“Did Your Dad Love You?”

(As with my previous blog entry, this one was also originally posted as a note on Facebook.)

My seven-year-old son and I were talking about my dad this morning. That son has never gotten to meet “Grampa John”, though I tried to make it happen.

My son asked me, “Did your dad love you?”

I could only answer with total honesty, “I do not know.”

The question led to my mind playing all kinds of memories involving my dad, for the next few hours. I am pretty sure the answer to my son’s question is “No.” Does that sadden you? For some reason, it doesn’t sadden me. Should it?

One of the usual headaches I get was in the process of intensifying when I got the news of my dad’s death on Friday. It is now Sunday evening and the pain is still here.

Kids talking, stomping around, bickering, and needing varying levels of my help; chores; phone calls; emails; the sounds of the house in general all keep me from giving much time to the thoughts of my dad. Those thoughts barely get to finish their story or cast their feelings upon me. Incomplete processing.

Throughout the day, I jotted down notes as they came to mind, vying for my attention to help me answer the question of my earthly father’s love. Here are some random memories:

When I was 3 or 4 years old, I started playing a simple chord organ by ear. It only had two octaves or so. My dad was so impressed, he wanted to get me a better organ with more notes.

One evening, he took me on the bus to downtown Vancouver. We lived in East Van, so it wasn’t far. In retrospect, I wonder why we didn’t just drive there. Maybe he’d had a few drinks, but he didn’t seem drunk. I was so young, I barely remember it, other than in little snippets. We did get a bigger organ, and my mom still has it.

Then when I was 7 or 8, my parents enrolled me in group piano lessons that took place after school, in the kindergarten room at Queen Victoria Elementary. Miss Salmon, with long Barbie-doll blonde hair, was the teacher. Normally a quiet and reserved person in school, I was amongst a small group of friends and became the piano-class clown, always getting reprimanded, but I learned the piano lessons well enough that I quickly needed more of a keyboard than the one I had.

My dad took me out piano shopping and bought me a lovely second-hand midsize upright. I don’t recall the brand, but it was glossy medium brown and I got a lot of use out if it before trading it for a black baby grand when I was 22.

Another random memory: When I got married at age 24, my dad refused to go to my wedding. He said it was because my mom was there. He did give me lots of gifts, though: practical kitchen items I needed, like Pyrex baking pans and pots, Corelle dishes, etc, plus he gave me a cheque for $2000, telling me to put it in a private account for myself, “in case worst comes to worst”, as he put it.

I misheard my dad, as even I sometimes did, because of his accent, and I replied with, “Oh, no, Dad, I don’t think divorce will ever be an option.”

He clarified, “No, I didn’t say ‘divorce’. I said ‘if worse comes to worst.'”

Little did I know that a dozen years later, it would be all I had on which to live for the first month when worse did come to worst, in the form of divorce, when I left the guy I’d married, who was abusive and controlling.

In my teen years, my dad was very protective of me from boys. He used to warn me not to get involved with them, saying they were trouble, yet his methods were troubling: When I was 14, a boyfriend and his buddies were waiting in their vehicles outside my yard while I went into the house to get something. My dad saw the vehicles, became irate, grabbed a loaded rifle, and chased me with it. He fired a few shots as I ran. The police were called. He told them he was shooting at cats in the yard. (My dad always loved animals so that was a crazy lie.) My dad was arrested, his guns were taken away, and I had to stay at other peoples’ homes for a few days. For decades after that, I had nightmares of my dad chasing me with intent to kill. This past year, I got EMDR therapy to deal with that, among other issues.

The year prior, when I was 13, another frightful occurrence, for which I also recently got therapy, was a time when I had gone to the junior high school’s gym to watch my sister and her friends in their gymnastics club. I came home alone early for some reason. My mom wasn’t home, but my dad was there, drinking.  He launched into accusing me of having been out smoking pot with boys. I had never smoked pot in my life at that point and told him so. He didn’t believe me, and he tried to hit me. I dodged and tried to run, but he was quick and caught me. He easily wrestled me to the ground and started strangling me with his hands. Somehow I managed to break free and ran down the road in my socks. I ran through the path by the tennis courts to the next street and down one more street before daring to slow down and look back.

To my surprise, my dad was nowhere in sight.

I was in front of a house with a “Block Parent” sign in the window. I rang the bell and stood there, out of breath, hoping someone would answer and quickly. A man and woman came to the door, saw my tear-streaked face, messy hair, and dirty socks. They warmly invited me in, where I sat on their couch and told the story of why I was running. They called the police. I was sent away from home for a few days, to stay with my mom’s friend, Beryl Speller.  I can’t remember the order of events after that, but I have vague memories of social workers coming to our home, and of my whole family going to meet with a counselor at RADAT (Richmond Alcohol and Drug Abuse Team).

I didn’t realize alcohol was a problem. It was so much a part of my dad’s life, albeit a part that often made me sad.

