Yeah, I am a couple days past due on this one. Put the tasers on stun, and shoot me.
Part of me is so in awe of this concept, of the power of Dad, that it took me a little extra time to process it, and write it.
I started reading a biography of Stan Lee, the iconic comic writer who put Marvel Comics on the map with his creation of the Fantastic Four, and many others. Superheroes. With real life issues and problems. And it hit me. I grew up with my very own Superhero. Dad.
Jump cut to Father’s Day 2017. Dad is 85. He is losing weight. He is stumbling. He is failing. He wants to go to Milwaukee to a party for some cousins. I fly into Chicago for a long weekend with him. Dad is hunched over. His once 185 lb frame is now scaling 130.
I pull into the driveway and knock on the door with my carry on. I encircle him in my arms. Although I have been coming in often to be with him over the past two or three years, he wants to set some time aside. To talk.
We go out for pancakes. He nibbles. I wolf. He wants to know how I am after my divorce. But with Dad, there are no yes or no answers. The questions probe, they go deep, they sear into me. What are you holding on people? How do you purge the anger? What good is walking around with the rage doing you? How is it affecting your kids? How does it serve you? What are you hiding from?
I do my best to articulate. I reach inside and throw up whatever I can reach. Each answer leads to a new question. These are questions of love. Of concern. Of tenderness. And then he begins to ask about the business and company I built and sold. About how I balanced the pride in the accomplishment of what I did against the way I sometimes acted toward our employees.
I ate three large pancakes that meal, and yet somehow I feel ten pounds lighter.
The next day, we prepare to drive to Milwaukee. From his home in the Northern Chicago suburbs, it is about a ninety minute drive. Carefully, I strap him in the car. He is frail. He is excited to go. I think about the driving trips we took when I was young. He would strap my sister and I into the backseat of his car, and we would take off for two weeks. Usually to the mountains. We had no idea what we would see. But he was our Superhero. We were along for the ride, trusting our Dad would deliver us safely, and take care of us.
He is still my Superhero, but today, it is my turn to take care of him, deliver him to safety.
We drive over the border of Wisconsin. I pull into the Mars Cheese Castle. I tell Dad he will love this. Hundreds of samples of cheese and sausage await us. We have fistfuls of toothpicks. Dad has a big smile on his face. And yet, he is unsteady. I have to stay close to him, should he begin to fall. He gets in line to buy some items to bring home to his wife. He walks triumphantly to the car. I strap him in carefully.
We get to the party on the Northern suburb of Milwaukee. Dad sees some childhood cousins. I see the concern on their faces of his appearance. But he talks with them, catches up, shares some memories. And then he’s tired. Time to go.
We begin the drive back. Dad has never really shared his story with me. How he started his accounting firm. How he became successful. I start asking him questions now. I want to know this.
He is modest. Doesn’t want to talk about his journey. And then, it begins to pour out. He was married, had just become a father. He was in a nowhere job, with no money, and little future. He met a man one day waiting for the bus. They talked. They saw each other a second time. The man offered to bring Dad in as a partner with his brother in law. The practice had virtually no business. Dad agreed.
The first tax season the brother in law suffered a heart attack. Fell over dead.
Dad went into hyper drive. A Superhero. He began bringing business in, growing the firm. He was sure he would fail, and yet, he reached down each time for his superpowers. He brought more people on, took on more partners. Building, innovating. Trusting himself, his gut. Connecting.
I asked more questions. Not as skillfully as he would. But he talked the whole ride home. I had a swelling pride as I listened. This wizened, weakened old man who was my Superhero. I was taking care of him now. His last ride.
We spent our last Father’s Day together. There had been Father’s Days that were more fun, more laughs, more active. But this one was the most poignant.
I flew home Father’s Day. I saw him again in mid-August on a drive through Chicago, and he had a birthday party late that month. His last. I knew it. He knew it, too.
Mid-September he took a fall. Ended up in the hospital. I came in. I knew it was the end. He was in and out of lucidity. He lasted about four days.
I see him now. When redbirds land on the tree in my back yard, and look toward my house, I feel that it is him. When I am wrestling with a tough situation, or a confrontation, I pose the question to him. Superheroes are human. Thank you, Dad, for being mine.
Happy Father's Dad. Thanks a million for being mine!