MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: RECONCILING WITHOUT MY DAD

Thursday, January 24, 2008

RECONCILING WITHOUT MY DAD

My dad died in July of 1976 and my son was by then twenty-three months old. Dad got to hold his grandson before he died, but Corey, of course, was much too young to remember him. Dad would have been fifty-seven years old that September.

Dad was very unhealthy from 1973 forward, and was forced to take an early retirement from his electrician job at the Kingston Steam Plant, in Roane County, Tennessee. The doctors told my father that he had a bad heart, but as it turned out, his heart was the last organ he had functioning just before he died.

Dad lived his life in a rush. He was never satisfied to just stay in one place and enjoy his surroundings or those around him for very long. I will always remember how he pushed us on the weekends he wanted to go “down home” to get in the car and get the trip started. That was the reason I always had to relieve myself in a soda bottle (see Chapter 25), and mom and I had to grab a quick sandwich at a drive-in and eat it while he continued to head down the two-lane highway at 65 and 70 MPH, passing everything he could, and cussing those he could not.

However, as soon as it was sun-up the next morning, at Ma and Pa Mashburn’s in Five Points, Tennessee, he was urging mom to get things together so we could move on down to Lexington, Alabama for our next visit with Grandmother Williams. Then, as soon as the sun was up on Sunday he was dropping hints about getting back on the road home.

Sometimes mom would lay the law down that she was “…visiting my mother for as long as I want this trip!’

This caused him to mope around the yard or in the woods, smoking Camels, until he again got the courage to plead his case that it was time to get on the road “…or we won’t get home before dark!”

A doctor once told my mom, a few years before he died, that his internal organs were about twenty years older than his chronological age. He’s just living his life as fast as he can,” the doctor told my mother.

Thankfully I have learned to slow down and appreciate the life around me, and I think Vietnam taught me that lesson. Perhaps this is why I’m living a bit longer life, thus far, than he did.

Corey was born in August of 1974, while I was working as the advertising manager at The Roane County NEWS, and it was about this time that dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. If you remember, it was about this time that Hubert Humphrey was also diagnosed. Humphrey elected to have his bladder removed, but dad decided he would take the chemo treatments, because he did not want to be stuck “peeing in a bag” for the rest of his life.

Looking back, this was a bit selfish on his part, because Humphrey lived until 1978, having elected for the surgery, giving his family that much more time to love him.

During dad’s final hospitalization, I juggled work, running home at lunch to see and photograph Corey, and dropping by the hospital to shave and feed him in the afternoons. I can remember the lotion smell and greasy feel of his skin as I leaned over him running the electric shaver up and down his face and throat.

I pray to God that I never live long enough to become dependant on someone like that, or to get that hospital sponge bath, and then be lathered up with some generic lotion. Please God!

I would often talk about Corey and show dad pictures I had taken and developed. One day he looked up at me and said, “Don’t love him too much son, it would hurt too much if something happened to him.”

I was shocked! I froze, looking down at him and holding a spoon full of mashed potatoes. A fury rose in me that I tried to choke down, but I could not hold it all back.

I had always been pissed at him for not doing more with my brother. Every time I mentioned that he should take Wade hunting or fishing, he would say, “We’ll do all that when I retire. After he became sick, before he could retire healthy, I just held it all inside, rather than start an argument.

So, at that moment I could no longer hold it inside. I shouted at him, “So, is that what you did to Wade and me?”

What do you mean?”

I mean, did you not love us ‘too much’ so YOU wouldn’t be hurt if something happened to us? Is that what you did?”

Frankly, I do not remember if there was any further exchange to that conversation. I do remember storming out of the hospital and crying all the way home. It was just too much to hear that your own father held back showing his love because he did not want to miss me too much if I died!

As he got worse, as the days progressed, he became more and more irritable with everyone, but, it seemed, especially with me.

Do you want another bite of meat? Do you want another sip of milk? Do you need another pillow?”

Don’t ask me so many damn questions,” be finally blurted out one day through his obvious pain and frustration.

This was a common exchange that I often overlooked, but sometimes I would drop the spoon, or fork, and just walk away.

After that final explosion of frustration, I went home. Later that night I got a call from my mom telling me that he had passed away. So, the words “Don’t ask me so damn many questions,” will forever ring in my head as the last thing he ever said to me.

