Thursday, September 15, 2011

Remembering Dads and Dogs

Of Dads...
It’s my dad’s 100th birthday on September 15, 2011. No he’s not one of the new era of Japanese centurions who are in the press today. He actually passed in 1991 so he died just short of his 80th birthday. That would make ME how old now? 80? 70? 60? Let’s just skip 50 and tell you that I’m 41. So from early on in my life I had to contend with the notion that my dad probably wouldn’t live to see me reach certain milestones in life. He saw me through little league, soccer, buying my first car, high school graduation, pledging a fraternity and that’s about it. Now I’m not trying to belittle the time we had together, but let’s face it, not meeting your son’s wife or grandkids is kind of sad. In fact, my kids have never known met their own grandfathers- on either side- as my wife’s dad passed before we were married. And I never got to meet my own grandfathers. I was a baby when I met my mom’s dad, but that doesn’t really count.
So my father has been gone just as long as he was with me on earth. Here’s a brief synopsis of his life. Born in Kentucky, lived in boarding schools with his older brother David, went to University of Oklahoma- ROTC, served in World War 2 in among other places under Patton in North Africa and he was actually on the Champs -Élysées on VE day, became a full colonel in the Army, has pictures with Bob Hope, Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield during what appears to be USO shows. He was married before my mother and had a daughter who now lives in Maine. He served a full career in the Army and then went on to become a vice president of the Long Beach, CA Chamber of Commerce. He worked for a startup company that did hazardous waste cleanup. He was pretty much retired when I was a kid, attended every practice and game, took me to every rehearsal. He kept going to college even when he was old- learning more foreign languages and whatnot. He always had stories to tell of his military friends and adventures, and he always had a semi-racist joke chambered which always left me a little uncomfortable. We had a clear generation(s) gap to contend with but to this day, I still love hanging out with old people.

We travelled a lot when I was young- Hawaii, Tahiti, a Eurail Europe vacation, an “Across America” tour which included Canada and Guatamala. He had a lung cancer scare years after he quit smoking- they took out a third of a lung and he made a full recovery. He loved to garden, meet people of all cultures, bring cold beers to the guys working on the utility problems in the neighborhood. He had a big belly for as long as I could remember- thin as a rail except for that gut. I never saw him drink a touch of alcohol (where did that gut come from and how do I avoid it?)

During college, I knew that he was getting on, so every visit home ended with a crying goodbye as I wondered if it my last time seeing him. I’d lay with him in bed and sometimes talk about things though I don’t remember what about- I was more concerned with his breathing and thoughts of death.  I had no clue what I'd do after college, how to find a job, network, deal with office politics, etc. But it was kind of late to start discussing it with him. He eventually succumbed to age and I was able to visit him in the hospital before he actually passed. He had a little dementia before the end and a few scares- like the time he disappeared in his Cadillac and ended up in Dana Point (about 30 miles south of home). His final hospital stay was pretty short and I told him I loved him and although he couldn't say it back to me, I knew he could hear me and that if he could answer he'd say the same thing. The day I got the official call that he had passed, (I was back at school) I had a final. I took it and did fine. I didn’t really cry at his funeral- I guess because I was prepared. It actually took me like a full year to cry after he died.  My girlfriend at the time joined me at a veterans cemetary by school and I spent some time at the flag since he was actually buried at sea and we had no actual place to visit his remains.

Our mom (I have a younger brother named Bobby- we’ll get to him later), still grieves about him regularly and on his actual birthday, she and my brother will go to the Seal Beach Pier like they’ve done many times before and say a prayer and throw some flowers in the ocean. I live in Arizona so I’ve never actually shared in this private ceremony with them. I guess this year, I’m remembering by writing this. Perhaps I’ll even share it with mom and Bobby. I really do miss him and I talk to my kids about him and I show them pictures of him. But just like my dad’s parents are to me, my kids won’t think of him fondly as a family member they’ve met. But that’s ok. Happy Birthday Dad…

Of Dogs...

Now I could easily end this here, but the timing of certain events will double this little entry. So if for some reason, this has made you a little sad, I need to go over another topic that’s related.

When I was a kid, my parents got a Dalmatian for the family. Of course we named her Spot and she was a cool dog. She ran like the wind, only knew how to “sit” and she was an outside dog. If ever she did get inside she’d do these insane laps around our giant two story house. She’d run up to my parent’s master closet and just start digging at the floor- like she was looking for a bone. When she’d get out of the yard, she’d just bolt. And the only way to get her back was to physically get the car, chase her down and open the door. She was flat out nuts like so many other Dalmatians, or dogs in general.

