How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

NON-FICTION Chapter 1: My Father's Apocalypse "The Dad I Know"

     It is an unforgiving thick humid Georgia June day when my dad comes home from Vietnam. The airplane drones overhead. I squint and try to locate its flight path.The heat shimmers on the tarmac creating ripples like black water. I am only six and half years old,  and my heart thuds against my chest in anticipation and just a little fear.  My father has become a photo sitting on top of the black and white Sears television set in our cramped duplex apartment, where I have lived with my mom and my brother while my dad has been away.  The plane lands. Time shifts and then the doors of the plane open; the sunlight glinting off the metal.  Dad steps out with a military bag slung over his shoulder. His uniform is wrinkled from the long trip and his Air Force cap sits crooked  on his head. He puts his hand up to shield the sun, sees us, and smiles. Mom runs forward as daddy comes down the steps. My little brother takes off running on his stumpy three year old legs. I hang back, and then as mom finally loosens her grip on dad, I run forward. He picks me up in his arms, lifts me, and I put my nose in his neck and inhale. This is my daddy. My daddy is home.
September 2009
            I am forty-eight years old now, and I can still put my nose in my dad’s neck and inhale that same scent The one that tells me that this is my dad. The man who has loved me to distraction, and has made it difficult for me to find a man in my adult world who measures up to him.  My dad was a military man for the first twenty-one years of my life. He is a man with a quiet, dry sense of humor. When he smiles his lopsided smile, his incisors gleam; pointed and white like small vampire fangs. This, along with his tanned American-Indian-influenced complexion, gives him a rakish air; an air that has always charmed women and children alike.
            He is a man for whom music has flowed freely through his heart and veins. The steel guitar was my mother’s competition. When we lived in Texas, dad was away from home almost every weekend night “picking and grinning”. Sometimes my mom went with him. Sometimes my brother and I were allowed to tag along, if it was a church picnic, festival, or some other family oriented affair. On a few precious, rare occasions, I was allowed to actually accompany my dad to real honky tonks. Places where the smell of Jim Beam and cigarette smoke hung thick in the air. Places where Merle Haggard was king and the song “Silver Wings” could reduce me to hiccupping tears. Places where I was instructed to get under the table if a fight broke out. Places where I learned to dance to the Cotton Eyed Joe like a seasoned honky tonk pro, a few years before Mickey Gilley and the movie “Urban Cowboy” made Texas honky tonking famous. These memories make up a large portion of my pre-teen and early teen years.
            I have photos of me and my dad in Japan, in Crete, in Texas, in Colorado, in Biloxi, in Georgia; all the places we lived. In each you can tell my he loves me. His arm draped casually, yet protectively over my shoulders. In a few of the photos he is smiling into the camera and I am looking up at him, almost anxiously, waiting for him to smile at me. My younger brother and my dad have a special relationship, but different from that of a father and his only daughter. My father’s brown eyes have been tender, reproachful, pitying, sad, and happy for me, but always there was the love. He hasn’t been a perfect human being, or even a perfect father, but he has been a good man and a father whose love and good intentions I have never questioned. Now that I have grown children of my own I understand that none of us ever parents our children with perfection and no regrets. We all have regrets. There are “should haves, and “could haves” that echo in our hearts long after our children leave us for the wide world and their own “should haves”. He has been “my daddy”. The man who helped shape and mold me. The man whose disciplining gaze could turn me to tears without his ever having to lift a hand to spank me.  The man whose approval I yearned for all my life. Even now, my need to know he is proud of me is almost obsessive.
            My mother and father have an almost fifty year old love affair. They married at 16 and 17, respectfully. They have had their clich├ęd ups and downs, but through it all I believe their devotion for each other, and for their children, has never waivered. Fifty years. In December it will be fifty years of marriage for them, and I wonder each day if my dad will even be able to fully take part in that day of celebration when it arrives. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last month. The day he was diagnosed we sat on his back deck at my parent’s house and we cried together. He, for the burden he feels he is laying at his family’s feet; me, for the knowledge that my daddy is leaving me and there is nothing I can do about it.  I see, as clearly as if it were yesterday, my dad coming down the steps of that plane from Vietnam, shielding his eyes, and smiling at his family. That is what I choose to remember.

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