Friday, May 04, 2012

To my dad

My dad passed away this week.

There are obviously no words for this, especially when you're talking about a guy who is larger than life, like my dad.  He is the life of every party and has the best taste in art, music, and humor.  There was not a day I spent with him that he did not make me laugh, and that includes the time he was very sick and in the hospital.

I wanted to write a post about the amazing things he was able to accomplish during his time here.  It is almost as if he had a bucket list and was silently checking items off; he did practically everything he ever wanted to do, and I think that is something that most people cannot say.

Dad went to a truly amazing list of concerts back in his day.  Jethro Tull, The Who, Cream - you name it, he probably saw it.  One of the songs on Frank Zappa's live album, "Roxy and Elsewhere," is a concert that he attended.  He brought me to my first concert, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, when I was 9 years old.  And in case anyone is wondering what his favorite song is, given his all-consuming love of music, I can tell you that it is "Magic Bus" off of The Who's "Live at Leeds."

The other thing I realized is that Dad got to own his dream car, and several of them, in fact - late 1960s Camaros.  He had at least one 1967 and one 1968, and one of them was his favorite, with beautiful racing tires and glossy paint.  He owned another convertible Camaro until Michelle and I were kids, and he'd take us for rides in Pilcher Park with the top down.

One of the biggest fixtures in his life, and one of his proudest accomplishments, was being in a bunch of bands, the longest-running of which was, of course, the Orbit Cookies.  He loved being a drummer and tinkering around in the basement with his sound equipment.  Aside from having to pack up his drum kit in his van for all of his shows, he loved playing out.  (And we loved going to see him play.)

My family was big on having a yearly vacation when I was growing up, and we got to see and do some really cool things.  One of the things my dad always wanted to do was go on a hard hat tour of the Hoover Dam, and we did it when I was in high school.  (Then he watched my sister and I butt heads with said hard hats in the parking lot, commenting on how we are so weird, we must be his kids.)

We went camping in Colorado, biking across the Golden Gate bridge, did Maid of the Mists at Niagara Falls, went to Disney World (twice), went fishing in Minnesota (probably his favorite), and a cruise to Alaska where he got to take a train ride on the Scagway rail.  He even got to Europe to visit me when I was studying abroad, and although he had some discomfort with not knowing the language, he was really glad to see Paris, Salzburg, and the salt mines in the Salzkammergut.

Speaking of travel, he also went on a trip to Burning Man with his friend Pete in 2005, after his first bout with leukemia.  I had not even known that he wanted to do that, and he brought some of his artwork out there and saw the craziness.  I'm not sure I want to follow in his footsteps with this one, but I'm glad he got to go, especially with Pete.

A few years ago, my mom surprised him with birthday tickets for a hot air balloon ride, which is another thing he always wanted to do.  He had a blast.

His personal creativity is not limited only to music.  He has a great love for the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and we took him on a bunch of tours, including Taliesin and the Heurtley House last year.  (Some photos from the Taliesin trip are here.)  He has done some really cool metal sculptures and stained glass based on Wright's art glass designs.

He loves modern art and metal sculpture, and he made many "junk" sculpture pieces out of spoons, wires, tools, etc.  He made a scorpion, a dragonfly, two dinosaurs, flowers, that thing from the Led Zeppelin album cover, a sphere of interconnected metal rings, two two-foot dream catchers, and many other geometric designs.  Oh, and some kind of space chicken with molds of his own teeth.  (You can't make this stuff up; my dad is weird.)

The scorpion

I don't want to be self-centered here, but I would like to think that his proudest accomplishment on his "I didn't know I was completing my bucket list" bucket list was having kids.  And not just any kids, but two daughters - who would have thought that my dad would have enjoyed so much estrogen in the house?

My dad can be proud that my sister and I share so many of his values.  We both love music and art (me more than Chelle), we like tinkering and fixing things (Chelle more than me), and we are independent, self-reliant individuals. But he is probably most proud that we both turned out to be so smart and funny.  (Again, not trying to toot my own horn here, but it is true.)

He said all the time that Michelle, Mom, and I (and later Dave) are the funniest people he knows, and that we are his best friends.  He got to see me and Michelle grow up, graduate from college, and he got to walk me down the aisle.  He told us all the time how proud he is of us, and recently he told Dave that even though he was worried, at first, about me marrying a jobless English major, Dave has "turned out all right."  Dave said he is pretty proud of that accolade.

At the bottom of this blog page, I have long displayed the following quote:  "The measure of life is not its span but the use made of it."  Dad was only 57, and most people (myself included) would say that we did not have enough time with him.  But in many ways, we are luckier than it would seem at the moment.  He had an extremely full life and even though he could be grumpy, I believe he was actually a pretty happy person.  As I have already said, he accomplished so much.  Most people with his form of leukemia do not make it to 5 years past diagnosis, but he made it over 7.  And as we learned this week with the tragic loss of Dave's best friend from West Virginia, some people never make it to marriage or having kids.  My dad did it all, and did not leave very much undone or unsaid.

More than the loss of any other person in my life, I feel that my dad is not really gone.  He is still here.  He is in the glass panels of Frank Lloyd Wright homes; he is relaxing by a lake with a fishing pole; he is drumming on his steering wheel; he is belly-laughing about bad science fiction movies and Firesign Theatre; he is tinkering in his garage; he is in the triumphant wails of a really great drum solo.

In the words of Tommy Lee Jones in one of Dad's favorite movies, "Men in Black":
"No, Elvis is not dead, he just went home."

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