Today is an anniversary of sorts and I have been thinking about my Dad off and on through the day. It's funny the things you remember so easily, and the things you suppress to keep from thinking about. Today, in spite of myself, I have done both.
My dad was a self made and smart man. As a young man he decided he'd had enough, so he lied about his age joining the military early to get out of the house of an abusive stepmother and his train engineer father, who was rarely home. It was probably one of the best decision he ever made (a couple others followed, but they may not have been there if he hadn't have made this one).
Shortly after that, he and his buddy were at a theater when he spotted a young "lassie". His best friend told him "that's not the one you want, look at ________. That's the one for you." Sure enough, my father made his second smart decision. He married my mother. It was a few short years of wedded bliss before the unthinkable happened - Pearl Harbor was attacked. Kissing my Mom goodbye (maybe for the last time, he thought), he boarded a train and headed for San Francisco to parts unknown with one goal: to beat those "SOB's" who had attacked our country.
He fought courageously in the Pacific with the 5th Fighter Command and apparently he must have been doing a heckuva job because he continued to catch the attention of the "higher ups"based on his smart decisions that affected him and eventually those he commanded as a Lt. It also that landed him in some pretty incredible places and events.
His life was miraculously spared many times during the war. He was one time ordered to "clean out the caves" on Biack (not sure of the spelling) of Japanese soldiers.... There was some fierce fighting. On time toward the end of the war, he was expecting a fight, but he was surprised to find that the Japs took care of it themselves before my father and his team arrived. On another occasion, again towards the end of the war, a Japanese officer surrendered to him and gave him his samurai sword as a gift (still have that with the things that went with it). Some days later, he hopped on a flight somehow, and was able to catch a flight to Okinawa and on to the Philippines for the signing of the end of the war (he has actual pictures somewhere which I still have to find).
After that was over, he came home but continued to serve active duty in the Army. At some point he was asked ("told") to be the attache to the Japan Defense Ministry. It was a job which he gladly accepted and loved. My mom, who was pregnant with my oldest brother (six months - LOL!) sailed to Japan to be with him over there. She always has said she wasn't sure on that long voyage, whether his birth certificate would say latitude and longitude instead of City and State!
His last post was in the Pentagon where his military career ended with his retirement and the rank of full Colonel. He received various Awards and Citations from the top on down through his career. He often commented that he didn't know how he had been successful since nobody at home really taught him, but in spite of it, he did just fine!
He had four children, I was the last. We never saw eye to eye. I didn't care about his war stories, or what he thought about things. I misunderstood him and he misunderstood me. If you have never been in a military family you might not understand this, but it is true...our house was sort of run like a "unit". I was a failure at school- my reasoning seemed to be if it wasn't lunch or recess what was the point in being there? No amount of "discipline", "shrinks", "programs" could make me do what I was supposed to at school. After my second time in third grade (I always say it was my favorite because I got to spend so much time in it), my parents made a change to a private school, I learned to read finally in the fourth grade. The light had been turned on, and I started doing better. I gobbled up books and improved my reading, and as I did, it in turn, improved the rest of the academics.
Maybe because I never felt I measured up, and the things I endured as "discipline", and our distinct differences, we continued to drift apart. There were quite a few times, I literally didn't even speak to my dad. I was bitter over the list of "grievances" that had been accumulating over the years. When it came time to leave home, he didn't think it was the thing for me to do. We had a forced relationship, that was fractured even more. I loaded the car - myself and a couple of friends, while he sat in his recliner. He did come out to tell me he loved me and goodbye as I drove off, but I thought I could still see the anger in his eyes, maybe it was just sadness. Oh well...didn't matter at that moment, I was free!
Something weird happened to me after leaving...and it occurred in the first year. Things my dad had said, things he had taught me, good memories of the things he had done with us kids (fishing- for one) came flooding back at all different times and situations. The bitter hard shell around my heart toward my dad started to melt away. I know this sounds corny but it is the truth - one day I was driving down the road and a song by Reba McEntire, "The Greatest Man I Never Knew"...came on the radio- the first time I had ever heard it. As she sang, it was literally the song of our relationship. I drove until I couldn't see the road anymore and finally pulled over, just bawling like a baby. I stopped somewhere and got the cassette. That night I called my dad, and we talked. Before hanging up I told him that I loved him, and this time it wasn't forced.
My next visit home, we got along better. It was the beginning of our healing. It was good for him and it was good for me. Although, we still didn't see eye to eye, and he still frustrated me at times (and I am sure I did him as well), we agreed on things we could agree on, and left the others alone mostly. Years went by, and though never feeling the "favored child status", I knew he loved me just the same...and it was enough.
Almost three years ago, I quit my job to move home and help take care of my older parents. (I probably got that commitment thing from my parents - they brought grandparents here when they were unable to take care of themselves - even the abusive stepmom - talk about love!). About this time he'd had his third accident of the year and he failed his driver's license test. I felt bad for him as he slumped in the passenger seat of his car on the way home, but also relieved that he had not hurt or killed anybody. That was the beginning of the end for my dad - he had lost his freedom! Also around this time, my dad who had prostate cancer for years, started having worse problems after the medicine which was helping him keep the cancer in check, was banned in the US. He had been able to receive it from Canada. Then the FDA (probably for political reasons) made it impossible to get and and when he couldn't get his alternative treatment anymore, the cancer started metastasizing at an alarming rate. It spread to his shoulder, ribs, and beyond.
About a month before he passed, my sister finally convinced him to do his will. A few days after it was signed, I was taking care of him and he told me he didn't think he would be around much longer. That was hard to hear, but it was a great opportunity for me to review his life with him. He'd had a blessed life and he was able to see all his kids grow up and have occupations helping other people, and he himself had helped thousands of individuals, even in his last few years on earth. That made him proud. We talked about many things and he seemed to feel better, like he was appreciated for all the things he had done all his life. That night like I had done so many times before, I just sat in the den reading with him. He always was grateful for that. We both enjoyed a "stick" as he called it - his favorite thing was a Popsicle. We didn't really talk much because he could hear hardly at all, and it would amount to yelling and waking everybody else up.
His last days were spent in a hospital when he was unable to void. Once he was stabilized, we wanted to get him home on his farm that he loved, surrounded by the people he loved, and with the animals that he loved for his last few weeks or whatever time he had left. We had hospice all lined up and ready to bring him home in a few days, when he took a turn for the worse. We decided just to make him comfortable, going home was not an option now. He continued to decline... if you have been there, you know how awful it is...we stayed by him round the clock.
After three days of being in a comatose state, one morning as I was getting ready to leave, he stretched out his arms over his head and yawned! That was so typical of my Dad in the morning. I slapped my brother and said, "LOOK!" I grabbed for my dad's hand as his eyes looked around the room, as if gauging where he was, and then his eyes locked on mine, which were by this point, mere inches from his face. And he smiled - a little half smile with his parched lips...but he gave me a smile! And just as quickly as he came back, he was gone...he never roused again. He knew I needed it! As he was leaving this earth, he gave me one final gift. I've thought about that smile everyday since April 29, 2008. It gives me peace because we had mended the fences and especially so over the last year that I took care of him (even though we had our difficulties even with that. But it was okay- it was overlooked because who wants their kid doing the things I had to do?), and it makes me thankful for the power of forgiveness; but most importantly, I am confident that I will see that smile again...when I meet him in Heaven on the other side.