...or, 'My Final Gift to You is Immortality'
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing."
I could write a thousand things about my father that mean so much to me, that have formed the way I view him and how I perceive his value in my life. In thinking this, though, I have come to realize that those thousand things would not give anyone even the vaguest idea of who he was.
Was. The past has such finality, and I never ohgodohgodohgod, never thought to use it concerning my father, not when I am 22 and he isn't even 50 and there is still so much more for us to share. Not on a Wednesday night in March on his way to bowling. Not three months before my wedding and ohgodohgodohgod I was supposed to have 10 more years, 5 more months... one more day.
I feel compelled to write about him, tell his story, try, damnit, try to give more than the vaguest idea of who he was.
While my father wasn't a writer, he certainly did things worth writing about. And I am torn as to what I should write about, or even if I should be writing anything at all. Is there a node about how e2 is not a therapy website? I don't know, and I feel too apathetic to either care or be dismissive.
Lord knows I've written a few biographies during my time here, but how can I use that as a guideline? 'On November 15, 1956, Michael Dennis Wilhoite was born in South Bend, Indiana to Beatrice and Robert Wilhoite. Early in his life...' blah blah blah. Who cares. It occurs to me that I would rather be remembered for something important, like being a wonderful parent or a passionate, involved citizen, than for winning an Oscar award.
My father lived an example to others. He came from a dysfunctional background with his sense of self intact. He endured what no child should ever have to endure: The shattering of trust in people who are supposed to love and protect you. And when he graduated at 18, barely missing the draft, he joined the United States Army. Within 9 months, he became epileptic and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Well, you see, brain surgery in the 70s in the military... mis-mapped his brain, nicked an artery, clamped it off too long and he had a stroke. And on top of that, his tumor was in the part of his brain which controlled movement on the left side. At the age of 19, my father became hemiplegic.
He was expected to die. He didn't.
He was expected to need a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He didn't.
He was expected to live a half life. Guess what?
"Do not squander time - for that is the stuff life is made of."
My father married my mother when he was 24. My older sister was born 14 months later. I was born less than a year after that. And since my father couldn't work, and instead received a pension, my mother worked part-time and he watched us kids. I had a stay-at-home dad before it was popular. Did I mention he was also a trendsetter?
I wonder, idly, if the things he did that I will remember for the rest of my life help this description at all. He couldn't drive a car when I was young, so instead he had a tricycle of grand proportions with a basket on the back to cart us around in. We would go to the park. We would feed the ducks. We would eat donuts and wrestle and laugh and hug.
And then he and my mother bought us a house with an upstairs and a yard. And when I was six, my little sister was born. When I was eight, my little brother. And so finished our little clan. and ohgodohgodohgod they are only 13 and 15 and what are we all going to do?
My father volunteered at museums. He participated in after-school kids programs. He helped tutor older people wanting to get their GEDs. He fought for respect for veterans and their rights. He supported people trying to make their lives better.
He loved the world.
He was tall, so tall. And he was funny. He collected handicapped jokes like they were treasures, because 'if you can't make fun of yourself, you might as well just lay down and die'. He was handsome. He was crazy about strategy games. His favorite subject was history. He thought that America's ideals were something worth fighting for. He sang to all the country songs on the radio and always came in too early.
He loved life.
He came to all of my basketball games just to watch me sit on the bench. He came to my choir concerts, my band nights, my plays. He chaperoned all my school field trips. He told me I was beautiful. He was there for me when I was hurt. He hugged me when I needed support. He gave me confidence. He went without so that I could have more.
He loved me. and ohgodohgodohgod why didn't I show him the same more often?
His life was a lesson in giving, in persevering, in hope. A demonstration of living love.
"That which resembles most living one's life over again, seems to be to recall all the circumstances of it; and, to render this remembrance more durable, to record them in writing."