I wanted to pay my last respects to a man whose life inspired me to think differently. Â My uncle Bob was a positive man and played a special and important role in my mom’s life. Â I had no good excuse to miss another family funeral, so I made the six-hour trek to say good-bye to a family member and friend. Â It felt like the right thing to do.
When I arrived at my parentâ€™s home, I noticed my dad’s irritability. I hadn’t seen this side of him since he had “found God” a year or so ago. Â He was learning to be at peace with himself and his life, but I found him to be agitated and obsessively concerned about the welfare of my mom. Â While my sister and brother and I chatted in their kitchen, my mom took their Yorkshire Terriers outside to “take care of business.” Â It was a frigid evening and when my father realized she was outside with the dogs, he created a dramatic scene about her falling on the ice, hitting her head, and freezing to death in the bitter cold. Â I don’t remember if in his story the little dogs froze, too, but in the time it took him to swell the story, dress for the outdoors, and head out to investigate, my mother, lucky for us, re-entered the house and calmed his fears.
My dad has always been a dramatic man. Â Never in my life can I recall him being late. Â If he says he’ll be there at six, you can bet he’ll be there at 5:45. As a child, if we went to the theater, my popcorn bucket was empty long before the previews began. Â If the game started at five, I generally had time to catch a nap on the bleachers while the stadium maintenance folks turned on the lights and heated up the building.
My father takes great pride in this attribute and I’ve come to appreciate that his word means something in his world. I have been conditioned to be ready long before it is critically necessary to be so, particularly when my father is involved in the plan.
When my dad told me we needed to leave by 8:45, I made a mental note to be ready by 8:15. Â I thought it over-kill to leave that early for a destination 20 minutes away, but remembered my father’s flair for extreme punctuality. As my morning coffee kicked in, I noted the time on the clock: 8:30. It promised to be a long morning filled with final goodbyes, Catholic mass, a burial procession, and a luncheon, so I thought it best to “take care of business” before morning turned to afternoon.
At 8:32, my father yelled that it was time to go. Â I was still “going” and yelled this fact back. Â At 8:36, my mother, now irate, screamed that dad was in the car and we had to leave right now. I was washing my hands and moving as quickly as I could. Â When I got in the car at 8:40, I announced with irritation that I was in the bathroom and it was not yet 8:45. Â This point didn’t matter because he proceeded to tell me that I should learn to command this function.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, my father had morphed into dramatic mode and elaborated on his ability to poop on demand. Apparently he had acquired this skill when he was driving truck when us kids were young. Â Exasperated, I demanded an explanation about the relevancy of this skill as it related to me. Â Using his coveted trucker terms, I yelled to him that learning to “drop a load” was not genetic and I could hardly believe he thought it appropriate, let alone sane, to be having the conversation on the way to a family funeral. Â The argument escalated and by the time we arrived at the funeral home at 9:03, I had been exiled from the vehicle. I was told I would have to find another way to the mass. Happily, I told him. I’d rather walk and freeze in the bitter cold like the drama of his previous story, than ride with a person whose sensibilities were in question.
When my sister arrived, she could see there was tension and despair. Â I told her about the fight and the crazy man we were fortunate to call father.Â I’m not proud that I refueled the feud or that I labeled another human harshly, but I never expected to be flipped the bird by my dad at a family funeral. Seeing that, I excused myself to a private place where I proceeded to sob. Â I realized that no matter how old or young, our parents have the ability to impact our hearts in unique ways and places reserved especially for them. This is both blessing and curse.
On my long drive back home, I thought about the preciousness of my son and how fragile life has become. Â I think that frailty has become evident to my father, particularly with the tremendous losses he and my mom have recently faced. Â I think about the patterns and thoughts we hold sacred and look at how they impact our lives.
My father and I have reconciled and made amends, but the magnitude of that fight and what it means to the interactions of my everyday life have not left me. Â I continue to struggle with the messages I’ve been telling myself for years, but as I work through the clutter, I am compelled to believe my dad and I are more alike than different.
The masks we wear are perhaps not to frighten others, but to hide our own fears.