He was born in 1926 in rural Virginia, a place and time so far removed from my life that it might as well be another planet. I've looked at the Census Records and suddenly there on the 1930 Census there's a boy, Robert, age 3. Hiding behind the cramped, crabby handwriting on that form is a little boy who grew up with cows and chickens and rode his family's mule. They ate organic, free-range food way before those labels were even invented. They just called it "dinner."
Dad was the youngest of his siblings and has told me that being the youngest probably motivated him to work harder and do more. What he wanted to do was fly airplanes, so when he was 17 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to today's Air Force. Sure enough, they taught him how to fly. Then they sent him to Japan to occupy the country.
He stayed in the Army even after the Air Force split off and they sent him all over the world. Least Favorite Place: Greenland. Most Favorite: Australia. In fact, later in life, he badly wanted to return to Australia one day. Never made it, though. Along the way, he got married and had a couple of kids, my half-brother and half-sister.
After he got out of the Army, he flew for Continental Airlines, but instead of the Chicago-New York route, he went to Southeast Asia at the height of the Vietnam War and flew the Saigon-Bangkok route. He was living in an apartment in Bangkok and riding a motorcycle to work at the airport. I would have LOVED to have a drink with him at some bar in Saigon back then. God knows, the man liked to take a drink. It looked like it might be a problem until, as he told me, he got sick of waking up feeling like shit every day and suddenly stopped one day when I was a kid, no AA or anything.
He met my Mom in Bimini in the Bahamas and they got married and I was born and to say that things didn't work out between them would be putting it mildly. After my sister was born, things deteriorated rapidly and they got divorced. Things also didn't work out between Mom and me, and I moved in with Dad. During that time, I think I started to figure out how to live and act and be in the world. Dad's lessons were old-school and basic - take responsibility for your actions; everything you do has consequences; actions speak louder than words; give respect to get it - but those lessons are also sometimes the hardest to learn. I learned them from Dad and although I'll never completely live up to them, he gave me something to shoot for.
|Dad & Me: The Early Years|
As you can imagine, Dad was a staunch conservative, but he never sweated me about any of the crazy shit I did like moving to San Francisco with no job and no contacts when I was 22 years old or majoring in English or whatever. He always said he'd support me no matter what and he always did.
It's not like his death was some sudden, devastating surprise. He's been sick for a while, and given his age, I've been thinking about the Post-Dad Era of my life since my 30's. You know what? It's not at all like I imagined. I sort of pictured being consumed by grief, but instead I feel kind of calm and relieved that he isn't hurting any more. Of course, as The Wife, who's lost both of her parents, one just a few months ago, told me, "Grief isn't linear." I'm sure I'll grieve in a lot of little ways for years, like every Friday around 3 when we used to talk on the phone, instead of in one big grief tsunami. Which is fine.
This is sort of long and rambling and not quite as artful as I wanted it to be. But here's to you, Dad. If there is an afterlife, I hope you're up there now, flying a Beechcraft Baron, with a bourbon in one hand and a Winston in the other. Thanks for everything, Dad. I never could have got here without you. Love you.