Recently, I wrote a post called Conversations With My Dad in which I described my experience during a day visiting with my father, who suffers from advanced and terminal dementia.
That day was a good day, and a good visit with my Dad. But today was not a good day, or a good visit. Before I write anything else, let me tell you more about my father; the man who taught me so well how to be a man.
My Dad grew up during The Great Depression, which makes our great recession of 2008 seem like child’s play in comparison. The hardest of all economic times in 20th century America taught him the harsh and ruthless reality that if he couldn’t find a paying job, he wouldn’t have anything to eat, or a roof over his head. He learned that finding work was the only way he could survive, so he had to work – however hard work was to find, at a time when America’s unemployment rate was 25% and there was no such thing as unemployment benefits, or any kind of government social safety net to keep Americans from going hungry and homeless. But Dad was a very strong and tough man, who wasn’t afraid to work hard, and he would take any job, or as many jobs as he could find and work in the same day, and on into the night, in order to survive.
My father was also a highly intelligent man, and a voracious reader of books, with a love of history. In spite of the incredibly hard times, he was relentlessly determined to get a higher education beyond high school, and he found a way to get enough scholarship money to go to college, with the goal of becoming a college professor of history.
But while in college, in addition to learning about history, my father also learned the value of having a social conscience with enough compassion to genuinely care about the suffering of the poor and the weak, and he became dedicated to helping those who were incapable of helping themselves, and also those who needed just enough help to pull themselves out of a hopeless existence, and then were willing and able to work hard for themselves and their families, on the way to a much better life.
Dad became a devoted supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies, and he believed that American government should be an effort in which all Americans worked together to help each other attain the American Dream, and turn America into a much stronger nation as a result. He also had a deep and scathing contempt for the Social Darwinists of his time, who would rather let the poor starve to death in the streets, than offer them any government assistance at all.
My father was a physically large and very powerful man who was absolutely fearless, and unafraid of anyone, however big and powerful they seemed to be. It was not his nature to look for a fight, but if he was attacked, he fought back fiercely and more than once he left his attackers in a devastated physical condition in which they were no longer capable of fighting him or anyone else.
But Dad also had a masterful command of the English language, and a lightning fast mind, so he preferred to devastate his attackers with words, instead of with physical blows – which were always his last resort.
After four years of college, my father still loved the study of history, but he was no longer interested in being a college professor. He still held teachers and professors in very high regard, with the respect and gratitude he knew they deserved for all their hard work and dedication they devoted to educating him and many others. But he was restless, and he wanted to leave the world of academia to go out into the larger world, where he could experience the adventure of all the variety that life had to offer. He also wanted to get involved in activities that he believed to be worthwhile and that gave him a sense of accomplishment and purpose in his life.
Dad served four years in the US Merchant Marine Navy during WWII, and he was lucky enough to avoid being on one of the many freighters that were sunk by German U-Boat submarines during the Battle of the North Atlantic. After the war was over, he volunteered to work for “The Marshall Plan” to rebuild the European countries left in ruins as a result of Hitler’s attempt to achieve his “Final Solution” and his thousand year Nazi Reich, that came up short by about 985 years when Americans finally joined their Allies to stop him and his Axis power fascist friends.
Hitler’s insane and murderous megalomania was ended within four years, after Americans were attacked and then they united to bring on the full force of their nation’s industrial and military might, along with their individual courage to fight and die in some of the most hellish places on earth, like Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima.
American troops and their allies had the incredible bravery to run headlong into a torrential hail of bullets, exploding bombs and red hot, jagged flesh shredding and deadly shrapnel, as they sacrificed their bodies and their very lives to stop the onward march of nationalized racism and mass genocide that threatened to plunge the entire world and all of humanity into the darkness of a 20th century reign of terror.
But the total cost of that victory was a terrible carnage of soldiers and civilians from many different countries on both sides, that was measured in many millions dead, and the destruction of many large and formerly thriving cities that were reduced to huge piles of rubble, where the dazed and starving survivors wandered homeless and hopeless. So my father joined America’s Marshall Plan to rebuild those European cities, feed their starving citizens, and restore their hope for the future, at a time when they had no future. And although they never called themselves this, that is why my father’s generation became known as The Greatest Generation.
After Dad came home from Europe, he used his natural talent as a skillfully persuasive salesman to make a good living selling real estate. But he wasn’t satisfied with just making a good living for himself, because his social conscience motivated him to want to continue helping others less fortunate than he was. So he became involved in local and state politics as a political activist and advocate for the poor, the orphans and the elderly, and those who were too sick and weak, or disenfranchised and marginalized by society to have enough political power to share in the American Dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
But my father had no interest in running for political office. He knew that it involved far more ass kissing than he had a tolerance for, so instead, he used his intelligence, his considerable skills of spoken and written persuasion, and his personal charisma to convince those who were in elected positions of power in state and local government, to not leave the poor and the weak behind, but to use their power to help those who were less fortunate than most others, and often through no fault of their own. My Dad became a strong voice advocating for those who weren’t strong enough or well educated enough to speak for themselves, and this became his life’s work.
