Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Had a Dad...

Dad c. 1987, at the last occasion
I saw him in person.
The monkey cage hasn't been a fun place lately. Last month, it was my Grandma. Last week, my father lost his battle with lung cancer. I am deeply saddened.

If you've read last year's Father's Day post, you know that we didn't have the "typical" father/daughter relationship. My dad battled some pretty vicious demons during his early adulthood. Mix those demons with alcohol and you've got a pretty combustive combination. As a child, I was mostly afraid of him. We never knew what might set him off, and it wasn't pretty when he exploded. I was only eleven when my parents split. A few months later he left the east coast and moved to Hawaii.

So there was a lot of distance between us, both geographically and emotionally. At one point, we had pretty much disowned each other. We reconnected when I was a young adult myself. The distance between us, and some pretty thick emotional scar tissue, made it difficult for us to forge a really close relationship. I don't know if things would have been different had we been closer geographically... maybe, maybe not... there was a lot of water under the bridge. But we managed to leave the past in the past, and built something of a new relationship that allowed us to at least get to know each other, as people, a little better. And for that I'm truly thankful.

As a person, my dad was an amazing man. He was one of the most intelligent people you could ever hope to meet. As I mentioned in that Father's Day post, he had photographic memory and genius-level IQ. He was also funny, and tough, and loyal to his friends. He was a leader, and accomplished many wonderful things for his community. I think as he got older, he mellowed. Maybe because he finally got his demons under control? I'd like to think so. The warmer, softer side of him was much more apparent. Living in a beautiful tropical paradise like Hawaii may have helped too. And I really think that his wife, the sweet Miss C, was a positive and calming influence on him.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2010, we all held our breaths. Rounds of chemo and radiation followed. He did remarkably well! (There's that Scottish stubborn tenacity!) The tumors had shrunk and appeared to be stable, and the prognosis was good. Just this past November, all the docs seemed to think treatment was successful. And then my dad started having problems, particularly losing strength in his legs. At first, he thought it was lingering effects of the chemo and radiation. Unfortunately, in March, an MRI showed a couple brain lesions. The type of lung cancer he had is apparently notorious for spreading to the brain. So just when we thought he'd beaten it and would soon be back to normal, that fucking cancer sneaked back in through another entrance. (And there's this blog's first F-bomb... cancer deserves it.)

Dad and Miss C on a happy day in 2003.
He had a gamma-knife procedure on March 14th. The day after, he couldn't even stand. He was admitted to an inpatient rehab facility on March 20th in the hopes that he could regain some of his strength. From what Miss C tells me, Dad got more and more discouraged, and eventually it seemed like he gave up. He was in a lot of pain and not making much progress.

He was admitted to a hospice facility on April 20th. I was able to speak with him briefly that weekend. It was the first time in quite a while that we'd talked on the phone. We had e-mailed each other several times a week for years and enjoyed a friendly rapport, but phone conversations were rare... The time difference made calls difficult, but also for me (and maybe for him as well), they just seemed a little awkward and stiff. For some reason, it seemed harder to overcome the distance between us verbally. We didn't seem to have that problem when communicating via e-mail.

During our conversation, I wondered to myself if that would be the last time I'd get to speak to him. I didn't think it would be... I thought he had at least a little more time left. I'm so thankful that I had that opportunity to talk to him one last time. It meant even more to me than I thought it would.

I asked him if there was anything I could send him to enjoy while he was there in hospice.
 He said, "Yeah, Glenfiddich."
"Are you allowed to have that there?" I asked.
"I'm the king here... I can have anything I want!" was his reply.
I laughed and told him I'd see what I could do.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, Dad?" I asked.
He said, "Just make me proud."

I know he was proud of me. After we reconnected twenty-some-odd years ago, he often told me he was. And I know we loved each other in our own dysfunctional way, even if it WAS at somewhat of a distance. I'm glad he was proud of me, and I'm very proud to be his daughter.

Miss C tells me that she's thinking of having just a very small memorial service with close friends and family at the Buddhist temple her mother belonged to. She says Dad really liked that temple, and that he had come to appreciate many of the aspects of Buddhism, though not necessarily as a religion (just as I have... go figure!).  So I think he'd really like that.

Sadly, I won't be able to attend. While the geographic distance between us may have made things a little more comfortable in the past, right now I wish I was close enough to be there. When he seemed to have beaten the cancer back in November, I thought I'd try and save up and maybe plan to finally get out there in the next couple years for a visit with him, and spend a few days getting to know him a little better in person. I'm truly sorry that I won't get that opportunity. Some day, though, I'll make it out there. I'd like to finally meet Miss C in person, and see the place that Dad called home for over 30 years.

For now, I think I'll go and get myself a bottle of Glenfiddich. When his memorial service is happening in Hawaii, I'll pause whatever I'm doing here and toast his memory. I really don't like Scotch (or any whiskey for that matter), but I'll drink it anyway in honor of my dad. I have a feeling that with Scotch... just as in our relationship... once you get past the bitterness, there's a pleasant warmth to enjoy.

Mahalo, Dad.
A hui kaua.


  1. My dear friend, I am so sorry for your loss. Once again, you have managed to capture your thoughts and feelings in such a touching way. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Enjoy that Glenfiddich - if we had some, we'd raise a glass as well.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss ... the recent loss of your dad and the historic one as well. Those divides are so hard to overcome. I admire your outlook and your ability to mend what was mendable. You have an incredible knack for writing. Your ability to get your readers to feel what you feel is amazing. Yes, I'm reaching for a tissue. Your dad has every right to be proud! Please keep us updated on the memorial. I, too, will raise a glass of Glenfiddich in his/your honor. You're in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Jen, you are a beautiful writer and you certainly have your dad's eyes! I am sorry for your loss but your gain in getting some good memories recently. Hugs and hugs coming to ya!

  4. My dad passed away from stomach cancer on January 8th. I hadn't seen him in over 16 years. I was able to talk to him a few times on the phone after his diagnosis, and though he didn't ask for forgiveness, I gave it to him.

    My heart aches for the relationship we didn't have, the time we didn't spend together, the tragedy and disfunction that defined our shared history, but most of all, it aches because I no longer have a dad. And like you, I still am proud of his accomplishments, proud of his successes, and proud to be his daughter.

    My deepest condolences to you, my dear. And I'm glad you've found your peace in who he was and in your relationship.