One Day Older…

At the very end of September in 1980, I had just started my freshman year of high school. I remember waking up to a voice calling out. I followed the voice from my bedroom to the living room, where I found my dad on the couch, calling for my mom, who was sound asleep. He told me he thought he was having a heart attack. I ran in and woke my mom who called the ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, I called my brothers and asked them to meet us at the hospital. I don’t remember much of what happened next. I just remember being in a hospital waiting room when the doctor came in and talked to us. My dad hadn’t lived to see another sunrise.

As of this morning, I’m one day older than my dad ever was. I find myself thinking of all the things he was and all the things he did. He was a general foreman for the Santa Fe railroad, a lifelong Boy Scout leader, a talented painter, and a model railroad hobbyist who made sure the toy trains were as accurate as he could make them. He was a Marine at the end of World War II, a church elder, and a Mason. From him, I gained a love of history, nature, genealogy, and so much more. Now that I’m one day older than he ever was, I find myself wondering what he would think of the man I became.

This last year during the DESI installation at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I’ve been spending a lot of time wearing a hard hat at work. My dad almost always wore his hard hat at work. While it’s a superficial comparison, the image of him in his hard hat is indelibly burned into my memory. I know he would find the observatory fascinating and would love to see behind the scenes of everything we do, just as he enjoyed giving behind-the-scenes tours of the Santa Fe shops in San Bernardino, California. I suspect he’d be mystified by my love of science fiction but interested in how I play with “what if” questions in my alternate history. I know my dad would be proud of my daughters and interested in the things they’ve accomplished.

The date of my dad’s death has hung over me like a specter these last four decades. The rational part of my mind has known that barring accidents, there’s no particular reason I wouldn’t outlive my dad. Then again, doctors talking genetics have a way of keeping his early demise closer to the forefront of my mind than I would like. I’ve often felt the urge to accomplish as much as I can before this date, to assure that if I died young, I would have lived as full a life as possible. I’m glad I’ve made it to this point and I’m glad I have more life to live to share with my friends and loved ones. I know life is finite and I have no idea how much longer I have. What I do know is that the rest of my life is an open book and I plan to fill the pages with as much fun, action, and wonder as I possibly can.

10 comments on “One Day Older…

  1. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

    Both my wife’s parents died young, her mother of a massive coronary, and her father of heart-related conditions after bypass surgery, so the genetic deck was stacked against her from the start. The game was further rigged by the fact that their diet was a lot of pork cooked in lard, you know, the standard 1950s diet, when Crisco was a best-selling brand. Bonnie had her massive coronary at 43. The ambulance crew kept her alive until the doctors could save her. Twelve days in intensive care later, she came home, changed her diet, took her medication, and 29 years later her biggest problem is arthritis.

    You can beat the house through a combination of modern medicine and healthy living. That is an almost unbearably sad story about your father, but you aren’t him. You take care of yourself, brother, and those proud daughters have every chance of rockin’ your 100th birthday party!

    • Thanks for sharing Bonnie’s story. I wholeheartedly agree with what you say about modern medicine and healthy living. Medicine has come a long way even in the roughly 40 years since my dad passed away. While I admit I could have a healthier lifestyle, it’s not terrible. I walk and I don’t smoke and I generally try to make healthy food choices. And, on the genetic front, my mom had an aunt who made it to 103 and had all her faculties when I visited her for her centennial birthday.

  2. Janine says:

    We met maybe just a year after your dad died. I remember distinctly walking home from High School together when you told me, but you never gave me the details. How traumatic to lose him that way. I know he would be extremely proud of you. Because of my own subjective experiences with the death of my mother, I believe in a spiritual dimension we can’t see. And I think he’s with you, not just as a specter, but a loved one.

    • In fact, it wasn’t even a year after my dad died that we met. We met within days of my dad dying — maybe even just before (but I don’t remember for certain since that would have been the very first days of high school and all of that is a blur) but you were one of the friends who was so vital to me surviving that time, so it sticks with me.

      Spirits are elusive and ethereal and I like to think my dad’s has been nearby. If so, his spirit has never been a specter. The specter was specifically the date of his demise. Time itself has always been one of the most fascinating and most terrifying concepts I’ve known.

  3. That was a poignant recollection. I was fortunate to be well into adulthood before losing my father.

    A good friend of mine who worked for the FDA kept track of the number of the days of his father’s life as you did. I remember the day he passed that mark, he called me and sounded quite happy. To him, the spectre was gone. May yours be gone as well.

    • Thank you, Alden. Young as I was, the date of my dad’s death stuck with me and some years it’s a particularly difficult date to get past. About two weeks ago, I realized that today marks the day I would be one day closer to my next birthday than he was. It was a chilling feeling. I’m not sure if the specter that is time ever completely leaves us alone, but I think it’s become less frightening.

  4. DAVID RILEY says:

    My dad, at 92, is still alive. None of us knows how long we have. I’m having surgery next week and it scares the hell out of me, even though it’s just outpatient to remove a non cancerous tumor. Doctors are better about treating cholesterol and high blood pressure today than they did when your dad died. Much better. Still, it’s rough to lose a parent at that age.Strangely, my maternal grandmother always drummed into my head that I would die at age 52. Don’t know how she came up with that, but that was one milestone I found myself wondering about when it arrived. It does have an effect.

    • Thanks, David. I wish you the best with your outpatient procedure next week. The fifth decade of life has not been good to the men in my family. My dad and granddad both died in their 50s. My great great grandfather actually died in his 40s, but that was because he caught typhoid fever while serving in the Union Army. No word on whether he met Kevin or Mabel during his service. That said, it seems like those men who do survive their 50s live well into their 80s and longer. Given the advancements in medicine, I’m optimistic.

  5. We all get the same thing: one lifetime. What we do with it is up to us.

    • That’s true. I’ve been trying to put my finger on the emotions that come with this realization, since that’s one of the important things we writers do. For me, this “milestone” as it were is like moving into uncharted territory. While true that everyone’s life is uncharted until it actually happens, this feels just a little moreso.

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