I have since blamed the final exchanges on the disease, but I could not help taking it to heart. I am, after all, a little boy, even at sixty-one, still trying to grow up in many ways. I longed to hear my father tell me he was proud of me, that he loved me, and that I was a man. Somehow, I find it hard to really “grow up” without having ever heard that from my dad.

I have, however, endeavored to never let my son, or my granddaughters, feel that way. I want them to know I am proud of them and that I love them more than my own life. I have never held anything back, even at the risk of hurting more than I could ever bear should something ever happen to either of them.

My mother will read this and be angry saying, “Oh, your daddy loved you. He showed his love in many ways.”

My response is always the same, “So why didn’t he ever just say it - just once?”

People that met my dad loved him almost immediately. He was funny and engaging and never seemed to meet a stranger. I am not that freely engaging, but I do have his sense of humor.

I am appreciative of that gift, but it would have been nice to have heard those words, just once.

32 comments:

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Oh boy. You got me with that one. And I know that one took a lot out of you brother. Not really sure what to say, other than what I've felt for a long time, reading your bio posts now for about a year and a half and hearing you give voice to that longing.

I've never gotten the impression that your dad didn't show you a profound love in his own way. He may never have said the words that you yearned then and now to hear, but he showed it in the things he did. I can see that love and pride in all the pictures of you and he together. I saw it in the shot of you in that blue uniform, just about to go overseas, and in the one of the two of you in front of that car when you got back safe.

I think there was something in his generation of men that told many of them not to say it. They probably thought it would be unmanly. But when I hear you talk about your mom and dad holding you between them as they danced, or hear about him showing you how to drive fast around those curves, I sob when thinking of all the love you were shown that I never felt I got. I'm so profoundly envious of you, and the loving nest you were raised in.

I understand your anger back then when he said those words, and the sense of lost opportunities at his early death. I have cousins who are in the same boat. My cousin Bob in PA never heard those words ether, before his dad died of a heart attack in his early 60s. His father, and yours, died before they could soften with age and learn to say those sorts of things. So many guys are in that boat with the two you. I'm so sorry about that.

You're doing the best you can to leave a different legacy with those around you,showing and telling them how much you love them, and that may be a best gift your dad ever gave you. I'm very sorry brother.

David Sullivan said...

Wow...

I've written peripherally about my dad, but only skimmed the surface. Even that was draining emotionally. Have a couple of frosties and decompress.

Mushy said...

What a wonderful comment Jeff, and it warmed my heart. I appreciate your friendship and the deep desire you seem to have to understand everything around you.

I know my dad loved me, it’s true, things like you mentioned and more, but somehow I was left wanting. But not anymore…and I have been completed by my life and those around me, you included. Thanks for being there.

I also got this from Corey, as proof I haven’t failed him, so life is good.

Corey wrote:
Wonderful post. I am sure that must hurt. I must say I am a very fortunate son to never have felt like that of my Dad. Love you Dad.

SON

David - Thanks to you as well.

Suldog said...

Mushy:

That was profoundly moving. I am constantly reminded, by good folk such as yourself and my cousin David, that I was very lucky to have a Dad who never let me be in any doubt about his love for me. He always said "I love you" (sometimes in times and public places I didn't appreciate it, trying to be a 'cool' teenager.)

You've encouraged me to write about his death, which I'll try to post come Monday. Thank you.

Mushy said...

I look forward to it Sul...there are things that need to be shared with all.

My life has always been pretty much an open book, I don't know why, but it always felt good to say it out loud, and you sometimes get back the best insight.

J said...

Wow. That was moving, Mushy. And it reminded me of an article my grandfather used to keep on his wall in his workshop in the basement. I was lucky enough to call dibs on it after my grandparents passed. I am scanning it right now and emailing it to you. Please let me know if you enjoy it.

Coach said...

To my distant cousin: ooch, that's an itch that is hard to scratch!

We were never promised that life would be easy, only that for those that choose the right path there will be a great reward. Unfortunately for many, it will be the day called "Judgement" before they realize they have taken the wrong path.

Jose said...

