Writing in the Raw:You Can Either Laugh or Cry

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I’ve always thought of my Dad as two different people.  There was Dad during his drinking years, and Dad after he quit.

He grew up with alcoholic parents.  His father would send him to buy bread, and his mother would make him take it back so she would have money for booze.  He didn’t talk much about his early family life, only about the times he would live with his grandmother on the farm.  Those were happy times for him.  His grandmother loved him well.

My Dad was a real charmer.   Six foot two, sparkling blue eyes, dark hair, and a wicked sense of humor, and grin.  During one period when he was dating my Mom, they had a fight and broke up.  Dad asked another girl to a dance during this time, and then him and Mom got back together.  So Dad, being the honorable soul that he was, took them both to the dance.  🙂

Not long after my 20 year old Dad married my 16 year old, five foot two Mom they moved up to Michigan so he could get into the pipefitters union.   Pretty soon my oldest sister was on the way, and Dad started drinking.  Once he passed out in the hall in front of their apartment.  Mom didn’t want the neighbor kids to see him in the morning, so she kicked the shit out of his ribs to get him up and inside.  He woke up the next day not knowing what he had done to his sides, but they sure hurt.  When they had 3 kids he blew out the pilot light on the oven trying to gas everyone.  Mom packed up the kids and went to the train station.  He came after her, and quit drinking for a little while.

By the time I came along, everything was routine.  We kept an eye out, and stayed upstairs, whenever we spotted Dad coming home.  We would wait for our birthday cake and presents, to see if Dad was coming home for it.  We opened our presents quite late most times, with no Dad there.  The worst thing I ever remember him saying was that he read about a group of kittens that had been dropped off miles from their home, they walked home and had bloody paws, and that he would like to do that to us.  Dad loved cats and so do I, so that hit hardest for me.

Then came the wonderous change.  I was about 7, with my brother and sisters being 13, 14, and 16.  Doc told Dad he’d be dead in a year if he didn’t quit drinking.  So he quit.  He was on nerve pills, and quite nervous, and snappy for many years, but all of a sudden I had a Dad that would play with me.  We would go out and he would play ball with me.  He would throw a softball as high as he could for me to catch, so high I could barely see it.  We got a boat, and would go waterskiing, camping, and fishing.  

Dads sense of humor came out.  When he laughed, it was one of those infectious laughs that people couldn’t resist joining in, even if they had no idea what Dad was laughing about.  He was funny too.  He could slip things in that only the quickest would catch.  Then he had his humor for the slow.  (He considered my Hubby as one of the slow at first) Once my Hubby and I went parking before we were married.  The truck got stuck in the mud.  We told Mom and Dad we ran out of gas, so Dad made a drawing of 2 gas gauges for my honey that he hung up on the fridge. One pointing toward F, okay, good to go, and one pointing toward E with a circle and line through it.  After me and Wayne were married and Dad got to know him, he admitted that  he was wrong about Wayne.  He said “He may look like a hayseed, but he’s much smarter than he looks.”   Intellect, and logic were traits that Dad thought most important.

Dads emotional side came out.  He always cried during Dumbo when Dumbo lost his Mom.  The Glenn Miller Story always had him crying too.  Dad took to bringing stray cats home from work.  Only a few, the most he had at one time was 6, and almost all of his cats lived to be about 20.  The little wild beasties never even tried to get out of the house.  They knew they had it made once they moved in.  I’m really glad he passed on his love of animals to me, and in turn, my kids.  

Dad had some strange things happen to him.  He got his arm caught in a pipe machine, and the stress brought on rheumatoid arthritis.  He even had it in his lungs and eyes.  He was in a refinery explosion, and tripped over a garbage can when he turned to run.  It ruptured his spleen, but somehow he drove home in shock and we made him go to the hospital.  It took them 3 days to figure out where the internal bleeding was coming from.

