My dad died today

us
The two of us in Atlanta around 1989.

NOT TODAY exactly, but at this point in his life, which is to say, as of tomorrow, I will have lived longer than he did. He died in 1991 at the age I am on this day.

Outliving a parent feels strange. I doubt I will live longer than my mother, however, because she made it to 90. I’m feeling quite creaky already, so another decade and a half doesn’t present much appeal.

I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charlie because that was his name, Charles. His middle name was Born. He was a Junior. I was almost a Third, my paternal grandparents’ wish, but my mother put her foot down on that. My father wanted to name me after Confederate Cavalry Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, but that’s when my mother’s other foot came down.

forrestSince Forrest went on to be a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, that name might have been problematic now were I living above the border. But my father, being a lifelong leftist and advocate of “civil rights,” did not admire Forrest for the Klan connection. He admired him for his generalship. Charlie was a Civil War buff, and Forrest was the best general in the Confederacy.

I guess my father just ignored that Klan crap. People rationalize.

Why I never called him Dad I do not know. And I never called my mother Mom or Mother or anything like that. I called her Dee, a nickname my sister invented.

We were a very odd family and remain so today, those of us still breathing. That would be just three — me, my sister and my daughter. No grandkids, no nieces, no nephews, no aunts, no uncles, nada. My mother often called us peculiar. She was referring to Charlie and his family plus my sister and me, her own kids.

She wasn’t referring to her side, the Powells. They were peanut and cotton farmers in the red clay of southwest Georgia, and not peculiar at all, just country folks, but I loved them more than the peculiar clan on my father’s side.

Charlie’s parents were devout Christians, one Baptist, one Methodist, and his one sibling was a lesbian, and so is mine, which explains the absence of nieces and nephews. The peculiarities go uphill from there. Or downhill.

My father and I were clones. We looked alike, sounded alike, had very similar personalities, were both career newspapermen, a field he entered purposefully, and I entered by necessity. He retired early, and I did too. He was a lousy father and, apparently, I am too.

In retirement he became famous in the small world of Haiku poetry. After I retired, I amused and irritated millions here on The Unseen Moon.

Perhaps that count is a tad high.

There were differences too. He lived through the Great Depression, and it affected him mightily. He detested travel, which I love. He married just once, and I married thrice. There was not an adventuresome bone in his body, and I am the opposite.

He was in the U.S. Army in the waning days of World War II, drafted late due to being almost 30 and having a wife and kids. He was sent to Korea on a troop ship. Yes, Korea, and he had a desk job. I never asked him about that experience. Wish I had.

We didn’t talk much.

On discharge, he returned to Georgia, never wanting to leave again. He had been an Atlanta newspaper editor when drafted, but he returned to start a rural life of chicken farming and writing short stories for pulp magazines. That didn’t pan out, and in about five years he was back in the newspaper business, this time in Florida.

Similarly, I left the newspaper business for a spell when I was in my early 30s in New Orleans, and it too did not pan out. I returned to newspapering in Texas.

We were both boozers, and we each stopped in our mid-50s. Life improved immensely for both when we took that smart step decades apart.

But I was never the drinker he was. I was an amateur in comparison.

I did not much like him, and now I’ve outlived him. Well, hold off on that because he died in the evening of his last day, so I won’t have outlived him till tomorrow.

He died in a hospital in Atlanta where he was overnighting for a colon cancer checkup. His cancer was in remission, they learned on the day he died from a massive heart attack right there in his hospital bed. We didn’t even know he had a heart issue.

I was in the Houston Chronicle newsroom that evening. I phoned him, and we spoke briefly before he brushed me off as he was wont to do. We hung up.

Within minutes, my sister called and said he was dead.

And tomorrow morning, I’ll wake to a day he never reached.

The Goddess willing.

20 thoughts on “My dad died today

  1. Waxing poetic down there, señor. Understandable. The big day and all. DNA is difficult (read impossible) to escape. Good thing you weren’t named after the general, one of the goons from up here would be down there posthaste to set things right.

