Once, years ago, when I was standing at a booth in a trade show I heard some shocking news. My father had just walked away to take a break and my mother and I were standing waiting for customers to come our way. Mom and I were making small talk. I don't remember what we were talking about specifically, maybe parenting...maybe the fact that my kids were little and I was working part time...I don't remember. What I do remember was that my Mom said my Dad had a vasectomy. What? Excuse me? That is never something I ever wanted to hear. Why would she tell me that? I suppose she guessed that I was pretty disturbed by this piece of news, because she went on to tell me that I was a mistake. And I was the reason he had the vasectomy...really? I was born 6 years after my brother and 8.5 after my sister, it seems that I could have figured that one out on my own.
But I was always my Daddy's girl. You could have never guessed by the way I was glued to him in this picture. And yes, my childhood was a whole lot different from those of my brother and sister, since I was so much younger. We were raised by different parents, in different economies.
My Dad was a big man, traditional, religious, and very creative. After serving in the Navy, he worked different blue collar jobs, then went on to start his own company, successfully manage his company for many years, and sell his company and retire a few years ago, all without graduating from high school or college (he dropped out of high school and went into the Navy, then got his GED later). He is a true self made man.
My Dad was the idea guy. The man everyone came to if they wanted to do something and did not know how to do it. He was the guy who came up with the plan and showed you how to execute it. He invented things. Seriously. He has patents. He got his hands dirty. He built heirloom furniture. He fixed anything. He was the guy that built everyone's additions, decks, sheds, you know, that kind of guy, but uber creative too.
Ok, not perfectly creative all the time, like once when I was in college I asked him to look at my car, a beat up VW Golf. It seemed that one of the backseat windows was leaking because there was always standing water in the footwell in the backseat. Dad, frustrated with me, went to the garage, grabbed a drill, pulled back the carpeting of the footwell and drilled holes in the floor of my car. Exasperated, he tacked the carpeting back down, looked at me, and with a straight face told me I wouldn't have that problem anymore.
After Mt. St. Helens blew in 1980 my Dad was the one who took ladies pantyhose and rigged the air intake on all the cars, so we could drive home from our eastern Washington vacation. In the middle of Puget Sound, Dad was the one who dismantled the stalled boat engine and Macguyver'd it with a couple of rubber bands, a paper clip and a piece of string so we could motor home.
We have too many stories, legends really, about Dad carrying things us mere mortals could not budge, volunteering to walk a mile back to the car to retrieve a forgotten item in a snow storm after breaking all his ribs, never a hint of a complaint or a grimace.
Around 1998 my Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and Essential Tremor. Obviously the 10+ years of PD and his basic aging have transformed this once 6'2" barrel chested man into a shell of the man he was. But more than that, I think the Deep Brain Stimulation surgery he underwent for his tremors a few years ago changed him.
This man, who once pieced cars together and rigged engines, now cannot drive. His mind tells him he can, but his inability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time robs him of this privilege. This man, who could fix anything, needs his daughter to help him through putting a simple closet shelf together. This man, who was full of ideas and adventure, sleeps all day slumped over in his chair.
It was not a sudden change, but a gradual one. But this change is one that is very hard to stomach as an observer, and I'm sure harder to stomach as the survivor.