I know everyone thinks their Dad is really smart, well maybe not Jenna Bush, but mine really was.  He could do squareroots in his head.  The other pipefitters would send their kids to Dad to tutor them for the test.  He never forgot ANYTHING.  So when he got alzheimers, it was quite a change.  Funny, he could always remember there was something wrong with him, and most times remember the word alzheimers.  He didn’t get mean, or resentful.  He took it with grace and humor.  Laughing at his goofs all the time. That intellect was still there.  He cracked me up one time when he had just gotten out of surgery for his heart, and was still doped up.  One nurse was reading a list of numbers to another one that was entering them in a calculator.  Probably 20 – 30 numbers that were in the hundreds and thousands.  Dad popped out with the answer as soon as she was done saying numbers.  The one with the calculator said “What did he say?”, and then after she was told, she said “He’s right.”  

Alzheimers is so much fun.  

Dad learned to cheat at his alzheimers test.  He was in a drug study test, and he knew one of the questions each time would be what the date was.  He could also remember they had a date calendar on the way in, so he would look at it on the way in so he got at least one right.  🙂  

With alzheimers as soon as the pain is gone from a heart attack, you don’t remember it, and when you have arthritis in your lungs it looks like you have pneumonia, so the medical professionals would be leery of our diagnosis of heart attack until we could get them to run tests, or he had another one in front of them.

We quickly learned that we had to keep someone with Dad every minute when he was in the hospital.

Dad, on phone from his hospital room.  “I’m in a hotel room and can’t find my money, wallet, or keys and there’s a guy outside the door wanting paid.  I don’t know where I am.”  

Us:  “We’ll be right up.  You’re in the hospital.”

Our call to hospital:

Us:  “We just got a call from him.  Can you check?”

Them: “No he’s fine, asleep in his room.”  

Us:”You’d better go check, we’re on our way.”

We get there, they  hadn’t checked.  Dad had pulled out all of his tubes and was planning his escape without paying his hotel bill.

He always wanted to tip the nurses and aides.  He couldn’t figure out why the waitress’s wouldn’t take tips.  We finally told him the gratuity was already included in the bill.

The last time he was in hospital it was for I think only 16 days.  It seemed like forever.  I hope none of you are ever around when the anethesia wears off after an amputation.  Its one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen.  It was the dinner hour so I was alone with Dad.  Usually we kept two with him during the day, and my brother would spend the nights with him.  He was in that kind of pain where you can’t stay still.  And with the alzheimers he couldn’t remember what had been done.  So every few minutes I would have to tell him he had an amputation.  That went on until he died, not remembering the amputations.  Except when they were going to have to amputate higher up, and he looked at me, out of everyone there, and asked “Are they piecing me out?”, I just said “Yes”.  The sneaky little bugger was going through the side bars on the bed one night while my brother was in the bathroom.  He didn’t realize he wouldn’t have been able to stand.  He didn’t know he was missing a foot.  He saw all kinds of fun things during twilight delusions, smoke, butterflies, fire, and we all had to look multiple times, cause he was sure he saw something.  He thought the guy in the next bed, that was awaiting a heart transplant, was a criminal. LOL!  He was saying we sure were going to look foolish if we didn’t call the police.  At that point, he thought we were really quite stupid for not listening to him.  

Less than a week after we brought him home, he had a stroke.  He asked for each of us by name, and as he would say them, Mom would call us.  He soon lost the use of his voice, but still had eye movement.  We all moved home for the last four days of Dads life, including our kids who were all grown, and my Moms sister.  I slept under the card table for a few of them, some nights I had Mom and Dads bed with my sisters.  We had Dad downstairs on the sofa bed.  My daughter, and her friends came in so he could see them dressed up for their senior prom.  We kept Dads big band music playing so he would be comfy.  I even grabbed his hand and danced with it.  We knew when he was ready to die, and called everyone into the room.  Only my son and one niece who were at work, weren’t there.  We all kept up our humor and let Dad know we would all be with Mom, so he could go in peace.  Mom was on the wrong side of the bed, so I asked her to move, so Dad would be looking at her.  As he was looking at her, I told him “She’s still as beautiful as the day you married her.”  He smiled and took his last breath.  

We had already made arrangements so we could just have the funeral home pick him up.  His favorite cat, Spirit was still beside him.  He had pretty much stayed on the bed for the four days too.  We had to move him so they could take Dad.

I got 2 baby kittens that my FIL rescued, from a car trunk at a junkyard where they crush cars, when my Dad died.  Most of Dads grandkids called him Pa, mine included.  So in his honor, I named the male Pa.  Dad would have loved him.  🙂

I don’t really believe in God and heaven, but I do think if there is something after death, that Dad is surrounded by the cats, and family that he loved so much.

