Sunday, September 16, 2012

Eulogy for My Father

I didn't want to just do a laundry list of my Dad's many qualities, so I talked about fishing.

It was harder to deliver than I thought.


My father taught me many things. The importance of standing on principle, the value of a good joke and even better, a bad joke.

And he taught me how to fish.

One of my earliest memories was when I was about five years old. Out on a pier in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the end of the day and Dad gave me the last piece of bait from the bucket: half a shrimp. We put it on the hook and I lowered the cane pole in the water and I got a bite. It felt huge. I struggled to wrestle it up onto the pier.

And when I saw it, I thought it was some kind of monster. A great big fish the size and shape of a pizza pan with both eyes on one side. Turns out it was a flounder. Dad assured me it was a very good catch, and another adult there was so enamored of the fish he offered to take it off our hands.

I thought, Wow, Ive done something here that not only pleased my father, but was of value to this complete stranger who was under no obligation to think everything I did was adorable. The power of fishing.

Fishing can be a very affirming, very spiritual experience. Almost religious. Allow me to quote from the Good Book A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean.

When Im alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.

Fishing is about ritual and mystery. Its about acknowledging a power greater than our own. Recognizing that we play a small part in the scheme of things. Its about faith. Faith that the next cast will be the one, that the fish on the line will make it into the boat, and that if this day didnt go well the next would be better. Its about our connection to each other, taking comfort in each others company and joy in each others success.

My father and I spent countless hours on the water the Occoquan River, Lake Anna. Early, early mornings together, the sun barely up, in a small boat. We talked about different things and many times we didnt talk at all. We just sat, casting our lines in the water, waiting, waiting, with the hope that a fish would rise enjoying the beauty and the quiet.

But then I grew up, went to college, got a job, and my father and I didnt fish a lot after that. But about 10 years ago, at the wedding of Mara and Jeff, Jeff was kind enough to arrange a fly fishing excursion to a stunning, picture-perfect canyon, with the South Platte River running through it. We waded into the stream up to our waists and cast our lines out into the water and reenacted that old ritual of faith.

It turns out I didnt catch a thing that day but that was okay, because Dad landed a beautiful trout. And it made us both very happy. Thank you to Jeff and Mara for that gift.

I recently started fishing again, with my new fiancé, Karen, and her family. And when Im up there in Alaska, on the beautiful waters of the Kenai River, casting to that four-count rhythm, I think of my father and how much hed love fishing those waters. I hear him advising me on my form. Keep your rod tip up, son.

And so the tradition continues. Maybe someday Ill have the opportunity to teach someone how to fish. And the cycle will go on. Which brings me to another quote this one is from the actual Good Book. Ecclesiastes one of my favorites. (And forgive me, father, for I have edited.)

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Peace at last

My father finally lost his struggle with Alzheimer's. He died on September 11, of all days, bringing an extra poignance to that day.

I was prepared and totally unprepared.

Still sorting a lot of things out, but one thing that's occurred to me: I said goodbye to my Dad a long time ago. I realize now I was defining "dad" in narrow, traditional terms.

That is, he was no longer able to fill the "job description" -- answering questions about finances and household repairs and life decisions and generally being there for me and being supportive.

But, of course, he was more than the sum of his job responsibilities. And he was about more than simply fulfilling my self-interest and needs.

They should teach this stuff somewhere.

Anyway, he went fairly peacefully and, importantly, at home, with people who loved him.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert ...

... and a church service broke out.

I tell you it was a downright spiritual experience seeing him again after 31 years. When the show opened with the opening notes to Promised Land I actually got tears in my eyes.

Then standing in the pouring rain for the whole second half of the show, hearing Badlands, and Thunder Road and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, with the raindrops lit up like confetti in the spotlights -- it was damned magical.

But what really got me, even more than the moving tribute to Clarence Clemons (at the line "the big man joined the band," the music went silent for a short montage of photos), was the soulful 12-minute version of My City of Ruins.

Springsteen led the crowd like a gospel preacher, singing again and again, "Are you missing anybody?" Usually I'm not much affected by moments like this, but I immediately thought of my Dad. And I wondered how many others were feeling something as immediate as I was?

Then he did a little spoken-word preaching: "Think of who you're missing and let 'em stand alongside you for a while." Well, that just about did it. Wow.

I'm gonna have to really let it out at some point. I've had brief moments here and there but have mostly held things in, as is just my general practice.

Thank you, Bruce.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Going home

Dad is nearing the end and I am at the airport getting ready to fly home and be with family.

I saw him a few weeks ago and he wasn't looking good then. He'd lost weight and had a couple of complications. Apparently he took a severe turn late last week and they're saying it could be days or hours.

I was surprised at how the news has affected me. It's been such a long, long, long time coming -- 10 years, maybe -- that I figured I was pretty much adjusted to the inevitable.

Apparently not.

The timing is poignant. A whole circle of life thing with my engagement news.

He's got good care and is at home, thankfully.

I think I'm ready.