Today is my father’s birthday in heaven.
Full of the devil, with a wicked sense of humour, he could only be born on All Hallow’s Eve eve. The irony doesn’t escape me.
My father actually wasn’t a very tall man. His sisters were the tall ones in that family, but to me he was a giant among men. Yes, he had his flaws and challenges, who among us doesn’t? But in my eyes, he was the most handsome, funniest, strongest, and most respected father and man I ever knew.
And yet being 56 years of age when he died, and me only 16, in many ways I hardly knew him at all. My mom was very good at telling me family history. And for that I am thankful because it does help me to understand him better as a person. Life was not easy for my dad nor his dad before him; but he did have supportive people in his life, mainly women, who rallied around him and his siblings in times of stress. And when Stewart (my father) became an adult, it was often he who did the supporting and decision making for his West Brook family; he and his younger sister.
Those who grew up with him, his peers, spoke in awe of how he operated all kinds of machines when he was just a boy. I tell you, I often see him in my students, the ones who want to be anywhere but in school, yet have such keen knowledge of the way machines work, and are so very kind, and so very humble. And yes… even assholes at times!
Wherever he worked he was a reliable and loyal employee although I think he ribbed his young co-workers a bit too much as he became “the senior” staff. He received a commendation from the Atlantic Galvanizers’ Company, where he worked in the late 70’s, for his quick action in saving a fellow worker who fell into a galvanizing vat and would have surely died or been severely injured had he not pulled him out and provided direct assistance. Dad’s work meant a lot to him and both he and mom instilled the importance of integrity on the job to my brother and me.
He also made life beautifully interesting for us. Memories do fade after 38 years but in this time of Samhain, stories and images do rise to the surface. One evening he had us all in absolute stitches with his “interpretation” of various stories from the Amherst Daily News. He often assisted us with carving our jack -o- lanterns and always drove us around on Halloween when we were little, visiting with the Athol neighbors while we ran ahead collecting treats. I remember he would occasionally pick me up from “Explorers” after school and on one such evening, while I was waiting for him, I discovered I no longer needed training wheels on my bike as I could drive my friend’s two wheeler just fine! I could hardly wait to tell him when he arrived.
But perhaps the one image that comes to mind quite often is one Sunday night when he changed ends with me on the couch (a habit he had when we were watching tv). He rested his head on my lap, and I was so close to him at that moment. What I cannot remember is if it was the night before he died (he died on Monday, November 19th, 1984) or another Sunday night close to his death. I guess it doesn’t matter. It was just very lovely. And very special.
He wasn’t an overly demonstrative father; that was just the generation, so that memory is especially heartfelt (heart filling).
I often wonder what my life would have been like had Dad lived to a normal age. Not so much in what I would have done or wouldn’t have done, but more like what conversations he and I could have eventually had or how he would have helped me maneuver certain aspects of my life. I really missed having a father.
And many times I awake in the night grieving for Bea and her loss. Because if my Dad was a huge presence for me, try replacing hers.
When I began therapy after Pat died, my counselor felt it a good place to start with the traumatic passing of my father. It was a good call.
His death and Patrick’s became one in the same. It was time to do a helluva lot of work.
Yet here I am on his birthday celebrating the man, and the men of my life. Not only Dad, but Peter, and of course, Pat. I have learned that the veil between this life and the next is much thinner this time of year. That memories are sharper, as is the air, and the color of the autumn sky, and of course the falling leaves.
It’s like this powerful, healing web of people and memories that keeps me moving forward.
So today, I especially celebrate my father whose powerful presence I feel this time of year. So often, it is his handsome face and telling behaviors that come to me to make me laugh, perhaps to ponder, and to just plain admire.
I miss you and I love you, Dad. Always and forever.
Good night sweet Elvis.
Thanks for listening,
Melissa xo xo