My dad had a really interesting view on life. He had the ability to teach us lessons without preaching and always put a humorous twist on events to let you know when you were forgiven, which was usually pretty quick. He taught me life was worth living, and often that it was too short to be miserable. He taught me about love, death, friendship and hard work. But mostly he gave me this quirky, morbid sense of humor that when I unleash it on the unsuspecting- the rewards are priceless.
My dad was a storyteller. He could walk into a room and in a matter of minutes be the center of a group that soon would be laughing to the point of tears. He had a way of weaving truth and fiction to create the perfect punchline. We learned at a young age that when dad was telling a story, we were not to interrupt and point out that he wasn't telling it like it really happened. Many times he would pat me on the head and whisper, "I'm gonna miss you when you're gone." That was my clue that I was walking a fine line. Cross the line and you would be sorry. Heed the warning and you would be granted a reprieve.
There were nuances to the phrase that let me know which boundary I was crossing. " Man I'm going to miss you when you're gone" meant I was bordering on cute but not to push it. "I'm really gonna miss you when you're gone" meant you've overstayed your welcome, perhaps you should bless someone else with your attitude. It was one of those multipurpose phrases in our house that everyone used to convey 20 different messages.It could mean, I love you, I'll miss you, You're being a grade a jerk, Get lost, Knock it off, watch it and just about anything depending on context. It was our secret code and taught me about irony and that the depths of communication lie not only in what you say but how you say it.
My dad would give me anything. He was a natural salesman. He always told me- if you want something, you gotta sell it. We had been out and about one day and stumbled across a litter of kittens. I saw this adorable little salt and pepper sprite pouncing around all over it's siblings. I reached in and grabbed the little monster from the cage and looked up at my dad. "You know dad, I've been thinking. My grades are solid, I babysit a few times a week, if I pay for everything myself and swear to take care of him, can I please take him home? " He explained that my mother was going to be very upset and that I was going to have to let him sell it to her. Sounded good to me. We wrapped Bandit up in a green sweatshirt, not because he was cold- I thought it was so he wouldn't pee all over me- mostly it was to camoflauge the evidence from my mother. Somehow she still knew the instant we walked in the door. I walked around the block for over an hour only stopping back home when the yelling subsided. I'm pretty sure my parents didn't talk for weeks. I'm also pretty sure the price paid overall was far more than my few weeks' worth of babysitting money, but he did it for me.
Shortly after the cat debacle, my brother Bob was diagnosed with a brain tumor. None of us would ever be the same. One would guess that upon diagnosis of a fatal illness, usage of phrases such as "I'm gonna miss you when you're gone" would taper off. One would be very, very, wrong. The usage actually picked up. It became a way for us to lighten the situation, to joke about something that was otherwise entirely unfunny. That was dad's view of life. After Bob died, pieces of all of us were lost. For awhile we all lost a lot of our funny. It was tough to see anything lighthearted about anything we had just been through. Dad spent more time at work, because there was lots of fodder there. I was the ripe old age of 15- so I was all too happy to not have to hang out with my parents. I know it was an incredibly lonely time for my mother.
Three years after Bob was diagnosed, dad passed out in a meeting. They found a brain tumor. This time we kinda knew what to expect. The diagnosis gave us time to "get everything in order" as they like to say. The irony this time lay in the fact that his tumor was in the frontal lobe. The part that guides personality and social skills, spontaneity and creativity. Dad used to joke that maybe cancer was nature's way of getting us out of the misery of getting old. He was a big believer on going out while you were on top.
It was only a few months before he could no longer drive and the tumor started zapping the pieces of his personality that he was known for. I would come home from school at lunch and we would sit and talk. I could tell there were so many things he wanted to tell me and he felt like he was running out of time. Growing up, we always talked about angels. He swore to me if there was any way for him to come back, he would. But- he said- odds aren't good peanut- because so many have gone before and it must be pretty amazing because I've never known anyone to come back.
I knew what he was trying to say. He wanted life to go on for us. He didn't teach me anything in those few months that he hadn't already taught me. But the times we shared were priceless. As much as I didn't want to see him go, I knew he couldn't stay. It was a bit over a week before graduation from high school I was stressing over how to get him there and what he wanted. I had stacks of papers and college stuff in my lap. He had been bedridden for awhile and getting weaker by the day. I asked him what he wanted to do. He grabbed my hand and said he wanted more than to see me graduate, he paused- turned to me and said "God I'm gonna miss you when you're gone." I knew then that he wasn't going to make it to graduation. And as hard as I tried that afternoon, the only words I could manage were- you too and I'm pretty sure it was only audible to the dogs in the neighborhood.
This year in celebration of Dad's life, I thought about getting a puppy- just to test the strength of mine and Phil's marriage. But then I realized that it would only test the bounds of my sanity- so instead each child gets a Betta fish. I will make sure they feed them, care for them, and every day tell them how much they are going to miss them when they're gone. With our luck- that won't be very long.
And dad- I'm totally gonna miss you when you're gone.