My father was a very social man who always enjoyed the friendship and company of a wide variety of people, and for him, selling real estate was an enjoyable way to provide for his family and live a comfortable middle class life. But his social and political activism was his true calling, and what he cared about most of all.
A portrait of my Dad that I scanned from an old newspaper clipping. I’m guessing that he was about 35 when this was taken, which would have been around the time that he and my mother first met. I did not inherit his strikingly handsome looks… But I did learn a lot from him about how to act around women, and this has served me well in my involvement and relationships with the fair sex.
But the women used to flock around my father, and they continued to do so, even after he was well into his 70s. And although I know he never did anything to break his marriage vows to my mother, I also know that he loved the attention and admiration that he always got from women whenever they were around him. Just like I do… Lol ;-) But I would never be delusional enough to think that I’m in his league, because with his looks, his intelligence, his quick wit and sense of humor, along with his ability to be very charming and charismatic, my Dad was the complete package for the ladies in almost every way.
I’m just glad that I was fortunate enough to learn by his example, even one quarter of what he was capable of, as far as his talents and skills for being sexy to women.
But in spite of my great respect and admiration for the man who taught me how to be a man, I also know that my Dad was no saint, and I’m familiar with his faults. His very quick wit and skill with words could turn into cruel sarcasm at times, and there were times when I know that some of his targets didn’t deserve the emotionally painful injuries that he inflicted upon their self esteem.
He had an amazing ability to remain completely calm in high pressured and extremely stressful situations, and even in very dangerous situations. When he got into intensely heated arguments with another man who yelled furiously loud at him, he seldom raised his own voice, as he calmly chose the right combination of words to verbally annihilate his adversary.
But when he was truly his most angry, his was a silent rage often expressed without any words, but still an intense anger that anyone close enough to see the cold fury of the greyness in his eyes could feel just as much as if he was shouting loud enough to break the windows. He literally vibrated waves of anger so strong that he could walk into a large room without saying a word, and everyone in that room would instantly know that he was furious. These were the times when he was his most intimidating, and to me, even after I was a grown man myself, the times when he was downright scary, and not to be challenged, unless you were a complete fool.
And yet he was also a man capable of expressing great love for others, as well as sincere understanding and compassion, and I never doubted for one single moment of my life that he loved me as his son. He also had a very mischievous and sarcastic sense of humor, and he enjoyed making people laugh.
But he knew that he was an Alpha male within his territory, and there were times when he enjoyed reminding the lesser males in the human herd of their lower status compared to his own. But his estimation of another man’s status never had anything to do with his wealth or lack of it, but everything to do with his ability to compete with other men of his class and win a more dominant status. In fact, the arrogant and ruthlessly wealthy were Dad’s favorite targets for his contempt and psychological abuse, and honestly, I’ve never had a problem with that, to this very day.
My father was a master of the devastating one sentence insult that he could deliver almost instantly, when someone provoked him. When I was 12 years old, I was with him one day when he was in the process of selling a house to a couple in an upscale relatively wealthy and very snobbish town.
We were standing in the front yard while the couple was inside, when a man who positively reeked of his own sense of self importance strode up to my father and said in a very condescending tone of voice “Do you really think that these people understand what it means to live in Wellesley Heights?” My father stared coolly back at this self appointed pillar of superior society and replied in a calm voice not loud, but deafening with a proven self confidence unmistakably real, and sharply edged with a subtle but cutting contempt as he answered “I won’t tell them if you don’t.”
The “pillar” was so taken by surprise and knocked off balance, that his face turned into an instant and obvious expression of mental confusion as he struggled to think of a comeback, failed, and then his face rapidly reddened with humiliation as he turned around and walked quickly away without another word. Score one for Dad!!! I was so impressed that I was elated, and my impression was so vivid and lasting that right now as I write this, I remember it like it happened only yesterday.
But for my father, it was just routine and only a small part of another typical day at work; after doing something he had done many times before, and he would do many times again. To him, his remark was unremarkable, and quickly forgotten after it had served it’s purpose.
You may have noticed that throughout this entire post about my father, that I have written about him in the past tense. This is because the man that I have described here no longer exists, and never has that been more heartbreakingly obvious to me than it was today. His body is still there and he still breathes, but the brilliance of his mind has been all but completely destroyed, along with the power of his personality, to the point that his very identity has vanished.
No matter what I said or did, or how hard I tried, and tried again as hard as I possibly could to emotionally express my love for him today, he remained in a state of oblivion where it was impossible for me to reach him. Due to the nature of the type dementia he is stricken with, there’s a chance that some tiny and flickering spark of him might return tomorrow or maybe the next day… before it finally goes out and goes dark forever. What a tragic waste of the man who taught me with not only his words, but far more by the example of how he lived his life, what it really means to be a man.
That man may be gone now, but as long as I continue to be able draw breath and to think, he will never be forgotten as long as he lives on in my memory and he lives within my very being, as so much of who I have become and who I am right now, as I finish this sentence. I love you Dad, and that will never change – even if you are never again able to recognize me as your son, and no longer able to comprehend or even feel the love that I have for you right now, and the love I will always have for you on into the future, until I myself am no more.