Bah. Am at the stage where there are dads popping up everywhere1. Good dads, bad dads, well dads, unwell dads. Last week my husband watched an episode of House in which there was a dying dad saying farewell to his wife and son through a glass wall (he was infectious). And my parents have been in my dreams the last two nghts – not in a bad way, just that I was back in their house.

I’m sure there are no more dads being discussed than would be normal; I’m just feeling each mention of one in my solar plexus. And yet I don’t want people to stop mentioning dads, because that would suck too. No way out but through, I guess.

I’m worried about whether he’ll even last until I get there next week. Or go while I’m there, which would suck because my brother will be away that week. Or, on the contrary, hang on being barely responsive until the Medicaid coverage runs out – his care is already pretty expensive. No good options here – at least, none that wouldn’t require a time machine and years of intervention.

And that’s part of it too, probably. I’m still pretty mad at him for smoking all those years. (I know smokers who would be enraged that I’d even claim that smoking has hurt him, that the figures about the risks are for a population and you can’t judge their effect on individual smokers. To that I say bullshit – it’s true that cigarettes weren’t the only factor, but I’m certain they were one big one.) He smoked from age 13 until he finally quit somewhere in his 70s, a pack or two a day of unfiltered Luckies. In the early days I know no one knew better, but that hasn’t been true for at least the last forty years. He’d say that it was one of his few pleasures, and he didn’t really care if it took years off his life, he’d rather have the enjpyment of his cigarettes. Well, he’s 77 (will be 78 if he makes it to the middle of June) so I guess they didn’t take years off his life, but though it may be cliched, they did take life out of his years. From his first stroke in his 40s, he’s been diminishing and in the last decade or decade and a half he’s been far from the man he was. I think he expected he’d just keel over one day and it would all nbe done quickly not this horrible decline. And yes, there are factors of genetics and toxic workplaces with bad ergonomics, lack of proper exercise or else a too-strenuous job, stress, bad diet and trauma from his childhood, but the man has a laundry list of ailments, finishing with the lung cancer that has metastasized and is killing him. I think that the cigarettes weakened him overall, leading to or worsening many of his illnesses, and I do not think the lung cancer is coincidental.

(And it really bothers me that my brother and SIL haven’t completely quit yet, though at least they snoke a lot less – my brother “vapes” – and refrain from exposing their son or anyone else to second-hand smoke. This is one reason I am venting here and not in front of them.)

While I’m in brutal-honesty mode, my brother wrote a beautiful tribute to Dad on Facebook, whose final paragraph is:

And I’m taking a moment to reflect and think good thoughts of that crooked-smiled fatherless boy who found unconditional love in the arms and hearts of the best foster family ever– who were and are and always will be his REAL parents.

He found a family, then founded a family based on ther example, and worked like a dog to ensure he could provide like a true family man. He stretched time in ways I cannot father to carve out time past his fourteen-hour workdays to make and spend time with his kids. There he was, smiling at the world yet at the same time constantly worried that he somehow wasn’t there enough for us.

It’s beautiful, but from my perspective it’s only partly true – not lying, but only a partial picture. Fact is he was fatherless and motherless not because his parents were dead but because when they got divorced neither cared enough to keep him. Yet they wouldn’t let him be adopted by anyone else. That extended foster family was and is just as wonderful as my brother says. But the thing is that they weren’t a happy-ever-after for Dad; because of the twisted ways the foster system then worked and because he couldn’t be adopted, he wasn’t allowed to stay with them for more than a year at a time. He was placed with other foster “parents”, some of whom were abusive; he’d run away and go back to the family who had been kind to him. He had a good example in them, but they didn’t bring him up entirely because they weren’t allowed to.

The other thing is that bit about carving time to spend with us. The fourteen-hour workdays are probably true; at least until I was 8 or 9 he had an hour or hour and a half commute and he was gone from before I got up to after I went to bed. I think it got better when he changed jobs and worked at a place that was closer. He also had a few periods of layoffs, which half-killed him (and did directly cause his first bad bipolar break) because he did believe that a true family man provides for his own. But as for spending time with us? I can’t say I remember him making great efforts, or worrying much about it. That wasn’t considered what family men needed to do, in the era he’d grown up in. It may have been more true for my brother; Dad also had some ideas about what sons needed vs daughters. And it is true that he’d take me to play pinball now and then, so it’s possibly my memories / little-kid perception at fault. I’m not criticizing Dad, or not much; he was slow to change with the times, but he tried hard to do the things he believed a good man should do. And I’m not criticizing my brother; he believes what he needs to believe, and it’s entirely possible it’s my perceptions that were off.

In my view, the central fact of Dad’s life was work. This is the poem that’s always reminded me of him, though I have excised the whole middle section, which doesn’t really apply. (Dad was never stupid, wasn’t a manual laborer and did at least get to have a wife and family, lucky for us.)

Song of the Wage-Slave
by Robert Service

When the long, long day is over, and the Big Boss gives me my pay,
I hope that it won’t be hell-fire, as some of the parsons say.
And I hope that it won’t be heaven, with some of the parsons I’ve met —
All I want is just quiet, just to rest and forget.
Look at my face, toil-furrowed; look at my calloused hands;
Master, I’ve done Thy bidding, wrought in Thy many lands —
Wrought for the little masters, big-bellied they be, and rich;
I’ve done their desire for a daily hire, and I die like a dog in a ditch.
I have used the strength Thou hast given, Thou knowest I did not shirk;
Threescore years of labor — Thine be the long day’s work.
And now, Big Master, I’m broken and bent and twisted and scarred,
But I’ve held my job, and Thou knowest, and Thou wilt not judge me hard.
Well, ’tis Thy world, and Thou knowest. I blaspheme and my ways be rude;
But I’ve lived my life as I found it, and I’ve done my best to be good;

Master, I’ve filled my contract, wrought in Thy many lands;
Not by my sins wilt Thou judge me, but by the work of my hands.
Master, I’ve done Thy bidding, and the light is low in the west,
And the long, long shift is over … Master, I’ve earned it — Rest