One time, when I was about 6 or 7, one of my friends, a daughter of my dad’s drinking buddy, pulled me aside, saying she had to talk to me about something very serious.  Her serious talk was to the effect of, “We saw your dad pouring whiskey into your 7-Up.”

I was confused as to why we were having such a sombre discussion, as it was nothing out of the ordinary for my dad to put a little whiskey in my 7-Up or Canada Dry ginger ale. It wasn’t enough to alter my consciousness in any way. It just changed the taste of the 7-Up, kind of like a bit of vanilla extract in a cup of hot chocolate would do. Now that I am older, of course I know it is unwise for a parent to put whiskey in the beverage of a child, but in my childish innocence, I went with what my dad exemplified to be normal.

After we moved to Tsawwassen, when I was nine, we were closer to my dad’s drinking buddy’s place, a couple blocks away. Many times, as we were leaving their place, my dad was so drunk, I would hover near him on the stairs to make sure he didn’t fall on the way to the car. He’d be getting into the passenger seat of my mom’s old Nova, trying to close the door, while I stuck my hand through the side of the seat to prevent it from slamming on his foot. One time he got so drunk, he didn’t make it out the door, but he fell and broke a hole in that family’s kitchen wall with his head. They called a doctor friend to come see my dad.

The doctor asked my dad, “What’s your name?”

My dad slurred in response, “What’s your name?”

The kids of the family, who were my friends, laughed. I, however, stood there feeling very concerned, knowing my dad was more drunk than usual, and injured to boot.

The doctor continued his questioning, even saying, “Hey, Johnny, what’s your name?”

My dad got all goofy and just repeated the question back to the doctor, “Hey, Johnny, what’s your name?”

I felt disturbed and sad while my friends laughed at “Uncle John”.

Another time, my dad fell at home and hit his head. I heard the crash and ran to him, and his face was already covered in blood. I was so scared, trying to help him stand back up. I called a doctor, and we soon found that it wasn’t a very deep cut. The doctor explained that head wounds can bleed a lot and make them appear worse than they are.

Other times, my dad fell down the 12 stairs to the basement, scaring the crap out of me. I’d run down and help him back up, him swaying so much, we’d nearly fall back down the stairs together.

Oh, the bad memories. I want to have some good memories of my dad. I know they exist, and I hope to share some of them at some point, but right now, the bad ones are hitting harder.

Did my dad love me? I really don’t know. Not that I can do anything about it either way, but the fact that my son asked such a question has me thinking, “I don’t want there to ever be a doubt for my own children that I love them.”

Maybe something I have written here has sparked some memories for you. Since I wrote my last note yesterday about my dad, I’ve received many private messages from friends, sharing their own thoughts and stories, some about my dad, some about their own lives, some cheerful, and some sad. I very much appreciate the communication and invite you to keep it coming.

About My Dad’s Death

(Copied from a Note I posted on Facebook yesterday).

(Unfortunately, the formatting didn’t copy into here properly and refused to fix despite my efforts.)

Saturday, November 8, 2014
At this point, I don’t have all the details surrounding the death of my father, who was born in a small village in Serbia in 1932. I am told he died on Monday. I just found out yesterday.
Yesterday, I drove the 2-1/4 hours to Kamloops alone for an appointment and some shopping.

Shortly after 4:00 pm, I came out of Target at Sahali Mall. I put my purchased items into my car, returned the cart, and kicked back in the driver’s seat. There was WiFi there, so I looked at my phone. There was a message from my sister, which said:

“I have some really sad news. Dad died on Monday. Frieda just phoned me and told me this today. I have been trying to phone you. Phone my home number when you get a chance to.”

I didn’t feel sad. I felt shocked. I’d long ago lost touch with him, so it was more like hearing of the death of someone else’s father. I suddenly thought of the part in a favorite movie, “Smoke Signals”, which I had just watched the night before, where Thomas says, “Hey, Victor. I heard about your dad.”

Why would I only be hearing about my dad’s death five days after the fact? I’ll get to that.

My dad has always been confusing to me. I knew a bit about him, from partial stories he revealed while he was drunk (which he was quite frequently during the years I knew him). Like, why did his dad die when my dad was in his early teens? Why was my dad in prison – twice – in his home land of Serbia? Why did he refuse to have anything to do with any of his family in the Old Country since he left there in the early 1950s? Why did he get so mad at me when I made contact with some of his relatives in the early 1990s? And why did he never return my calls when I tried reaching him between 2006 up till this past year?

I’m thinking that the stories I imagine are probably worse than what really happened, but I may never know.

After I got the message from my sister, I replied to ask how he died. She didn’t have much news herself, briefly explaining that she’d gotten a phone call yesterday afternoon from Frieda, a long-time friend of my dad’s, to let her know of his death, and that it somehow involved him having fallen, resulting in cracked ribs and a hospital stay, and while healing up from that, he died.

