December 11th, 1992

The day I lost my dad. 25 years ago, yesterday.


I am kneeling beside my father. He’s dead.

I look at him for a long time. I’ve never seen a dead body before.

I want to memorize his face and hands before he is in the ground.

His mouth is open. His eyes are fixed and wide. He is frozen with a look of surprise. I reach out to touch the back of his neck. My fingers barely land when I feel the prickle of shorn hair and cold, firm flesh.

I immediately withdraw my hand.

I am devastated that he’s gone. I never thought I would feel bad on this day.

My face is numb and tight from the departed tears that I didn’t bother to stop, catch or dry.

His hair is stiff and sharp. It’s cut so close and damaged from the radiation. It’s seems almost burnt.

His nose is pronounced and pointed. When he was healthy, it was round and red, but he’s lost so much weight. It’s chiseled bare.

His cheeks are waxy, melting mounds. Smooth and brown.

His hands are large; dangerous. They are still, yet frightening. The monster strength is gone, but they summon the fear of what was possible, what was done.

He is a mechanic. But he has the cleanest, longest nails I’ve ever seen on a man. The palms are soft and tender, amazingly so.

My hands are close to his. The backs of my hands are rough, pale and dry. White with flakes. My nails are short and torn. Red and sore like my eyes.

I can sense that whatever lights the eye and warms the blood is gone from him. There is no recognition, not even a grimace.

His spirit has sighed away and what is left is just a heap of tumors, bones and bile. He will never talk, kiss, threaten, smoke, curse, drink, hit, hate, love, work, sacrifice, shame or wrestle on this earth again. He can’t hurt any more, but he also can’t fix a thing.

I have lost him. I. Am. Lost.


I love you. I forgive you. I miss you. Still.

December 11th, 1992

The day I lost my dad.


I am kneeling beside my father. He’s dead.

I look at him for a long time. I’ve never seen a dead body before.

I want to memorize his face and hands before he is in the ground.

His mouth is open. His eyes are fixed and wide. He is frozen with a look of surprise. I reach out to touch the back of his neck. My fingers barely land when I feel the prickle of shorn hair and cold, firm flesh.

I immediately withdraw my hand.

I am devastated that he’s gone. I never thought I would feel bad on this day.

My face is numb and tight from the departed tears that I didn’t bother to stop, catch or dry.

His hair is stiff and sharp. It’s cut so close and damaged from the radiation. It’s seems almost burnt.

His nose is pronounced and pointed. When he was healthy, it was round and red, but he’s lost so much weight. It’s chiseled bare.

His cheeks are waxy melting mounds. Smooth and brown.

His hands are large; dangerous. They are still, yet frightening. The monster strength is gone, but they summon the fear of what was possible, what was done.

He is a mechanic. But he has the cleanest, longest nails I’ve ever seen on a man. The palms are soft and tender, amazingly so.

My hands are close to his. The backs of my hands are rough, pale and dry. White with flakes. My nails are short and torn. Red and sore like my eyes.

I can sense that whatever lights the eye and warms the blood is gone from him. There is no recognition, not even a grimace.

His spirit has sighed away and what is left is just a heap of tumors, bones and bile. He will never talk, kiss, threaten, smoke, curse, drink, hit, hate, love, work, sacrifice, shame or wrestle on this earth again. He can’t hurt any more, but he also can’t fix a thing.

I have lost him. I. Am. Lost.

Go With the Flow

My dad was dying. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was would be gone within two months. He had end-stage lung cancer and could no longer drive. So I had to cart him around. Which he hated. So did I.

He’d lost all autonomy and that was hard for him. A fiercely independent, strongly opinionated man. He couldn’t even decide to go home from the hospital at his leisure. He wanted to die in his own bed. He finally got his wish.

One day, we were taking the interstate home and I was dutifully going the speed limit. I was afraid if I went over the limit, Dad would say something. Criticize me. He did anyway.

“You need to speed up. Move with the traffic.”

At the time, I was extremely annoyed, but all I could mumble was, “Sorry.” And I put the pedal to the floor.

There, Old Man.

“Why do you have to find fault with me in everything I do?” I wondered.

Too fast, too slow. Too lazy. Too everything you think I shouldn’t be. But your sick. So I’ll just keep quiet and take it.

But today, when I remembered his nudge (I still think about and remember these things, ugh), I thought, “Thanks, Dad. Good advice.”

I drive for a living now. All I have is time in the car to think about things, past and present. Too much time, perhaps. It’s like all the thoughts you ever have when you’re working out and in the zone.

I’m a very good driver. I pay attention and know a thing or two about cars, thanks to my father. He was a mechanic by trade. He taught me how to take care of a vehicle, inside and out, and how to drive one.

I know why I was so sensitive at the time. Any opportunity my parents had to correct me was unwelcome and resented. They behaved in ways that grownups shouldn’t: fighting, engaging in unfair behavior, inconsistency, neglect. They were normal parents from the 80s.

Who are you to tell me anything??

And I held them accountable with my teenage indignation. Except, it didn’t help and I was just as wrong. Even if I was totally justified in rebuking their correction, they were still my parents. And they were, on the whole, usually right. Or steering me in the right direction.

I’m 44 now and much more confident about who I am and how well I drive. I’m well-adjusted and have worked through most of my past. I take criticism, for the most part, in stride now (thanks to mandatory art school critiques). 😉

Today I’ll just say, “Thanks, Dad. You were right.”

I miss my dad. I mourn all the years I lost to his mental and physical illness. But I also mourn all the years I lost growing up without him or knowing him as an adult.

He never saw my daughter. I know he would have been proud of the job I did/am doing with her. I wish he could have held her, heard her, helped her. But it was enough that he ever did that with me. I can only remember a handful of times, but it was enough.

I forgive you and I’m sorry, Dad.

Vol. 2 (continued)

More from my second volume of Present Tense. These excerpts have not been published or seen. This is from the time I visited my dad in the hospital, just before he passed. He was very sick. End-stage cancer.


Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em


Lung cancer. He smoked for over 45 years. Sometimes 3 packs a day. Sometimes a pipe. Rarely marijuana.
He is laying in bed in a hospital room. I walk into the room with my mother and sister. He’s in a gown, head shaved and Sharpie marks on his scalp. That’s where they focus the radiation. That’s where the brain tumors are. There are several marks. There are other places in his body that have cancer. Leg. Stomach. Chest.
He’s uncomfortable. He starts to squirm. He rolls onto his stomach, props himself up on his elbows and knees. My mother rubs his back. She whispers softly in his ear. She looks scared. So does he. This is the most vulnerable, tender moment I have ever seen them share. The pain passes.
He looks at me and asks me to buy him a pack of cigarettes. He hands me several dollar bills. I agree.
Our philosophies were in agreement on this day and many to follow. The world is a brief, harsh place and you find pleasure where you can.
I was not going to deny a dying man his last want or need.
We are on our way to my grandmother’s funeral.