Everyday reminders of my dad as I get older

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 1/24/20

As I pile up more birthdays, a couple of things come to mind.

One is that I’m glad to still be having them.

The other is that even though it’s been some time now since he slipped away — …

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Everyday reminders of my dad as I get older

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Posted

As I pile up more birthdays, a couple of things come to mind.

One is that I’m glad to still be having them.

The other is that even though it’s been some time now since he slipped away — 27 years and a few months, to be exact — I find myself thinking about and remembering my dad more and more.

I wasn’t with him the day he crossed the Great Divide. Mama was there, in another room. He had gone outside after a hearty — for him — breakfast to watch the tree trimmers do their thing on a cold day. Mama called to him to come inside and get a jacket so his cold-natured chest could stand the day.

When he came in and sat down in his living room chair and the phone rang and he didn’t answer the portable one he kept at hand, she called out to him to see who was on the other end. When it kept ringing, she went to where he was and discovered he wasn’t there any longer.

We knew he had a bad ticker and wasn’t going to be with us 80 more years. We just didn’t expect it to happen that day.

I remember him in large part for the lessons in life and of life — things he told me often, like keep it between the ditches, don’t wish your time away, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, slow down before you get to the curve, don’t get caught between a mama hog and her babies, just to name a few.

While all of those had a specific meaning at the time they were said, it’s amazing to me as I look at them now how they have a broader application to life in general.

I think he knew that.

I also remember him for something else he left me — bad genes.

“Genes.”

Not “jeans.”

Genes.

I outgrew his clothes size by the time I turned 11.

I remember how as a little boy — let me rephrase that...as a “young” boy — I often waited anxiously for him to come home at the end of a long day so we could play ball or pitch horseshoes or play golf in a 3-hole course he made in the side yard using Campbell’s tomato soup cans as the holes.

Many times, he did. Other times he’d say “I don’t feel like it.” For the longest time in those days I’d reply, “Daddy, you don’t look sick” and he’d say, “I’m not sick; I just hurt.”

Now I know what he meant. Some of his bad genes were named “arthritis” and they caused his hands and wrists and knees and various other joints to keep him often in some severe pain. It got worse as he got older. He tried all kinds of remedies — doctors, drinking vinegar, gold shots, sitting in spas and hot tubs at a health club, anything he or someone else could come up with.

He once hoped even to have a knee replacement but his ticker wasn’t strong enough to stand the surgery and that surgery wasn’t as common then as it is now.

Today I’m pretty sure I’m my father’s son. Three shoulder repairs, two hip replacements, spinal decompression, a knee replacement and a planned shoulder replacement later this year — all since 1999 — attest to that. Friends ask me if I’m trying to make like Lee Majors and be the bionic “Six Million Dollar Man.” I tell them, “No; I’ll settle for being the five-dollar man if it’ll take care of the pain.”

The bad news is that all that has happened; the good news is that today’s surgeries and therapies and doctors can do more for me that could be done for my dad.

I wish some of that had been around for him.

I wish he were still here — not in the shape he was but benefiting from the good things that helped me. Then maybe he could see his great-grandchildren, those grandkids of mine and my brothers.

I could ask him for advice and insight about specific things or just life in general, those things I thought I could handle myself when he was here. I’d take him to Red Lobster and order all the shrimp he could eat for him.

We’d play Rummy again, maybe even checkers, a game in which I never beat him and he never let me win just so I’d feel good. He was teaching me a life lesson there. Now that I have satellite TV, we’d watch “Bonanza” again...and again...not just at 8 on Saturday night.

As I have more of those birthdays, I have come to a great truth: given the good he shared with me and my brothers, I’ll put up with the bad genes for the sheer pleasure of having known the man...and calling him “Dad.”

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