On Tuesday, April 15th, it will be 11 years since I stopped by my father's house on the way to work to drop off an ice pack.
I had spoken to him the night before around 9:30pm. I had asked him if it was OK if, instead of dropping by that night I could come in the morning. He said sure - it was late, I was tired, on my way home from a long day at work, school and a meeting of like minded people. The last thing I said was, "See you in the morning. Love you, Dad".
The next morning, when I arrived, I smelled coffee brewing. I walked into his back bedroom and saw him lying on his side, apparently asleep. I said, "Hey, Dad! I have the ice pack for you!" and then stopped. Something was wrong.
Dad was dead.
I grabbed the phone and called 911, then hung up because I could not for the life of me remember the address. I ran outside and looked at the number on the house. I ran back in and the phone was ringing - it was Dispatch. I told them what was up. They said they were on their way. I called my mom. I told her. I called my sponsor. She said call one of us. I called one of us. He called someone I sponsor.
She got there before the police, the family and the ambulance.
That's how we roll.
I spent the next several hours dealing with chaos. I remember thinking to myself, "What the hell happened here? He went to Mass with me on Sunday. First time in about 40 years but he was there.".
I kept looking around at all the people suddenly running around his house and thought, "the only one truly familiar with this place is my mom." There is a reason for that - I had had to help my father for the last 5 years of his life, pretty much full time. My Mom was the only person who had pitched in and helped me until I got the Veteran's Services involved because I was starting to fray at the edges.
I do not regret the hard work. I do not regret the middle of the night phone calls, the shopping, the washing, the cleaning, the feeding of his 97 year old mother-in-law who hated my guts and told me that every chance she got. In fact, though I was physically and emotionally exhausted during this period I do not regret any of it.
I got to be a good daughter.
There are people who would say I did not have to do any of it. My father didn't deserve it. He had walked out on us when my mother was pregnant with her second child and I was only 5 and half years old. He had never completely left; rather, he had blown in and out of our lives like a tornado. He was verbally abusive to me, verbally and physically abusive to my brother, horrible to our older half sister, Candace and all around a lousy father.
He was, however, also handsome, funny, charming and expansive when he could be which was often. He took my brother to see a dead whale when one washed up on the beach and me to see my first president when Lyndon Johnson came to San Francisco. He took me to the Roller Derby and coached my brothers Little League games, taking the kids to A&W for hamburgers even when they lost (which was pretty much every game) because he was damned if only the 'winners' were going to get free burgers. He served his country with honor and then lied to all his pals at Raley's, claiming to have been a fighter pilot over Berlin (my Dad was 6'5 when he was a kid - trying to cram him into a WWII fighter jet would have been a sight to see).
My father was a bucket of contradictions, as most men are, and was raised in a brutal environment as a child. He survived emotional and physical abuse and clung to his sister Glenda for love and support. She was the only woman he really loved.
When my Dad died, I was the only one of his three children (that we know of) who had a key to his house. It was my name on his bank accounts and me he turned to for help. It was me he told his last big lie to (here, honey, go see this attorney in Walnut Creek if I die. You are all taken care of, so don't worry about a thing) and it was me who got to say "I love you, Dad" to him before he died.
All I have ever been and will be is a result of the people who came before me - in the Church, in my 12-Step Group, and in my family. I am so grateful for all their behaviors, even the bad ones, because all of them have allowed me to view myself in the light of my own humanity. I could have held on to the grudges and the hatred and the feelings of unforgiveness and a good chunk of the world would have nodded wisely and said, "That's OK, honey. He deserved to be hated". Yet, if I had done that, I would have missed the beauty of a man who struggled so hard in the world. A man who tried to be everything and couldn't because of his inability to say, "Help me" to his Creator.
My hope is that every child on the planet gets to have a good father. My experience tells me this is not possible - we don't all get good father's here on earth. What I have learned from my own experience with a lousy father is that it does not have to define me as a woman - I can chose to be the daughter he needed and not the one he deserved.
I can also remember that, no matter what, I DO have a wonderful father...and to Him I can cry, "Abba!".
Eternal rest grant unto your servant, John Emerson Shaw, O Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon him.