Monday, July 13, 2009

Remembering my Dad

Last Father's Day, 2009, was my first Father's Day without my dad. And I almost forgot to remember. I didn't write about it here because I was too embarrassed and ashamed.

I know, I know. How can a daughter forget that? Well, it's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it. Some of it I explained in my post Luck of the Draw or Destiny.

I was adopted in 1948 at three months old by Tom and Irene Ecklund. They divorced a couple of years later. I lived with my adoptive mother, who was a drunk and a slut (and I'm not exaggerating on that), until I went to live with him and his second wife, Edna, (aka the wicked stepmother). When I was in the fourth grade or thereabouts, he hired a private detective to follow us (my adoptive mother and I) around, and got enough evidence to get custody of me. I had visitation with Irene for a couple of years, until she screwed up, at which point visitation with her was stopped, and I wouldn't see her again until I was an adult.

During the next seven or eight years, after I went to live with him permanently, I guess we lived a relatively normal if somewhat boring life, certainly different and more healthy than the one I had lived with my adoptive mother! But the marriage wasn't a happy one, and the stepchild/stepmother relationship was very combative and dysfunctional. At some point Daddy started spending most of his time in the garage, but he and I continued to have a good relationship. In 1966 I graduated from high school, went to a year of college, got married, and moved from Texas in 1969. After that, I saw my dad once a year for the next forty years.

The funny thing is, even to this day, I feel like I hardly knew anything about him except for the basics. But then again, does any child know a parent beyond the basics, and those things we learn about them during our life together? He was born in 1920. He grew up in Iowa. He had a sister who he didn't get along with and who he saw only a handful of times in his adult life. He was in the Navy during WWII, and though he never saw battle, he was a radioman. He was an 'electronics representative' in his adult life, a traveling salesman of electronic equipment to places like Hewlett-Packard and General Dynamics. He loved anything to do with electronics and ham radios, and would talk your ear off about them. He was a Mason, but any involvement with them was mostly a piece of paper saying that he'd paid his yearly dues. He said he was a Methodist, but rarely went to church. He was friendly and loved to talk, but had no friends.

He was married three times, with the third time being the charm that happened after I was married myself. Ferne (above) gave him a ready built family of a grade school daughter and two adult sons. In fact, he said that his oldest stepson, Bob, was like the son he had never had, and I'd venture to say that Bob knew Tom the man much better than I ever did. Sadly, about twenty years into the marriage, Ferne developed metistatic breast cancer in the form of a brain tumor. She died within a year, and he was never the same.

When I would visit him in the years afterwards, he just never seemed quite right. His eccentricities became even more pronounced, he was drinking more, and many times I could hardly wait to leave. It never occurred to me that he had alzheimers. He would eventually end up in a nursing home with a broken hip, and that was when they discovered that he had alzheimers.
Three years ago, he got kicked out of his nursing home in Texas. He had broken two rules: he gave the door combination to another patient (he had watched to learn the 1-2-3 code), and he himself went out and rolled his wheelchair into traffic. I had him flown here to Georgia and placed in a nursing home just fifteen minutes from my house. For the first time in forty years, I would once again have a father in my life. One with alzheimers. Who eventually accused me of stealing his money and his car. During the year and a half that he was in the nursing home here, I went from visiting him every day and taking him out on field trips, to having to force myself to go see him two or three times a week.

When the alzheimers finally took over completely, his body began to fail and he forgot how to eat. We put him in hospice, and on July 13, 2008, my daughter and two grandsons and I were with him when he took his last breath. And then I got on with my life as it had been before he came here. And then I almost forgot to remember him on Father's Day.

What I remember most, and remember most fondly and vividly, strange as it may seem, about my dad, is the couple of days leading up to his death. He was unable to talk or move his body, and at one point I asked him to wiggle his eyebrows up and down if he knew what I was saying. I asked him if he heard and understood what I had said - and he wiggled his eyebrows up and down! So even though he couldn't talk, and was unresponsive in general - seemed, in fact, to be in a coma but with his eyes open - I knew he was still in there. I was able to hold the phone up to his ear to let him listen to Bob talk to him, and his Texas grandchildren and stepdaughter, and when I would ask him if he heard and understood who was talking to him, he would wiggle his eyebrows up and down. And I was able to tell him that he was not alone, that I was there to see him on his way, and I knew that he heard me.

On the morning of his death, I should have had the room quiet or maybe some soft music playing in the background, but instead we had cartoons on the tv for the boys! In hindsight, I wonder if he was screaming in his head to turn it down or turn it off, but hope he took comfort in the fact that the daughter and granddaughter who loved him, and who knew that he loved them, were there to mark his end, as well as the two great-grandsons who he was so proud of and whose visits he had so looked forward to while here.

I wish I could think of something more profound to say about my dad, something more than just a rambling account of a few basic facts. Of course, I have many father/daughter stories. We were close, but notthisclose. We shared a life, but in many ways we were strangers. I often wondered if the 'disconnect' I felt with him was because I knew I was adopted (surely I'm not that shallow?), or if it was just from the distance of miles and years (which I think is most probable). To say that he was eccentric would be an understatement. On a good day he could drive me and anyone else to the brink of insanity! Doesn't everybody's dad have characteristics that drive them crazy?!?

But... he was an honorable man. A good man. A decent man. A kind man. And during a time in my life when I had already become the victim of some very unscrupulous people, he did what even many 'biological' fathers don't do ... he stepped up to the plate. He stood by me. He looked out for me. He fought for me. It would not be too far of a stretch to say that he 'saved' me.

So on this day, the first anniversary of his death, I would like to tell him again: Daddy, I love you. Thank you for all you did for me. I was lucky and blessed to have had you in my life, and, I promise, I will never truly forget you.

9 comments:

Ginger said...

That's a sad story. You didn't really forget him on father's day...he was in your heart all along.

Missy said...

You write beautifully. I enjoyed your story...what a heartfelt tribute to your Dad. I love the pictures, too. You should write a memoir of your life.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I have tear in my eyes. This is a lovely tribute. Be most proud of it.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Truly - I know I'm replying again, but this is a very moving piece. Well done.

Being Lila said...

Lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing it.

carmen said...

very sweet.

Maranatha said...

Aww, that reminded me of my Grandpa passing recently from Parkinson's. Today (yesterday, now) was his b-day. The 2nd without him. His final days my mom played the Spike Jones Christmas album in his room @ hospice NONSTOP. I wonder if he wanted her to turn it off! But it WAS his favorite Christmas album, so maybe he didn't mind.

lakeviewer said...

I dropped in from Midlifejobhunter, and I was riveted by your touching story.

lakeviewer said...

Hi. Thanks for visiting me and helping with the conversation on health care. Very sweet and thoughtful of you.