But even though we got her as a puppy, she eventually got on in years. At one point she got a tumor in her chest so we had it removed. Later, her hips started giving out on her. She started going blind- to the point where when we’d take her for a walk, when she got to a curb, she’d instinctively try and hop up the curb and collapse when she landed. It was pretty sad.
I was in high school about that time and one night when I was at my part time job at the CD Center, I found out that my dad had taken her to the vet to put her to sleep. I was a little shocked at how quickly this happened. But what was sadder was that my dad told me that he was sitting out back in his chair in the afternoon, and Spot ambled up to him and placed her head in his lap, and looked up at him with sad eyes. My dad knew what she was telling him and he decided that it was time. Sure it’s the humane thing to do, and at first I took it at face value. But later, I found out that my dad was especially upset about it because he revealed that he always assumed that HE would pass before Spot and would never have to endure another lost dog. That story always makes me sad.

So how does this event from 21 years ago relate to recent times? Well, my brother Bobby is still single and besides living with roommates, he’s unattached. Some years ago, Bobby inheirited a dog simply named Girl. Now Girl came from an abusive owner and had been permanently scarred with a fear of men. Whenever we’d go visit his house, Girl would always go hide.  I could never go wrestle with her or even leaving her alone with the kids was a little sketchy as she was very much a regular dog- protective of her space and stuff.  We on the other hand have our own dog named Molly who will always shy away from overfriendly dogs, will never growl, will never bite and will even let you scrape the tarter from her teeth without much protest.  I guess we have a weird dog- but now I've strayed from my point...

Bobby was pretty much the only male that Girl trusted. He has pictures of the two of them on trips and just hanging out. Several years ago, Girl got a crazy illness caused by foxtail that bores into dog skin. It caused enormous boil-like sores and essentially can cause organ damage if not surgically removed. Bobby rallied his friends to have a “help pay for Girl’s surgery” party and he was able to offset the costs.  Within this past year, Girl got sick with a pneumonia-like illness with a nasty hacking cough.  As Bobby is a musician in a touring band, he couldn't really stay home with her, but he did make the right decision to postpone a trip out to visit us to take care of her instead.  She recovered somwhat from that too thanks to his love and affection.

But last week, Girl took a turn for the worse.  As he posted on Facebook:

And then just yesterday:

Our mom was with Bobby when she was put to sleep.  My brother was crying a lot.  And she took one last photo of the both of them with her iphone (it is now the photo that pops up when he calls me)
It's Girl right before she went to eternal rest.  Bobby purposely wore one of our dad's shirts for the ocassion.
Goodbye Fuzzy Angel, Happy Birthday Dad.  We miss you already and always.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Since That Infamous Day

Where were you ten years ago? It's hard to forget where you were. After all, there are only some things that will be etched in our minds forever- depending on your age. For me, it was the day the Challenger exploded and where I was when OJ was set free. Both sad days.

However, the day I'm talking about- ten years ago- was also the day that Ed McCaffrey broke his leg on Monday Night Football. It was one of those gnarly events that rivals Joe Theismann (actually pronounced THESE MEN) or Moises Alou or Willis McGahee or even Freddie Mitchell. It was flat out gruesome and I will never forget it.

But let's get serious for a moment. We all know what really happened ten years ago. Sure I can try and gloss it over with some humor- however gross it may be, but those who don't care about it are either insensetive, unAmerican or just flat out bad people. Let me recount my perspective...

It started off like most other days. I was getting ready for work. I was dressed and ready to leave the house and my wife Nadine called upstairs in a very serious voice for me to come downstairs. The big joke to this day is that I replied with "do I have time to check my email?" She replied with silence, so I knew that it was something that couldn't wait.

So when I came downstairs, I realized the severity of my insensetive request. We got in the car and drove in near silence down Interstate 5 from Vista to La Jolla, California. Traffic was moderate. I kept looking over at her but she was staring out the window- I could see that she was crying. I tried to make light conversation but was met with more silence. We kept the radio off.

Luckily we arrived at our destination safely, but as soon as we walked in the building, we knew that this whole incident was reality. We were rushed to our safe haven to brace for the worst.

Then the emotions really hit me and I started to tear up. It was overwhelming. And within a few hours we felt like things were over. And we prayed and we knew that we would never forget.

It was at that point that I realized that the world would never be the same. Like most other sane people in this situation, we knew that our vigilance must be heightened from now on and that it would be hard to trust certain people. Call it what you want, but when you see certain "types" of people, you really need to be on your guard- call the police, inform your neighbors. My wife even asked if I would kill one of "them" if the need arose. She was halfway joking, but yeah, I just might if one of them did harm or threatened to do such harm. I have guns now and I even think there's a country song about "cleaning my gun" just to make a point.

So now a full decade has gone by. My hair is thinner. My waistline is... about the same. And yes we've gone through it again since that memorable day. But it could never be as indelibly stamped in my brain like it was ten years ago. I finally caved in and bought a cell phone, desk aquarium and Angry Bird plush doll to commemorate the ten year anniversary- we all do it differently so don't criticize...

Our Madison is now 10 today. Happy Birthday Madison! September 10, 2001. We will do our best to remember your special day each and every year and not let it be overshadowed by the realities of the world- like thunderstorm during pool parties or rained out miniature golf and water park parties.

Madison Today