The relationship we have with our parents is no doubt the most influential relationship in our lives, for good or for bad. I have thought about writing down some of my thoughts about Dad for months now but today, the day after he has gone into hospice care, is the day. I can’t help but look back and examine the influence he has had on my life to date, and will no doubt continue to have for the rest of my days.
Dad always worked very, very hard. He wanted to succeed at everything he did. He didn’t finish high school until he was about 78 when he took his GSD. He was very proud of that success, as well he should have been. No person succeeds all on their own, though, and our Mother was his stalwart companion, his equal, in every sense of the word. She had the added quality of smoothing out some of Dad’s ‘sharp bits’.
I was a little girl and remember sitting in the little utility room at our house on Main Street in Bethel, trying to draw one day. He seldom had time for small things with us, but this particular day, he sat down on one of our little chairs and showed me his version of how to draw a woman’s face. I wonder if he remembers that as clearly as I do? Probably not. For it is often not the things that we intend our children to remember that make the biggest impression on them. Awkward.
There is a photo of the three of us as young children, 3,4 and 5 years old sitting in the grass intensely engaged in a ‘kid thing’ with a feather and my newly acquired hospital bracelet, which I was still wearing after release from hospital. It is a gorgeous photo and, I think, possibly the pride of his creative endeavours. There were many, so that is a big call.
I shared two trips to Italy with my parents over the years. I sensed it was a great source of satisfaction to Dad to experience the culture and the people of the land that was part of his heritage. In the classic Italian tradition he was always a ‘hands on’ guy, able to make just about anything he put his mind to, a quality all three of his children have happily inherited. He was very proud that he held a patent for a piece of equipment he designed, and rightly so. How many of us have that credit to our name?
Dad’s greatest goal in life was to support his family. He was a great provider under adverse circumstances at times. Most people knew him as the man who grew the Christmas trees. He called himself a ‘farmer’. It was an unlikely career for a man who studied music and probably never visited a farm when growing up. He lived in a small village and knew nothing about farming when he started growing trees. It took seven years from the start of growing the trees before he harvested the first tree. That was seven years of him trying to fill in the family income with part time work in between growing trees, but mostly living on the income Mom brought to the family as a nurse. One year, the company to whom he sold the trees tried to default on the agreement and Dad told them he would burn the trees before he would sell them under the conditions they wanted. He burned the trees. It must have been heartbreaking for him.
Dad loved wildlife, the animal kind, not the hell-raising kind. We nursed numerous orphaned baby animals that he would bring home from the farm, among them skunks, foxes and rabbits. He loved sunrises at the farm, Mom’s cooking, especially her fried chicken, and he loved his children and grandchildren. And in recent years he loved the company of their dog Angel, who really was sent from heaven to give them a lot of joy.
He survived five years in the army from the age of 17. He was a musician and a litter bearer at Guadalcanal and due to a permanent inner ear problem, extremely seasick throughout the Pacific tour of duty. He survived cancer, kidney stones, and multiple bouts of Malaria and pneumonia. But Parkinson’s was the thing he couldn’t beat. Dad was a fighter, even at times when it wasn’t necessary. But he was determined to live life on his own terms. Dying was hard for him. Living had been hard too, but he had succeeded. Finally living became too difficult, however, and the dying has won out. I have just learned he passed away, almost exactly at the same time I was writing these words, so hopefully he will know I loved him and wish only peace for him.