought was possible. I have come to love her dearly for that. I'm glad he's happy. I think if he had received this news fifteen years ago, it wouldn't really have bothered him much. But now you can hear in his voice how much he regrets the remaining years he might have had with her. And with his grandkids. He's a terrific, doting grandfather.

But unless he confounds medical science, those years are not to be. In spite of everything, because of everything, I'll miss him.

1 comment:

  1. Aunt Bean,

    Wonderful to have you back but wish the circumstances were different. I'll mosey over to the other blogs when I have time to enjoy them. My next 6 weeks are going to be verrrry busy at work.

    Looking forward to July.