When my brother Kenton called me with the news of our father’s death, I got a falling feeling, as when a chasm opens below you and you don’t know what to hold on to or how to save yourself from annihilation.
My father was 85; he had cancer, and heart and lung trouble. He had suffered a horrible fall a few weeks earlier. He had been moved to the Alzheimer’s ward of the assisted-care center he had recently moved into. I’d had a sinking feeling for several days: last week I’d dreamt that he and I visited a funeral home together. No matter how prepared you feel, you never really are.
My father and I had never been close. There was a world of unspoken emotion and life experience between us. Many things contributed to this – our parents’ push-pull relationship when we were children, my feelings of somehow being a disappointment to him, my being gay, my father’s strict fundamentalist religious beliefs, and both of our inability to let others get close to us emotionally.
As a young child, I both loved and feared him. I sat at his feet and watched him get ready for work in the morning. I was devastated if he left home and drove away without waving goodbye to me. His wish for me to excel in things I couldn’t – sports and math – went unfulfilled. He could be a rage-aholic at times. When my parents grew further apart during my teens, and divorced when I was in college, the distance between us grew greater.
I spent much of my life living far from him, first in Los Angeles, and now in China. He and my stepmother Bonnie came to China in 2008, and we spent a week in Beijing together. I thought that would be the last time I would see him, yet when he asked me to come home to visit him last summer for his 85th birthday, I was able to spend a week with him. My brother and I were briefly together with him one last time.
My father spent his entire life in St. Joseph, Missouri. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he joined his uncle’s real estate company. He eventually went into business for himself as a real estate appraiser. There are many things I now wish I had asked him about his life. I did ask him once about his service in the U.S. occupation forces in Japan after the end of World War II. He told me about riding a train through Japan and witnessing the horrifying landscape of devastation after the atomic bombs had been dropped.
My father, I hope that the next part of your journey, whatever it entails, is filled with peace and the knowledge that you are loved.