Father’s Day 2012

I don’t talk about my Dad much here, or my biological father. In 11 months, from December 2000 to November 2001, I’d lost them both.

My Mom was married to my step-father for nearly 25 years, so he’s really the person I think of when I say “Dad”. He died in December 2000. I was outside, fixing his reindeer lawn ornament, when he actually died. I held his hand for several minutes when I came in before taking off his wedding ring and putting it on my own hand.

I wore it for a few years until I’d lost so much weight I was afraid I’d lose it. I still have it and a small handful of his other things. I continue to miss him, including his inability to express his emotions well.

When I was 24 my biological father got back in touch with me and we had a strained, uneasy relationship for about 6 years before he died in November 2001. I have his discharge papers, some slides and a handful of photographs. Mostly all from before I was even born.

Both of them died because they wouldn’t give up the things that were killing them. Both of them were alcoholic smokers. Dad was a Seagram’s drinker and he went from unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes to filtered Camels. My biological father was a vodka man and I can’t recall what brand he smoked, but a cigarette was never far. I’m sure also had an addiction to the array of prescription pain medications he took.

My Dad felt a real sense of entitlement about his addiction, particularly to alcohol. He felt like he worked hard and he paid the majority of all the household bills, so he deserved that bedtime drink. As the size of that drink grew, the Seagram’s nearly filling the glass and the 7-Up just floating over the top, he told us he just needed it to relax so he could get a good night’s sleep before working hard the following day. He never tried to excuse the cigarettes this way, but in the end he was hiding them and sneaking around for a smoke as CPOD raced with cirrhosis to kill him. The coroner’s statement said his liver “won” the race to the end.

My biological father had similar ways of excusing his drinking. His drinking was actually far worse than my Dad’s, who was a bedtime and weekend drunk. My Father often nursed a vodka all day long, took his Oxycotin with it. Once I realized this, I stopped riding in a vehicle with him. He would wax poetic on being a vet. Vietnam was his entitlement to his addiction. A massive coronary in his sleep would take him out.

These men play into my life tremendously. If you ask me about becoming a vegan and choosing health for myself, my Dad and my Father are certainly behind it. They left me in this world feeling like I wasn’t important enough.

Yeah, they loved me in their own flawed, dysfunctional ways. I know that. I also know that when it came down to choosing health and being a part of my life, they turned again and again to the things that were clearly killing them. Sure, quitting is hard, I get that, but if you don’t even try what kind of message do you send to the people who love you, particularly your kid?

The lesson they taught me is that the best thing you give to your family is your life. You do the hard work to make sure you’re here for them. Sure, sometimes we get caught unawares and no healthy choice we make can fix it. That said, if you’re out there choosing something that’s killing you and not even trying, well there’s a good chance that when you’re gone there will be someone feeling like they weren’t worth the effort.

I never want to leave my wife, my kid, my friends, my mother, or anyone who loves me feeling like I didn’t care enough to do the hard work for them. It is what we should do. We show up, we do the hard work so those people know that they’re worth the effort of living for them.

Remembering Dad

Kind of a heavy post today. These thoughts, the poem below, have been banging around in my skull for several days now. Nearly feels like the noise them make gets in the way of trying to write about things for my Zen community, a piece on my weight loss for Chozen to post to her blog site, or the poem that’s lurking around in there (an homage of sorts to Neruda‘s Ode to Tomatoes).

The other day I was looking for a safety pin and came across my Dad’s wedding ring. I’ve had it since the day he died. I very clearly hold in my mind taking the ring off of his hand and putting it onto my hand. For a while I wore it, when I was 130 or more pounds heavier. I was a bit sad when I’d lost enough weight that I could no longer wear it out of fear of it falling off.

That moment where I took off Dad’s ring has been fresh in my mind now. The further away I get from his death, the more I am able to pull apart the frozen way I felt at the time. He’s become a big part of the reason I changed my life, lost the weight and began steering my life always towards health. It hurt so much that he would choose alcohol and cigarettes over me. In some ways I now see more clearly how the nearly 25 years he was my step-father were never free of his addictions and that those addictions were closer to his heart than the love he tried to show me. It hurts to think about, but I try not to let that anger & pain completely obscure the ways he really tried to be a good father.

This December it will be nine years since his death. I still have some of his ashes in a glass jar in my house and his ring in a box in my room. I remain profoundly sad to have lost him and sometimes feel like I am one of the few people who actually remembers the ways he tried to be loving. He wasn’t very good at it but he was the only one who tried to fill that “father” role in my life when I was a child.

I was reminded of all this during a final scene in the last Battlestar Galatica episode. It combined a couple of things I hate about crying (I have a very long list of things I hate about crying) — crying in public (was watching with a crowd at the McMenamin’s Bagdad) and crying because some television show or movie is written in such a way to tug at my pentiful heart-strings. I feel like a weepy sap and embaressed there are people there who might see it. No, it doesn’t matter if other people are crying too.

It was a scene where a ring was exchanged between the living and the dead. I watched and felt the weight of my Dad’s hand in mine. How I had to move his fingers to remove his ring. He felt lifeless, truly. His body was an empty shell and I knew my Dad was gone. There was only his ring left, heavy on my hand.

Dad, December 11, 2000

I stood there; still,
Silent, holding tears.
Mom gestured at me
To take his ring.

His hand was
Still warm
As I slid off
The ring and put
It on my finger.

The heavy gold
Didn’t really know
The change from
One cooling hand
To one cold with
Grief and anger.

He didn’t look
Asleep, at rest.
He looked dead.
My heart was filled
With the enormity of
This final withdrawal
And I didn’t know
What to say
Or do, aside
From putting
The ring on.

Nine years later the
Ring no longer fits,
My fingers are
All too small.
It sits in a box
In my room.
My heart still
Pulls tight
In my chest.

Just a Few

I’m really not feeling much like writing after another full, long Saturday at Prananda. I’m physically and mentally tired. It was a really good day, I even was working on my handstand (a pose I hate). The second to last free class was less crazy than the three previous weeks, for which I was really grateful. Even worked on the bio I’ll use on my site.

Had a bit of a rough moment, watching the last episode of BSG no less. Reminded of my Dad’s death, but it still feels a bit too sore to write about. That and I’m just too tired out to devote a lot of energy to it, and it deserves that energy. In part because I am just worn out by the combination of staying out late for BSG on top of the grief & anger that came up.

So I’m for bed early on a Saturday. I’m not teaching tomorrow and am looking forward to sleeping in, hanging out, maybe doing our grocery shopping. A Kundalini Yoga class at 2:30 then seeing Watchmen with CK and a friend at Cinetopia in the evening.

That brings me to today’s poem. I was a little foggy and noticing how I felt resentful, petulant about coming up with a poem. I’m trying to be kinder since the poem I put together the other night when I felt this way someone really liked, commented that it was a kind of “word painting”. I gave the irritation and blank screen a few breaths, then came up with something I actually feel alright with.

Aging

What is age?
This thing that
Happens to us
All, eventually,
If we’re lucky.
The thing is,
I am just not
Feeling it aside
From a collection
Of physical aches
And emotional pain.
I keep moving
Forward into “age”
Yet feeling further
Younger and less
Certain inside.