My dad was not a verbal person, he never really told us how much he loved us either but his teachings spoke for themselves. The only difference with me is that I tell my kids and now my grandkids how much I love them just about everyday. To this day my son now 30 years old still kisses me when he comes to visit and when he says goodbye. I guess I did miss hearing that my dad loved me and I in turn don't want my kids to ever feel that I didn't love them. To me it's all about family now.

Mushy said...

Coach? Who?

Jose - Yes, Corey and I hug and kiss each other on the cheek...it is such a good feeling to be that close with your children. Nothing to regret in the future!

J - Looking forward to it!

J said...

I really hope you enjoyed it. I hope I didn't offend you in any way, but your story just reminded me of that particular article.

Have a nice day!!

(I sent it to your fuzzbert email address, in case you didn't know.)

Buck said...

Coincidences... Bladder cancer took my father, too, but it took a little longer to get him. My father was 72 when he died and knew his grandchildren well.

My Dad was a lot like yours, Mushy, in that he didn't verbalize his love for his kids but showed it in other ways. That was particularly hard on my sisters, less so on me. I think that "strong and silent" BS was a predominant characteristic among men in your father's (and mine) generation.

Things are a LOT better these days...for the most part.

Excellent post.

BRUNO said...

This one kinda made me think as well. As a matter of fact, I honestly had never given it a thought until just now! I can't recall those words, either---but I know he did love me.

One of the hardest things I had to face, when my Dad passed away from the complications of Alzheimers, was that for some reason, I was somewhat relieved by his passing. I think eternal hell itself might be more forgiving than Alzheimers disease. I pray to God that I never find out about either of the two...

pat houseworth said...

Hits close to home Mush.....My dad died on Christmas Eve 1972...he was55, had a massive Heart Attack that evening, only mom and the youngest(10 years old) sister were there. He, at that time, had only one Grandchild, my brother's daughter, she was 26 months old.

Like I said, pretty close to home brother...great albeit it sad, story.

Lin said...

Lemme wipe the tears rolling down my cheeks first here. There. FHB gave me a heads up on this post. I was so hoping that it would be a good one. Well, it was in a disturbing way. My father and I had never exchanged so much as a two word conversation in my twenty years. Then we got into a knock down drag 'em out and later a reconciliation that had him poke his head into my little closet of an art-room/retreat and he actually talked to me. He talked as I had never heard him talk before; with a heart and with great insight and wisdom. He never said he loved me but I had joyously found a new best friend in him anyway. Then he died less than a week later. I don't know what would have been more hurtful; to never really know him or to finally know him and lose him so soon after.

I guess I was hoping to find your post on some great relationship that I could vicariously sink into. On the other hand, there was great solace and great regret in your own story. I wish we both could have experienced the new dad mold. I know you have gone out of your way to break that old mold - good on you - Corey is one lucky son!

Mushy said...

I'm always amazed as how much alike we all are, and maybe that's why we spend time out here, looking for answers, or to help another soul.

I know you all help me everyday and I thank you for being there.

Scott from Oregon said...

Due. It's that "guy" thing. You know... the "guy" thing.

Your pops loved you more than he could say.

That "guy" thing. You know...

david mcmahon said...

You've left me speechless, Mushy.

That was the generation .... that was how they were.

You just told their story.

So eloquently ...

imac said...

Came from David's comment.
Very moving Mushy, and I can relate to some of your story.
Such a moving and heart-felt story and a fantastic post.
Glad I came to see.

lime said...

visiting from david mcmahon's. a very moving piece. it is testimony that you did indeed grow in that you've been able to give what you did not receive. that your own son has so comfortably expressed that you've done so in this public forum is further proof of how well you've done.

Mushy said...

Thank you David!

Welcome IMAC and Lime...the door here is always open. Thanks for the great comments.

Jeni said...

