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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dandelions for Dad - Part II

Part I can be found here. Keep in mind that the names have been changed and the passages in blue italics are "flashbacks" to childhood.


I still remember that fateful fall day. It was dark, wet, and stormy, a day when even the clouds hung low in their gloomy desperation. Mom went out to the maple tree in the front yard and smashed a bottle to pieces, in a symbolic act of rejection. Shortly afterwards, Daddy walked out carrying a suitcase. From then on we only saw Daddy on weekends. Some time later, after much ado, sound, and fury, not to mention court battled and children as pawns, Mommy and Daddy were "Divorced."


"I'll tellya, Josh was a great guy. He could really put 'em away. When I remember the times we used to drink together..."

Sometimes I would appraise the speaker, note the beer gut, and think, "Guess what, buddy, you're next on the list..."


When I was 10, Mom, Jacob, and I moved to Minnesota. Dad came to visit one Easter and when he left, I had to go to school, where I sat in my seat and fought to hold back the tears. I was completely unable to control myself. I told the teacher I didn't feel well and she let me go to the bathroom. Some time later, the kindly, grandmotherly school secretary came to check on me. "Are you going to upchuck?" she queried.

I laughed at the term, having never heard it before. I told her no, but that I still felt sick. She told me that when I felt a little better I could come see her in the office. So I did, and I "helped" her out for awhile with some probably meaningless things. After some time she asked if I felt better and invited me to go back to class. But Mrs. Brugger let me know that I could come visit her any time I wanted.

She never asked me what was going on, but in looking back, I know she knew that I needed some time, and that sometimes "sick" was a word that described a lot of things without going into detail.

About a year later, Daddy moved to a nearby suburb and then to Minneapolis. We were able to see him a lot more, usually on weekends, since that was the court order. he denied drinking whenever confronted but just the same, we knew what was going on. The proof was all there, but we didn't know what to do to stop it.


"Which one of you is the one who loves horses? Oh, I have a picture from when you were about [that] big, when your dad brought you over to go horseback riding!"

I had always loved horses, and when I was 12, Dad paid for me to have riding lessons for about a year, even though eh couldn't afford it. On my 16th birthday, we went to Canterbury Downs to watch the horse races. We joked around about the "Filly for a Fan" drawing that I entered. he said we would name the filly "Julie's Dream" after me.

Before the race he asked me if I wanted to drive home and offered me the keys. Not being naive, I took them. Whenever he went to place our bets, he didn't return until the beginning of the next race. By the end of the last race, Daddy was not exactly sober. I drove home.


"My, I remember when you were just a little girl!!" You must be about done with college now, Eh? You haven't' been up here for how long now? It's too bad that such sad circumstances brought you to Michigan..."


Little by little I began to get involved in more and more activities in school and church, making it "impossible" for me to visit Dad. When I was pressured by Mom and Jacob to go visit him, I would make excuses, talking about how busy I was. The truth was this: I just didn't want to deal with it. Daddy was still drinking, wouldn't admit it, and I didn't want to spend the time dealing with the problem if he wouldn't.

My Grandpa died when I was 14. Dad moved to Michigan to take care of Grandma and make sure she was getting along. It was hard to see him at all after that since we had limited time off from school and only one family car, which of course was needed by my mother to get to work.

I thought I didn't care. I pretty much wrote Daddy off as dead, killed by alcohol which had left only a shell of his former self. Whenever I spoke to him on the phone, his speech was slurred and he often drifted off in mid-sentence, seeming to forget what he was talking about. Every once in awhile Jacob and I would talk, and we began to predict how much time Dad had left. And we felt helpless because there was absolutely nothing we could do.


Dad came down for my High School graduation. I didn't get much time to spend with him - I had parties, a boyfriend, and endless other "important duties" imposing on my "valuable time," not to mention a severely bipolar mother who terrified me and insisted I meet a certain curfew, far different than the legal standards. Dad left town the day after graduation. He had to get back to Michigan. I was happy he had come, but apparently not happy enough.


Jacob went to Michigan about once or twice a year to visit Dad. I had different circumstances than he and was never able to go. We did keep in contact by phone, but little by little, our conversations grew shorter and further apart. Dad was always checking and re-checking my address, as if he feared I would just up and move on him, disappearing off the face of the earth. That's probably exactly what he did think. And that's almost exactly what I did - not physically, but emotionally, I abandoned my Daddy.

I spoke to Dad before I'd left for my semester in Mexico, gave him my address there and promised to write. I did write to him, but there were so many things I wanted to tell him in person so I couldn't put everything down. I collected postcards for him, knowing he would enjoy those. About a month before I returned to the U.S., Jacob told me that Dad wasn't doing well, and that I should be prepared to come back and travel to Michigan immediately. I was angry with him, believing him to be overreacting.

I returned on schedule and that night I called Dad to let him know. We didn't say much; Dad sounded tired and his speech was slurred. I didn't know if he was drunk, or if it was just the effects of long-term alcohol use on his brain. I suspected the latter. Jacob went to Michigan without me; after having a semester with no work, I had a lot of shifts to pick up in order to be able to pay for second semester. So Jacob called about every other day to give us the latest reports. he said that Dad was incontinent, and he had to make "vodka runs" to the store for him, and Grandmas was almost blind and seemed to have no idea what was going on with her son.

On Christmas Eve I called to talk to Dad. Jacob said that Dad's back hurt and he was unable to get out of bed. The next day, Christmas, was the same story. Jacob said that he was turning yellow and he could hardly move. He refused to go to a doctor, so Jacob went on acting as private nurse. He returned home on New Year's Day, 1995.

On January 3rd, he woke me up to inform me that Dad had actually risen to go downstairs, repeating, "St. Francis, St. Francis", the name of the local hospital. he collapsed, was taken to the hospital and never regained consciousness. He had a Do Not Resuscitate order and had indicated he also did not want kidney dialysis.

The hospital kept him comfortable and the doctor kept in close contact with Jacob, who had been granted the burden of Power of Attorney.

I went to work with tears in my eyes, resigned to what my intuition told me - that Dad would die that day and I'd never get a chance to say goodbye. I worked to keep my mind off the situation, but all evening I watched the clock, waiting for the message to come. All through my shift I dealt with other people's crises, keeping watch over suicidal kids, talking them down from the hallucinations, letting them vent about their abuse issues. But I couldn't stay at work forever, and at some point I knew I'd have to face my own ghosts. When I got home at midnight, Mom came out of her room.

"Your Aunt Brenda called at 10:30. Honey, your Dad died at 9:00. I'm very sorry."

I called Jacob at his college. We talked for awhile and then I spent the night crying and praying, going out of my mind, not knowing what to do or how to feel, regretting every word I had never said, regretting what few words I did sometimes say. The next day, just to keep busy, I drove down to school to move some thing into my dorm room. I informed the people at work that I would be unable to work the remainder of the week. I packed and prepared for the information regarding the funeral. We left for Michigan on the 5th, for the wake and funeral on the 6th.

Go to Part III, Final Chapter

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