What woke me was a bad dream, metallic form tumbling end over end, driven by provoking gusts, tumbling away from me even as I chase after it. I close the distance, sparks bursting out like fireworks, flames spraying towards me as I walk towards it unharmed, attempting to reach its precious cargo before it's immolated. But in my dream, there is nothing left but ash, and I stand there in a halo of fire that smells of burning flesh, slapping at the small and blooming holes of fire that are erupting on my shirt like crimson flowers sprung from my heart. There's no going back to sleep after that. Days like this you need the extra big bowl of Corn Pops. But it's just a dream, and now I have to go, as I have my own things to protect
I look out the window, the landscape is flat, the shadowed forms of the city in the distance rising out of the dawn. There are no mountains, and no more of the thick cloud cover that has been the sky for the last couple of weeks, clouds hanging like sodden towels on the peaks of buildings, making distance and form deceptive. I'm either in Chicago or Oz, one of the two.
I won't be out West again for a couple more months, airfares not being cheap, but I try and visit for all the important occasions. But I talk to him every day, calling before his breakfast and at 7 pm each and every day no matter what is going on in my life as those are the times he wants to hear my voice. I didn't tell him I had to quit my dream job of 15 years to make those calls happen on schedule, but it doesn't matter as I still have a job, and I get to hear his voice every day.
It doesn't matter how old I get, I'm his little girl and he worries about me out in the world. He worries about me even more lately, wanting to make sure before he leaves, that I'm happy and safe. Dad is still going as hard as he can, despite cancer, and a small stroke. Hard to believe he turned 97 just a couple of days ago.
Did I always follow his example? In a word. NO. Over the years I've been headstrong and stubborn and foolish and more than once selfish and thoughtless. But he has always stood by me, even if in the vagrancy of foolish dreams and adrenaline, I have disappointed him. Still, I tried to learn from his examples. I still do.
One thing he was particularly proud of was their newspaper recycling fund-raising program, which provided income for these programs but not without a lot of hard, volunteer work. The shining marker of that program was a Newspaper Recycling Building built to further expand on that community project. The members constructed it themselves, husbands and fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, laboring in cold and rain, hot and sun, often at the expense of their own sleep. In November 2000, newly constructed, vandals burned it to the ground,
There was nothing left, but a few support timbers lined up in stark order like gravestones at a military service. The men, my father, simply stood there stunned, as water dripped from the remains, strips of clouds like bayonets against the sky. A lot of work went into it, all volunteer and many of them in their 60's and 70's. You would have expected my Dad to storm and rage against a senseless act of destruction. But he didn't, though I was not so naive that I didn't miss the simmering outrage within which lives a betrayal too intense and inert to ever be articulated.
I read somewhere that heartache is to a noble what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it. So true and words my Dad lived by. From him I have learned that whatever terrible things may happen to us, there is only one thing that allows them to permanently damage our core self, and that is continued belief in them. Dad's lived these beliefs.
He's survived cancer and a small stroke, buried two beloved wives, married to them over 60 years. He's buried two children. He held my hand during 34 hours in natural childbirth, when my child's father abandoned me, and swept me away to home after I handed her over to her adoptive parents, listening to me cry myself to sleep for months. having lost both a Mom and a baby in a span of a year. I was a teen, barely out of high school and he never judged, never said he was disappointed in me, never said I told you so, for a choice in first loves that he had warned was going to be a bad one.
He taught me forgiveness and compassion
I've watched him sit a vigil at his second wife's bedside that lasted days, sleeping only in naps in a chair, never letting go of her hand. He was simply there, a constant presence next to her slender, silent form, from which weariness and exertion had yet to depart, holding her, never doubting the actuality of his faith, guarding with sharp and unremitting alertness those minutes that he knows are fleeting.
I watched him as my stepmom left us. He touched the streak of white in her hair as lightning cleaved clear air and a gentle rain fell from cloudless skies, as if their moments together, as brief as they may have been, lingered there in a flash of light and tears, though breath itself had ceased.
That new recycling building still stands proudly today, a testament to the faith of children and the loving example of fathers.
In the morning it will be time to give my Dad another call. For he too will be waking up in a lonely bed, in these days past a birthday celebration, perhaps wondering where he is. I can picture him sitting in his recliner in the family room, Bible and coffee mug close at hand, his small frame illuminated by the early morning light, framed by ancient glass that bore light and witness to many a happy memory.
We will pour ourselves a bowl of Corn Pops and have our morning chat, while I tell him how very proud I am, that he chose to be my father, through it all. - Brigid