(This is edited and reprinted from a Facebook note I wrote in April, 2009)
Today’s not his birthday, but it is Father’s Day and it’s another day without my Dad. He’s been gone 954 days now and everywhere I look, I find him.
I see him in his sweat stained golf hat, walking his daily two miles on the sidewalk. I see him at the gas station filling up his tank, or at the library where he leans on his favorite diamond willow cane for support. What a topic of conversation that cane was. Wherever we went, someone always stopped him to ask about it. He’d love to tell about how his son from Alaska bought it for him.
Dad was a survivor. He took what life dealt him and he tried to make the best of it. He never complained much, even though his last few years I knew he wasn’t very happy. Life in Eugene was lonely for him. We moved him from his California home because safety was an issue, we worried he might fall or hurt himself living alone. I wonder, is it better to leave an elderly person in their comfort zone where they might have good friends to call on, or move them to an unknown city where they have family? In retrospect, I’m not sure we should’ve moved him. I think he was more alone in Eugene.
Once Dad moved, he never really ventured out to make new friends. I was his sole companion. I took him shopping and to his doctor’s appointments. We’d buy mochas, which he absolutely loved. I just know Dad would’ve been a Starbucks junkie if they were around in his heyday. My father was great at teaching me things when I was younger. He taught me how to ride my two-wheeler, how to play tennis and ski, and one of my favorite pastimes, chess.
When he lived in California, we’d play chess by email. We had played for years this way, and even though after the move to Oregon, he lived only 3 blocks away, we still continued our online games. It gave him something to look forward to. He’d call me twice a day with, “Have you made a move yet?” It would take us about two weeks to finish a game. We played an average of 25 games a year, and we kept a tally of wins and losses. We were both very competitive. He’d crush me when we first started, I was lucky to win 5 games in a year’s time, but as he aged, his mind just couldn’t quite keep up. I was winning nearly all the games by the time we decided to quit. He was so upset, thinking he was “slipping.” I would try to make him feel better, telling him that he’d taught me well, and that I was just improving, which was in part true, but he was slipping. Near the end, I would even try to let him win, and if you know anything about me, this was against every cutthroat bone in my body. I think I wanted him to beat me as much as he wanted to, just so I didn’t have to face the fact that his brain wasn’t working as well as it used to.
Golf was another one of his passions. When he moved to Eugene, I decided to take up the game. Again, he was teaching me. He bought me my first set of clubs. I think he was really excited to share this sport with me. He was very patient as I flailed away usually landing in the sand trap. He would just smile and say, “You loved to play in the sand as a little girl, and you still like to play in it.” His golf game really suffered too, as he aged. We’d play the short par 3 course and he would use his driver, wondering why he couldn’t hit the ball very far. I knew it was time he thought about quitting the game when he struggled to hold his balance. He’d teeter back and forth when getting ready to address the ball, I was worried he’d fall down.
I can honestly say, playing golf with my Dad provided many good memories and also a few chuckles. I’ll never forget the day we set out to play and a nice gentleman stopped me and said, “You might want to check your Dad’s shoes… he’s has two different pair on and they’re both on the wrong foot.” Oh Dad. When I pointed this out, he just said, “Oh nuts! How’d I do that?” He was 88, and although he still had the desire, his body and mind just couldn’t keep up. That’s how he did that. I loved him for his effort and for all he taught me.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. I miss you. I think I’ll go hit a bucket of balls.