    You have developed excellent insights, and that fits well with your excellent command of the written language.

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    1. Richard: You are too kind. As for the name, I like Bedford and Forrest. Nathan, not so much. I could have done what I have done with my actual name, ignore the first, which is Charles, and go by the second. Yes, though I am not a Third, my father and I share a first name. I guess that was the bone my mother threw to her in-laws.

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  2. It takes some courage to reminisce about one’s dad with such a gimlet-eye as you have done, mentioning the good and the bad. Most people tend to talk about their parents as if they were a reincarnation of Mary and Joseph when, in fact, they were flawed human beings schlepping through life the best they could, sometimes gracefully and cleverly, most times not so much.

    I just began reading a book by Christopher Buckley about his parents, William F. and Patricia, who apparently were quite a piece of work, each in their own way.

    This coronavirus thing, as much as one might try to brush it aside or move it to the background, does tend to focus attention on the inescapable fact that time is running out. Nice post. Very thoughtful.

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    1. Señor Lanier: Thanks for the kind words. Perhaps some people’s parents were the reincarnation of Joseph and Mary. Mine were not though my mother came far closer than my father. Thanks for the tip on the Buckley book. I just had Amazon send me a Kindle sample. I’ll most likely buy it. It only costs $5.50, way under my self-imposed limit of $10.

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  3. I guess that the fact that you are replying to comments today means that we can all heave a sigh of relief. At least for now.

    Saludos and may you live many more years.

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where my own dad, on the cusp of 90, is in fine fettle.

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    1. Kim: Whether I outlive the old coot is still up in the air. As mentioned, I won’t have bested him till mañana, or at least very late tonight. It’s out of my hands.

      My mother made it to 90 too, but not in an admirable state, alas.

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      1. My own mother’s state at 90 isn’t exactly “admirable” either. But she’s still kicking. I’m not sure I want to be that old. The world seems to be running downhill at an accelerating pace.

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        1. Kim: The current state of Western Civilization makes it an excellent time to be on the verge of checking out, and I mean that. Unfortunately, you likely have lots more steam in you. It may not be a good thing.

          I was born in the penultimate year of World War II. I lived through the ’50s, which were a good time for most, and the hippie ’60s, then the ’70s and on and on. It was an interesting era, all of it. I think I timed it very well. I would not want to be young right now.

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          1. Yeah, the young are pretty much screwed in a lot of obvious and many not-so-obvious ways. For an example of the latter, do a web search on “Stanley Druckenmiller intergenerational inequality.” Basically, the old have spent it all, and there’s nothing left for the young. In Japan they already talk of a “lost generation.” I think that’s what’s happening in America too, to some extent. Sad!

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  4. Having passed my 92nd birthday two weeks ago, I am doing o.k. I am still recovering from bone fractures in my right leg just above the ankle, and they tell me I’ll likely be dependent on a cane for a long time. But I feel very comfortable driving again, and that helps my outlook. And fortunately, I will benefit from the shopping and delivery services that have emerged in the last five months. I just keep looking ahead.

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    1. Phil: Glad to hear you’re still mending okay. Get yourself a stylish cane, and you’ll be very modish. That’s what I would do.

      As for your driving, please keep ahead of me, not behind.

      I was thinking about you just today, was going to email. And happy belated birthday. Jeez, 92.

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  5. My mom passed away yesterday at age 93. Dementia and old age. The last year she was in a small nursing home unaware of where she was. Up until age 89 life was pretty good. Daily gardening and neighbors visiting kept her happy. I hope I check out at that 89 point.

    My sister and I were very lucky. Although not exactly a Leave It to Beaver or Donna Reed childhood, ours was very close to it with both our parents.

    May God or goddesses bless our final years, señor Zapata.

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    1. Patzman: Darn, I’m really sorry to hear that for you, but perhaps it is a blessing for her if she was unaware of her surroundings.

      Yes, let us hope for blessings in the years to come.

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