Thursday, July 28, 2011


My father is not doing so well. At 87, nearly deaf, lonely and now fully blind, his world is shrinking and he has little will to continue, yet he goes on as stoically day after day as the commute he once made on the train into town to work.

At least, he is open and honest about it, confides that he is ready and waiting, hoping that death's final knock will be quick and easy. Lane was just there this week to help him prepare for his less significant transition into the assisted living quarters. She asked leading questions about what he might need still to complete in order to let go. She organized nooks and crannies, sorted through his clothes, creating opportunities to reminisce, process, account and review.

Until now, his belief has been unshakable that death is a big, long, deep sleep, something similar to his experience in World War II when his landing ship blew up under his feet and he awoke sprawled over a sinking raft of twisted metal. He admits to saying "goodnight" to my mother as he settles into bed each night, but expects no answer, so of course gets none. For him, the rest is silence...

"Just let me know if you find out any differently," my spirited sister smiles.

Yesterday, I offered to come down to help, but he growled that it would just cost him money and hung up quickly after that. Devastated with guilt and shame, I worried those could easily be his last words to me, echoing painfully in my head for the rest of my life.

The difference in our lifestyles has been immense, growing ever wider and so difficult for him to comprehend. His time was clearly defined by a war and decades of prosperity, doing the "right thing": raising a family and attaining a success that carried him and his wife around the world. His considerable artistic talent was reserved for weekends and vacations when he could step off the conveyor belt of his generation and do what made him feel most alive. He stayed with the woman he loved in high school and still wishes he could see her one last time.

He wanted the same for me and patiently tolerated the slow steps that never got fully running. Lane admits there was no such expectation placed on my sisters who satisfied his craving by producing grandchildren and settled into their lives undramatically with good husbands. My struggle to lead a successful business or secure gainful employment is probably his greatest disappointment. It is even possible his lingering in some way could be related to his sense that he still needs to take care of me.

While a tube was in my belly, I could somewhat justify and feel comfortable that help was needed. Before and after, however, the reliance upon his money month after month, though much appreciated, has not been healthy, especially in that it is set up so that I have to ask each time and he has to process and pay it. No more healthy, however, has been the relentless effort, nearly compulsive, to please my father by transforming a construction wage into a viable business, a dented pick-up into a fleet of trucks with my name on the doors.

Fed up with writing those monthly checks on my request, my father demands I account to him for what I am doing to find respectable work. My answer focuses on the 100 resumes I have emailed without the slightest response. The truth is, although I start out each morning with the best of intentions to ride my father's train toward a well-defined, reliable and lucrative occupation, this yellow pad inevitably occupies my attention, an absorbing distraction.

The shift happens when I acknowledge it as a magnetic attraction and embrace it as such.

More clearly than that my dad taught me every day to take the train into town so my mother could stay at home, I was raised and emotionally rewarded to be creative, to think outside the proverbial box and dream that all things were possible. Lately, I realize that no matter the encouragement to write poetry, stories and songs in those formative years, I was expected eventually to leave that for the weekends like my father had and parlay my fancy education into a career. Publishing was fine if words were my passion. I just hated New York City so much, and loved writing joyfully, I could not bear the thought of it.

So in Oregon, I did what I could to support my instant family (my mother's value) and that construction income, for better or worse, has dominated my thinking ever since. My choices have been for the right reasons, but I have always lived for the time I could set aside to write. The less than whole-hearted attempt to renovate other people's homes, therefore, has never been very successful.

As I have approached and move beyond this surgery in the last year, I have healed my soulful heart as much as my body. Words have poured out and settled into a manuscript. Technology, in the meantime, has transformed the publishing world so that my marketing skills (honed in the construction business) can be put to good use, I learn, doing it myself. The more I embrace the details with a passion that cannot be denied, small successes begin to accumulate to support my life and dream. Especially re-enforced in these past few months, I grow convinced that my construction business had more to do with a failure of heart than of any ability to organize.

This week I pushed a key that put a collection of four short stories into print. An ebook at first, it is available at, Barnes & Nobles and other sources legitimate enough to make it feel real. Appropriately, I used one of my father's paintings for the cover. A full book is in production to follow and in actual print you can hold in your hand. To celebrate, after two years of hobbling along these many miles of growth, I have also traded in my redster for a Vermonter's Subaru with even more miles, but in such better shape, that with this book on the seat beside me, I can proudly claim my place on a commute of a different sort.

As I deal with the reality of my father's painful frustration, my tears surge to know my mother would be (and is) so very proud.

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