An old friend was talking about something in his life that caused him to change the way he had been thinking about things. I know a lot of people who are doing that, re-thinking stuff that had been settled long ago, so they thought, back in the days when up was up, right was right and life was rather more straight forward, the ground more firm beneath one’s feet.
Is it ever?
My old friend’s short explanation of this “circumstance” caused him at the end to quote His Holiness, who may be remembered more for this than anything else he says or does: “Who am I to judge?”
Now, as I round the clubhouse turn in this long race things which my old friend was speaking about come to my mind from time to time; things present and things past; things long with me which I begin to recognize have had quite a bit to do with my having been the person I have been. A lot of those things have to do with my family and me. One of them concerns my father. I guess because I am a father, too, it stands out, bolder each year.
Who is anyone of us to judge, really, in a situation like this:
My father, may he rest in peace, was an only child. Because his father was a seafarer, and his mother worked in places far from home, my father spent a lot of time living as a boarder in the homes of relatives. Years after he died I learned that they, his aunts and uncles and cousins, referred to him as Poor Eddie. He died of a combination of throat cancer and alcoholism after more than 20 years of his own…and his family’s..”long day’s journey”. And, after that event, for not a few years I wondered, from time to time, whether or not I was headed in the same direction.
Thinking about what my friend said about his thought provoking “circumstance”, my father’s life, and especially the last few months of it, was the first thing that popped into my head. It wasn’t perhaps, on point, as the saying goes, but it was what came to mind.
I remember, when I was about 12, my mother asking the three of us whether or not she should leave, just take us and go. My father would have been just short of forty, then, and had only 17 years left; and things had been going bad, really bad, for about five years. I remember where we were; standing in the hallway of our apartment on the ground floor, in the rear of a six story walk-up in the Bronx. It was a run down place, used, used too much and not well cared for, a neglected beaten dog kind of place. Mom was getting to look like that, too. We all cried and begged her not to do it, “We love him,” we said. Well, she did as we asked, and took to drinking herself.
The years passed.
He was in a hospice run by the Hawthorn Dominicans near the East River, not too far from the Brooklyn Bridge. The priest who’d baptized my son had arranged that for me, for us all, thank God. We brought my mother to see him shortly before he died, but once through the door she demurred. “I can’t see him,” she said. “I won’t be able to see him as he is. I love him too much.”
And so, we took her home. He died shortly after; a week, two, I can’t remember. But, the day before he died I visited him. It took a while for me to get him to come around enough to respond. I said, “I love you, Dad.” “I love you, too,” he answered and then was lost to me. They were the last words we spoke to each other.
I’ve thought about my mother’s non-visit and my own last visit to my father a lot over the last 45 years, her last words about him, and the last words Dad and I spoke to each other, and wondered what really was going on.
One of the “takeaways” from it that I’ve made a part of my prayers for both of them goes like this: God’s like Mom when she said that she didn’t want to see him like he was, wasted and dying from his “problem” and all the trouble it caused; not the man she loved, lying “in sin” and its effects. He loved Dad too much to want that meeting to take place.
And me and Dad? God’s like me when I finally can contact him, bring him around to look at me standing at his bedside, and hear me say, “I love you.” Despite the fact that your behavior for the past many years broke my heart, I love you, and I’ll always love you. Despite the fact that most of what you’ve been doing is wrong and selfish, I love you and I’ll always love you. Hear me. Wake up and listen.
And Dad? He’s Dad waiting to hear he’s loved, (and to be healed?), who when he does can say, “I love you, too.” And die, yet live.
Well, that’s my story.
PS: I know, because he was where he was, that he received the Last Rites. I still pray for him, though, and hope for him.