My Mom once told me that my Dad thought I would go farther than the other kids.  Now I’m not any smarter than they are, but I don’t show fear, and I don’t give up, so I’ve come to believe maybe helping to straightening out our political world would fulfill his ideal for me.    

Happy Fathers Day Dad, and all you Dad’s out there.

I prefer to laugh, and I know Dad would too, even if its at ones self.  🙂


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    • Alma on June 13, 2008 at 04:20

    Time to pick up my daughter, so I’ll be back in about an hour.

    Sorry for the furry references nocatz.  I couldn’t write about my dad and leave them out.

    • Robyn on June 13, 2008 at 04:33

    Writing about parents can be tough.

    I mostly have tried to ignore Father’s Day in recent years…without much success.

    I’ve been thinking about reposting The Unfather on Sunday.  Could happen.

  1. How about laugh AND cry.

    I love how much you love your dad…all of him.

    • RiaD on June 13, 2008 at 04:57

    what a lucky girl you are!

    what a beautiful family you have….

    thank you for sharing this lovely, heartbreaking, teary-giggley reminiscence


  2. Honest.


    Glowing with love and respect from beginning to end.

    Well done, Alma.

  3. and it’s no wonder your dad could see all the wonderful there is in you….it’s pretty obvious 😉

  4. Having heard you speak in person, I feel like I am hearing you, in person, again!  

    This is a wonderful, heartwarming story that you tell from the very core of you.  I admire your courage in tackling it, as well.

    That you could see your father for his frailities, his faults, his humor, his intellect, his love of animals and everything, made up the whole of his being for you — and you respected him for it.

    Sometimes, the most tender of beings suffer the most!

    I’m sure you have made many, many others think of their fathers, as well.

    Wonderfully done, Alma!   ((((((((hugs)))))))))

  5. for sharing your story about your dad–the love comes shining through 🙂  

    • geomoo on June 13, 2008 at 06:50

    Including your own emotion and reactions.  This essay is real, spell-binding, and moving.  Thanks.

    It made we wonder what I would write about my dad, whom I never knew.  My mother rescued our family from him when I was almost three.  Over forty years later in therapy, I uncovered memories of his sexually abusing my brother with me in the room.  My mom’s jaw hit the floor when I checked with her to see if my vague, seemingly imagined, story had actually happened.   “How could you possibly know that?”

    But I’ve learned that either genetically or mystically, traits get passed on.  I have a very addictive personality and other challenging traits of his.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to go on so long.  It would be very complex for me to try to write about him.  It seems as though this essay flowed effortlessly from you.  And amazingly, you seem to have no ambivalent feelings.

  6. This touches so many places in my memories of my father.  Sometimes I think this world has really put a heavy, heavy load on men.  

    So glad you can find the beauty through the pain.

  7. This is a courageous story.  Thanks for sharing.

    My dad turns 79 on the 16th.  Starting about 20 years ago he developed a great fear of getting Alzheimers. Anytime he forgot something – like we all do – it would freak him out.   Fortunately he is still in excellent health, mind body and spirit.  I feel especially grateful for that now after reading about your dad.  I get the laugh or cry part of it.  Blessings for laughter.          

  8. i love you (and your whole family) for not letting your father’s weaknesses keep him from you.

    rare and beautiful Alma. had me in tears.

  9. life was a journey that had his family at the center and you all loved him for himself and shared his journey. When you  just love your parents for themselves the relationship is complete. Your story fleshed out a man who lived well and a family that knew what love is. I’m sure he is surrounded by cats and family. A Fathers Day tribute that did my heart good. Any parent who leaves such a legacy is blessed.      

    • feline on June 13, 2008 at 18:14

    Thank you so much for sharing.  I have been working on writing down some things while my Dad is still living, and this essay pushes me further to continue.

  10. …this brought tears to my eyes, more than once. What a sweet, moving tribute.

    …but all of a sudden I had a Dad that would play with me.

    Good job, Dad 🙂

    I know i’m a bit late to the essay, but….wow….i’m glad i found it. Just wanted to thank you for sharing it – it really touched me.

    Thanks Alma.  

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