My father passed away last week Saturday. We weren’t close. At least, not recently. I’m not really one given to opening up my personal life (which is why I haven’t mentioned his death until now), so suffice to say we’d become estranged for unknown reasons over the last 20 years. We probably talked to each other a total of 5 or 6 times. The last time was a year or so after my 7-year-old was born. We visited him in the hospital when he was being treated for prostate cancer. It was the first, and only, time he saw either grandchild.
My feelings about his death, therefore, are more for my sons. They never knew their paternal grandfather and now they never will. My father had been estranged from his own father, who abandoned his family. I never knew my grandfather and met him only once when I was going into the Navy. It’s ironic that my father, who was so angry with his own father for not keeping in touch, turned into his father in the end.
As a sort of eulogy, here’s a short story I wrote back in 1985.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by ta see ya in such a long time, Dad.” The speaker was a young man, in his middle thirties. His manner of dress suggested that he spent most of his money at K-Mart. His tan pants were of cheap corduroy and just a tad too short, showing that his white socks had fallen down about his ankles, socks that were turning blue from sweat and the tacky imitation leather oxfords he wore. His shirt was purple velour with white piping running up the sleeves.
“I finally found a job. I’m a custodial worker for one of the office buildin’s downtown,” he said, standing with his shoulders shrugged tightly together, waiting for his father to inevitably strike him.
“I know what ur thinkin’. Why don’t you jus’ say it?” he continued. “`My son, the janitor!’ Well I got some good news. I got my G.E.D. an’ I’m goin’ part-time tuh the technical college tuh become a `lectrician soes I kin make something a myself like yuv always wanted me tuh do. I know how disappointed yuh was when I dropped outta high school, an’ I want yuh tuh be proud a me.”
He looked down at his own feet and began to shuffle them about like a schoolboy who had something important to say but was too embarrassed to say it. He formed a small hill in the dirt with his shoe and finally said, “Y’know Dad, when I was a kid I looked up tuh yuh. Yuh couldn’t do no wrong in my eyes. But as I got older an’ I found out yuh could make mistakes, I felt hurt an’ betrayed. I don’t know why. I guess we all feel betrayed when we find out our heroes are jus’ ord’nary folks an’ not perfec’ like we thought they was.
“In my anger I rebelled against yuh. I know that yuh was jus’ tryin’ tuh be the best parent yuh could an’ I only wish I’da realized it sooner. Now I’ve lost a part of my life, a part a me that I kin never get back. I want yuh tuh know that I’m proud tuh be ur son, Dad, an’ I’m really sorry I hurt yuh.”
A tear shimmered on the son’s cheek. He dropped to his knees, his whole body shaking. He swallowed hard and his voice quivered as he said, “Dad, I love yuh, I’ve always loved yuh.”
Only silence answered as he rose to his feet and wiped his face on his sleeve leaving dark trails of shame. Two small depressions remained in the soft earth where he had knelt in the meticulously cared for grass. In a weathered pot, freshly picked flowers watched him leave. A small rectangular marble stone rested cold and unconcerned; its smooth face, which reflected the white clouds that passed overhead, bore the inscription:
JOHN P. AARONSON