It seems to be a tradition with me to post something about Dad each May 18th, the anniversary of his passing. The reason I do this isn’t so much to solicit any sympathy from you, my readers, but just to clear the air of any thoughts I might have on this day as each year passes by. It’s a kind of therapy.
This year, however, is especially bittersweet because in a mere 55 days, I will have outlived my father (15,122 days, to be exact). And to be quite honest, it’s a little strange to think about.
At this point in my life I couldn’t even imagine going anywhere. I’ve got a fantastic wife, one heckuva kid and despite being unemployed, my life is going fairly well. There isn’t time for me to die right now; there’s still plenty to conquer.
But while I’m definitely thinking of my own mortality more frequently now that I’m over 40, the thought of dying at Dad’s age 54 days from now is absolutely unfathomable. It’s impossible for me to comprehend, just as Dad’s passing was for the 7-year-old boy I once was.
Then there was Dad. It was no family secret that he had a drinking problem all of his life, all of which stemmed from his upbringing. You can’t entirely fault him for that—he was a victim of his surroundings and probably oblivious to the damage he was doing to his liver. Eventually, it was his little problem that led to his untimely and extremely premature demise.
Not even bringing two kids into this world could make him stop.
But despite his problem, Dad was Dad. His was the giant hand that grabbed my tiny limb and took me on adventures near and far. He was the Herculean figure that carried me on his shoulders so that I could playfully reach for the sky and try to run my fingers through the clouds. He was the one who took me to the toy store every payday so we could buy Hot Wheels, the one who would stand in front of the ice cream truck so that it would stop, the one who would do anything to make me smile.
He was also the man who migrated from Mexico, became a U.S. citizen, and fought for his country in Korea. What, if I may so boldly and bluntly ask, [the fuck] happened to such men of honor?
In short, Dad was awesome.
The brief 2,650 days we spent together left me with just a handful of memories, some more happy than others. But for all the fun times we had, there was also the day of May 18th, 1976, and that dreadful call that I’ll never forget. It’s something that, whether an adult or kid, you’re never really prepared for. The only thing I remember afterwards is screaming “I WANT DAD!” repeatedly as my mom embraced me and my brother on the couch. Fuck, it’s like it was yesterday.
Dad’s viewing was a few days later and totally surreal. After my family signed the Guest Book, I looked into the viewing area and saw Dad’s open casket. From a distance, all I could see was the tip of his nose and forehead poking out and all I could hope for was that it wasn’t him.
No no no, it couldn’t be him. “We still have a lot to do, Dad!”
But goddamnit, it was. Still hoping that it was some cruel joke that he would have gotten a laugh out of, I finally came to accept—in the best way a 7-year-old could—that it was him.
Dad. Gone. Dead. Forever.
Dad was surrounded by elaborate flower arrangements, most courtesy of the Longshoreman he worked with. Outside a flower shop, I’d never seen that many together in one place at one time. Dad was truly loved by all. To this day, however, the overpowering aroma of flowers is still hard for me to enjoy since it just takes me back to the viewing.
We were consoled by everybody that arrived, many of whom I’d never seen in my life but couldn’t help but offer comforting words to a pair of brothers that just lost a huge part of their lives. I just sat there and looked at Dad’s casket, still hoping he’d get up from his nap.
No such luck.
With the viewing coming to a close, it was time to say goodbye to Dad, just one more point of physical contact between father and son. I’m not quite sure who did it, but I was lifted up to reach into Dad’s casket, gently kissed him on the forehead, touched his hands for the last time and told him I loved him.
It was closed shortly afterwards and for all eternity. Dad was officially gone.
Dad’s funeral was the next day and with full military honors: the flag-draped casket, 21 gun salute, etc. He had definitely earned it.
At the close of the service, the flag that covered his casket was folded and handed to my mom. She tearfully accepted. Everybody was then invited to throw dirt on Dad’s casket.
I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
We walked away from the service knowing this was truly it—Dad was just a memory. I looked over my shoulder to where we had just been sitting and just gazed at the scene. Just a week ago, he was still alive although in the hospital. Now…this.
Today, Dad’s still-folded American flag sits on the mantel for all to see. The crucifix that he held in his hands while resting in the casket is also in my possession. They are constant reminders that his life flows through my veins and that his name will live on through Anthony, who only knows of his grandfather through the few pictures I have of him.
And as I tucked that little man into bed tonight and we engaged in our usual nocturnal banter, I kissed his forehead and embraced him a little longer than I normally do.
And I cried, just as I am doing now. It’s still hard.
I then silently promised him that I will live far beyond the next 55 days so that he will never have to experience what I did.
Because we still have a lot to do, son. A lot to do.