I never had the opportunity to know my Dad as he died when I was less than 3 weeks old of cancer. He saw me once when I was 10 days old. But, growing up, I always imagined (or hoped) he would have been like one of his brothers and his 3 sisters that I was close to -very demonstrative in the hugs, kisses and showing outwardly the love. My Mom was more like your description of your dad -and yes, I think it had to be a lot to do with the era in which they were raised.
With my kids, we tried to emulate the Waltons - "Nite, Lizabeth" and "love you" when parting whether it be in person or on the phone and we still do that too. With my own grandchildren, sometimes I think maybe I drive them a bit bonkers -well the 10-year-old one anyway -with the hugs and kisses, although he doesn't pull away, not yet anyway, and returns those things easily. With the two younger grandkids, they're too little to be that put off by those actions but not too little for it to be a darned good start in letting them know too just how precious a commodity they are in my life. For my kids, it was always more of a chore to get their Dad to show any emotion, other than anger, most of the time until he sobered up 14 years ago. But he chooses to live over 2,000 miles from the kids so it's still hard for them to really interact with him although he does try to call them frequently and he does come to visit them and the grandkids for a week, once a year. And then, seeing him around all of them, you can see how difficult it is for him as he often has to look away because he's afraid the kids will see the tears in his eyes. They know that happens though and are much more appreciative of those moments than he will ever probably know.
Great post! Just wanted to let you know there are many of us who grew up much in the same way as you did though and it does impact strongly on our choices with our own families as a result.

Mushy said...

Jeni, what a great comment. I just had to visit your site and I was pleasantly surprised with your posts...rich with personal memories and history of your area.

Thanks for dropping by.

Sandi McBride said...

I think I would prefer to think that he knew how hard it was going to be to lose you because he loved you that much. Altho he was dying, he was losing you, too. Remember that back then, men weren't allowed to show their feelings and emotions the way they can now. Reading your post I was reminded of my father-in-law and all my husband had "complained" of over how he treated them. Your post was like reading a letter from Mac...please, try to forgive your Dad...and remember how it was when he was young. And forgive yourself while you're at it.
Sandi

Mushy said...

I will and I have Sandi. Thanks.

mielikki said...

My Dad is the quiet, demonstrative type. He has told us he loves us, on rare occasions, and I cherish that. He had cancer a few years ago, and survived it. Your post makes me want to call him today. Think I'll go do that. . .
thanks, it was beautifully written.

Les Becker said...

Oh, Mushy, I know what you mean, wondering if you'll ever hear him say, "I love you." I wish he'd said it, even once.

My dad's "not the type." I always say "I love you" when I leave. When he was last in hospital, he said it back to me. Once. And I knew then, that HE knew he wasn't coming home.

He did come home, though, and I haven't heard him say it since. I don't believe I will, either. I wonder how hard it must have been for him to say it at all? I almost wonder if I imagined it...

Your dad loved you, though, Mushy. You know he did.

Mushy said...

Yes...I knew it.

Epijunky said...

First and foremost, thank you so much for this post.

Secondly... And I wish I had something more profound than this, but I am living this, right now, through my own father and my husband's relationship with my son.

You've inspired me to post about it.

As soon as I can get the courage.

Thank you.

Debbie said...

We have no idea how many people are in the same position as you were, who experienced the same thing with a parent. It's obviously tough and has stuck with you all your life. I don't have the right words to say.

I was lucky, and so was hubby, to have parents who expressed their feelings right up to the end of their lives. I feel blessed.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Mushy said...

Epijunky - Thanks for your comments. I'd love to read your post. For all concerned, do it soon...time is short for us all.

Debbie - I am happy neither of you had the experience. Don't get the impression that my childhood was unhappy, it was quite the opposite, it's just lacked that one little detail.

Jenera said...

I'm visiting via David's Post Of The Day.

I'm still young but have had father issues of my own. I have learned from his mistakes though and cherish every moment with my son. Hugs, kisses, and I Love You's are commonplace around here-not the exception.

Even now when I've moved on from the initial hurt, a part of me is still that kid wishing for him to be a better dad than he was.

I think the most important thing to remember is that you learned something in how to relate to your children and grandchildren and that is a great gift.

Jenera
Just Me

The_Mrs said...

Thank you for sharing that with everyone. I myself, have felt the same things as far as the 'why couldn't he say it, just once...'. I'm still waiting and it still hasn't happened.

I don't expect it to.

Seems we spend our lives trying to gain acceptance from the very people we'd assume it come freely from.. and then it turns out we almost have to fight for it to be so.

I'm very sorry for your loss and that went through that. It's these sorts of things that are hard on a persons very soul.

Take care my friend.