I went about the rest of my errands in Kamloops, lost in thought. I walked into London Drugs thinking, “Hey, everyone. My dad just died. How’s YOUR day?”

I drove home, thinking about my dad often. Lots of memories came to mind and I shed some tears. The first time was while listening to “Let It Be” by The Beatles. My dad always hated the Beatles and would make fun of their music. The other time was while listening to the guitar solo in the Metallica song “Master Of Puppets”. I remembered when that song was new in the mid 80s, I was doing a crazy aerobic workout to it while drinking with my dad. Not that he liked that music, but it was a memory that popped into my mind, how he didn’t care WHAT music I cranked when he was drunk.

I’ve not seen my dad since August of 2005, when I had gone down to Point Roberts, WA, and drove by the lot he had on Panorama Drive. He got to meet my fifth child, who was a year old at the time. I got a picture of my dad holding him. I treasure that.

My dad never did meet my fourth child, nor my sixth and seventh children.

The daughter of one of my dad’s old friends told me she had run into my dad in 2005 and he was annoyed at me for having so many kids, quoting him as having referred to me as “a baby machine”.

Today I phoned Frieda. I’d tried calling her a few times over the past couple years since I last talked to her, but it always just rang and rang. No answering machine picked up so I couldn’t even leave a message. Thankfully, she answered today, and she filled me in on the details surrounding my dad’s death.

Apparently, my dad had fallen in his apartment. (He lived in the same apartment since 1991, where the Pillars Inn used to be in Tsawwassen, since he sold our family’s old house after my mom left him – the house he’d built for us in 1976.) He’d phoned Frieda and asked her to call an ambulance for him. He was taken to Delta Hospital, but they sent him home after two days.

A few days later, my dad called Frieda again, saying he was in a lot of pain, and so again an ambulance was called. This time, they found that my dad had some cracked ribs. They got him a brace that he was to wear while his ribs healed up.

Frieda had gone to see my dad on Saturday, November 1. She said he seemed fine as they walked the corridors, although he did seem a little cranky.

The next day, Frieda got a call from the hospital. They informed her that my dad was in the Emergency room and was unconscious. Details were sketchy. Frieda couldn’t sleep, being worried about him. At 1:30 on Sunday morning, she got a call saying that he had quietly passed away. Frieda isn’t sure of the exact cause but said it might have been a septic condition from being in hospital. She tells me that the medical staff made him comfortable and that he died peacefully.

Frieda had gone to my dad’s apartment to try to find a phone number for my sister or me. She couldn’t get out there till Friday due to other commitments, and that is why we didn’t hear about my dad’s death till five days later.

Now I am trying to figure out the business end of things. Frieda tells me that I am the executrix of his will, and that my sister and I are the beneficiaries. Frieda had gone to my dad’s apartment and tried to find the original will, but couldn’t locate it.

I plan to head to Tsawwassen in the next week to pack up his stuff and deal accordingly with it. I’ll have to insure my Suburban, as well as the utility trailer my dad had given me years ago when he was still talking to me.

I hope it doesn’t snow before I get down there and back. It’s about a 6-hour drive.

I’m not sure if or when/where we’ll have a memorial service. If we do, I will post an update, for anyone who knew my dad, or who knows my sister and/or me, and would like to be there.

Anyone else who’s been through the loss of a family member might have some thoughts to share. If so, please, feel free.

Anyone who has any memories of my dad, I’d love to hear them, no matter how small or large, good or bad.

To everyone who expressed their condolences on my Facebook wall and in private conversation, I say a huge thank you. I am touched by all the caring. It means a lot to me.

My dad with my son, Charles, in August 2005, in Point Roberts, WA.

^ My dad with my son, Charles, in August 2005, in Point Roberts, WA.
The last time I saw my dad, at his lot in Point Roberts, WA, in August, 2005.^ The last time I saw my dad, at his lot in Point Roberts, WA, in August, 2005.
This is how I remember my dad: wearing a mack jacket and working with wood. He was a carpenter. This picture is from 1978, at the house he built for our family.^ This is how I remember my dad: wearing a mack jacket and working with wood. He was a carpenter. This picture is from 1978, at the house he built for our family.
My mom and dad with me as a baby in 1967. I'm pretty sure he was drunk in this picture. That's one of his drunk looks.^ My mom and dad with me as a baby in 1967. I’m pretty sure he was drunk in this picture. That’s one of his drunk looks.
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Soon after I posted this, a lady I’ve known since high school, who works at the grocery store where my dad shopped, privately messaged me, saying this:
I read your post about your dad. I went up to him about 8 yrs ago and said I didn’t realize he was your dad. He told me the same thing you wrote, that he didn’t talk to you because you had too many kids. You did nothing wrong and you can’t blame yourself for this. We love our dad’s but they can be a little different…mine too.”
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Some things just make no sense. Still, life goes on. Really, I’m doing okay. I have a lot of love in my life. The absence of my dad’s love and of his life don’t change that.