...was my father. I know very little about him. He died in 1989 of cancer of the liver, lungs, bones and brain. There's no succinct -oma word for all that, is there?
I was four. He was 45. The effect was greatest on my mother and my half-brothers, his sons from a previous marriage, whose mother remarried and chose to cut off contact with my mother and me. I understand her choice; she can't have much to say to us.
Who was my father? He was a sickly kid from upstate New York and nearly died during the polio epidemic of the late '40s, which left one of his legs deformed. Subsequently, in the manner of Theodore Roosevelt and Che Guevara, he poured himself into adventure, athletics and achievement. He was a businessman who loved to travel, throw footballs, and clinch sales. He adored my mother as well as his boys, although I am told I was his favorite from the very beginning.
I vaguely remember a time he took me to the Brookfield Zoo (blurry images of elephants, mostly), and waving goodbye to him from the backseat of his enormous '82 El Dorado as he negotiated curbside check-in at O'Hare. I also remember his oncologist making an ill-advised joke to me as he prepared a syringe the length of my dad's frail arm: "You're next." I screamed for about five minutes and could not be convinced that he was kidding.
My mother's bitterness and anger toward the man she still tearfully - drunkenly - terms "the love of her life" have permeated the years since then. She feels robbed, as though life without my dad is not real, should not count, should be stricken from the record.
She is right to acknowledge that it was terribly unfair, but she blames him for his illness. One night she was very much in her cups and solemnly informed me that he had hepatitis B before the liver tumor was found. "Do you know how people get hepatitis B?" she spat at me.
I think I remember her being less angry, less coldly pragmatic and less vengeful before the summer morning he died beside her in their bed, but what can I remember? I was small. It's very likely she was just the same. I have carried her anger as best I can and will carry it until she dies too. She is a sad old woman who was not prepared to love and lose. Nobody is ever prepared.
My only strong feeling towards my dad himself is the dear hope that he was not afraid or worried for me. That is, I hope he died at peace and did not regret leaving me. If my mother finds him guilty, I want to go back and assuage that guilt. He did what he could: he survived long enough to come and die at home, eat some last bowls of Crispix with his daughter, shed little auburn hairs all around the toilet seat, and tell us he loved us whenever he was awake. Viva my dad. Not a minute of his life was wasted, and I pray that one day I can say the same.