Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Memory of My Father

My father died nearly 30 years ago. I was there.

With some quiet, I settle into my chair and I relive it--taking note for a moment that it began with him, about my age, sitting quietly, alone, in his own easy chair. I remember kneeling beside him, talking to him as the paramedics applied the paddles. I remember following the ambulance to the hospital. I remember alarms on the other side of the wall and the people rushing in. I remember thinking I should not gamble with his falling out with the church years and years before, and I remember the anger in trying to find a priest at that hour. I remember the shocked look on the faces of the ambulance crew driving by on seeing me standing outside the funeral home...

... but that is not the memory that haunts me.

I remember years before, sitting at the kitchen table after school, a young teen or maybe a tween, angry at him. He must have overheard my indignant rant though as he came in after work through the garage door behind me and paused just inside my view. He tossed a small bag on the table in front of me and walked off without a word.

It was a thermometer. A simple, outdoor, garden variety thermometer.

I loved math and science as a child, and he knew it. Once, he gave me a gift of an LED Casio calculator; I remember that, if you divided by zero, it would start counting up continuously. Another time, he handed me his old slide rule with a smile. Years later, I remember when he bought me a Pascal compiler and an ASM assembler for the old IBM 8088 PC... I remember the one and only one time I beat him in a game of chess.

I don't know that we ever had much in common, but he tried to connect with me--and occasionally he succeeded. That thermometer... he knew I really wanted one for some science experiments--and that was the day he took the time to find one for me.

That is the moment that haunts me... I may never remember why I hated him then, but I remember the terrible anguish in remembering that he loved me. I knew so much just one moment before... in the next breath, everything I knew was turned upside-down.

I will never, ever forget how terribly I felt.

In the one or two years between his divorce and his death, he wanted to explain some things to me--then a young adult--privately. He wanted to tell me how, in spite of anything I might have been told, things were not necessarily as they seemed--but he would not say how out of certain respect...

... and I told him it was not important. I told him that he had nothing to prove to me. That I clearly remember--not only that I had those words in me for my father, but on seeing the quiet nod. He was just a man; maybe then I was too.

For all of the confusion, misunderstanding, doubt, and outright lies in the world--and for all of the hurt, sorrow, and anger result with the corresponding actions that are the fruit of it all--I remember the thermometer, and I resign myself to the thought that people have their own lessons to learn and we will all inevitably suffer the drama... often in that same quiet resignation. I hope all find their thermometer moments before it's too late, not after.