Monday, February 6, 2017


Hit by a truck when you were a little boy
They said it was touch and go
You proved strong enough not to go
Not for another 86 years
Along the way you learned life
Presents you
with the occasional seven ten split
And you just have to give it your best shot
They took away your family's home
Said it was for your own safety
Judge Judy would have ruled that was Baka thinking
You saw your first car
Parked outside the barbed wire fence
Years later you bought a brand new car
With the apology check the government gave
You didn't like swear words
But I swear that's my all time favorite comeback
Sweet tooth crown artist who loved to drive
Proud father, grandfather, great grandfather
Never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
Never made a Maya Moore-like three pointer
You didn't need to, to prove yourself
You just needed to live the life you did
Because you made that seven ten split
more often than most can ever hope to do

On my way to visit Dad on what turned out to be the final night of his life, a strange warning light appeared on my Mini Cooper's dash. It was a red warning symbol that looked like the hydraulic lift mechanics put cars on. When it turned off I noticed the brake warning light remained lit. I still haven't yet figured out the right metaphor, or what the symbolism of my car's warning light meant as I visited Dad during his last night on Earth. And having not had the opportunity to bring my Mini in for service, I still don't know what the warning is all about.

He drove his car. It didn't have to go very far. To him his car was all about freedom. Free to go here. Free to go there. Free to go just about anywhere. Dad and Mom loved the rides they took. Mom loved the destination. For Dad, it was just as much about the process of the journey.

I wasn't doing so well the year or so after I graduated from Macalester College with my history major and journalism minor, with my desire to become the world's next great inspirational writer. I told the world's greatest muse, who I recently met as we were now sitting in a little cubby hole our employer, a record store owner had built for children of customers to watch cartoons but where we were now taking our lunch together, (how's that for a well constructed sentence?) that I felt haunted by my recent sad overwhelming memories.  "We'll just have to make new ones," she said in her often matter of fact, but spot on Virginia Slims calming style.

Weeks later we decided we would hit the road with no particular destination in mind. She drew a map on a bar napkin to her mom's house in Kingman, Arizona, but how we would get there would be all about adventure and creating new memories to forget the old ones. When we hit the road in my robin egg blue Honda Accord that my parents bought for me, I think Mom and Dad wondered if they'd ever see me again. Not one for teary goodbyes, Dad offered his last bit of wise advice: "Don't ride the clutch."

I ended up writing an unpublished novel about that cross country trip. In a way the trip was the one that made me understand my Dad the most, and perhaps the feeling was reciprocal. I've never particularly cared for driving a car. It was always one of Dad's favorite things to do. Driving with my muse was inspiring. Dad drove a whole lot farther than I ever did with the great love of his life. 


 I was holding my Mom's hand the night she died 17 years ago. She gasped her last breath and all of us in the room kind of held ours. Dad broke the silence by asking the nurse, "Is she gone?" The nurse said yes. I, to my surprise because I had so much time to prepare for the moment, began sobbing. Dad looked over at me and said, "We will get through this, David." And I knew we probably would. What I didn't know was how much the "we" would mean.


We ate dinner most evenings together after Mom died. This lasted a number of years. During those years I think what we discovered was we really didn't have that much in common. Dad's proudest accomplishment was, despite not being a good student, helping raise five kids with college degrees (four with advanced college degrees, me being the dunce with just a Bachelor's Degree). He said he was proud, and Mom was too, that all of us turned out to be good people, successful in our chosen fields.

I don't think Dad ever understood why I never wanted a family of my own (unless you consider felines, three total, 10 and a half good legs between them, family). It wasn't I didn't ever want a family of my own, it was more that my life has always been about following my muse wherever it led me. To his credit Dad didn't consider me a failure for failing to follow in his footsteps toward what he felt was his greatest accomplishment.


Dad worked hard and a lot of long hours to provide for us. After dinner, when he was still working at Edco Dental Lab in downtown St. Paul, we used to call him at work to tell him all about our days because he wasn't going to be home before we all went to bed. We used to fight about who got the privilege of dialing his work number 224-5423. I don't remember what I talked to Dad about during those phone calls but being a busy working man now, I don't know how he had the patience to participate in that nightly routine. And that in a nutshell is how we were always so different.

There were some days (it must have been weekends), when Mom let us know Dad was on his way home from work and my brother Bruce and I would get all excited about seeing him that we went about hiding in the foyer closet, or the laundry room, all prepared to jump out at Dad and scare him. And boy did we seem to do so ever so effectively. Each and every time. When Mom notified us that Dad was starting a medication for a heart condition, I quite specifically remember Bruce and I asking if we should stop scaring him by jumping out from our hiding places. We didn't want to send him into cardiac arrest after all. It took many years afterward that I found out that Dad heard Bruce and I giggling from our hiding places and always just acted scared because he appreciated what we were doing in appreciating his return home.

And that was why he was the greatest Dad we could ever have.

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