When I was a kid, my father would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, come here, I’ve got a secret for you.’ So I would crawl into his lap or he would kneel down to my level, I would put my ear up to his mouth and he would whisper ‘I love you.’ And I would whisper it back. I’m not 100% positive that this is what’s happening in the picture to the left but I’m about 85-90% positive.
My dad died yesterday. This is one of those facts I will never get used to. I practice thinking it so I can start believing it. Run it through my brain while pouring a drink in the kitchen. Change my shirt, remind myself. Wind a ball of yarn, end up crying. I’m still practicing writing it down. To see the basic statement of it in black and white, to write it down myself, is a challenge.
The last time my dad was able to speak to me, speak being a loose term since he wasn’t able to actually talk, but he was able to mouth words and write things down for us, he was looped on morphine and Atavan and a variety of other medications. He was in a deeply sappy mood, despite the ventilator and the tracheostomy tube. He was holding Mom’s hand and looking at her like a teenager in the first blush of new love. He kept mouthing the words ‘I love you,’ to her over and over. When he turned his head and saw me on the other side of the bed, he looked surprised, but happy, and he told me he loved me too.
In the 90s I stole a t-shirt from him. A navy blue PBS t-shirt for channel 56 WTVS in Detroit. I think I started out borrowing it because all my clothes were in the wash but I ended up keeping it. I always took it back with me whenever I went home. He would say, ‘Hey, I had a t-shirt just like that!’ And I would say, ‘Really, I got this one at the Valu Village in Highland Park. What a coincidence!’ And he would look at me suspiciously.
I’m wearing that shirt now. It’s gotten so thin that i can’t really wear it in public unless it’s appropriately layered. It’s still my favorite though. I’m glad I stole it.
There isn’t enough time in the world for me to tell you everything about my dad. There is no possible way to tell you what a pain in the ass he could be, how it drove me crazy that every time we ate out we had to wait for him to finish flirting with the waitresses before we could order a damn pizza, that it was best to leave him alone while he packed the trunk for vacation and you probably shouldn’t talk to him until you were at least 30 miles from home, too. And that despite being such a pain, he was also the funniest, sweetest best dad in the world. When he found me in the hospital after Jeremy and I had been in a car accident 2 Thanksgivings ago he just held my hand and let me cry and when I asked him to find Jeremy for me, he did it without question and let me know everything was okay. He told horrible jokes and mispronounced everything on purpose, he bought me Nancy Drew books every time he went away on a work trip. He could never remember my birthday, even though it was only 14 days after his, like wise, he was completely unable to remember how old I was. He said. He may have just been trying to annoy me.
He’s in the QRP Hall of Fame, which is, in case you were not as familiar as the rest of us with the inner workings of the HAM radio world, a pretty big fucking deal. He got a standing ovation when they announced this at Dayton, Mom says he even cried a little. I don’t care how cool your dad is, chances are he’s not in a Hall of Fame which means my dad is cooler.
He died of respiratory failure after getting pneumonia after having surgery on an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm they found years ago. The initial surgery went well. But the pneumonia turned into something called ARDS (they think, they’re still trying to confirm exactly what went wrong) and they had to put him on a ventilator and he was in a hospital for the last 5 weeks. When he was allowed to be awake he was in turns, hilarious, sappy and angry. We joked that most people probably think of him as being laid back and mellow, but this is all a front. My father was a tremendously impatient man. He liked to be in charge and he liked it when things were done his way. Whenever the nurses asked if they could give him a shot or take his blood for a sample, he would shake his head no. He did a lot of eye rolling in that miserable hospital bed, and he wrote us a lot of notes. He used morse code and basic hand gestures as well, to let us know what he wanted.
He was only 67 years old which was entirely too young. Mom told me yesterday that somehow she had decided she would have him till he was at least 73, she cam to this conclusion based on the age his parents were when they died. She had it worked out. And while 73 still sounds too young to me I would give you all my money and probably my cat too if you could work out a way for him to still be alive for 6 extra years.
His name is Henry. Everyone called him Hank unless he was in trouble. Then he was Henry. People here are always amazed that I have a dad named Hank. They ask if he’s a cowboy. He was born on April 5th, 1943 and he died surrounded by family and friends (who might as well be family) on November 13th, 2010.
I miss him tremendously.