Goodbye Dad (part two)

One of my best friends from high school, the man who introduced me to my wife, ended up settling in Northern California about a six hour drive from where I live. He moved up north to go to medical school and has been there ever since. We have kept in close touch over the years, however, and in spite of the distance, his two girls have become really good friends with my two daughters. It must be genetic.

When my doctor friend found out that my dad was in the hospital and did not seem to be getting any better, he sprang into action. He began asking my wife and me all kinds of questions in hopes of figuring out what was going on. He even talked to a couple of the doctors who were working on my dad’s case to get a better sense of what has happening. Being so far away, however, there was only so much that he could do.

A couple of weeks ago, it was becoming clear to me and my family that dad might not last too much longer. So hospice care was arranged, and he came home on Thursday afternoon (June 25). After seeing dad that evening along with my wife and the kids, I came home fairly late that night and talked to my friend. He kept saying that he felt this compelling need to come down and see my dad. So he planned on either driving down on Friday night or Saturday morning. Neither of us knew at the time that this would be too late. When I went to my parents’ house on Friday afternoon, it was clear by about 4:00 that dad was not likely to survive the day. So I told my friend that he should not try to make the drive. With family at his side, dad died at 6:15 that night.

Almost down to the end, my friend was still giving medical advice. Both of us were hoping that my dad’s condition that day was being caused more by medication than by his illness. But I don’t think my friend was under the illusion that he could do anything to save my dad. He had not been planning on coming down to be my dad’s doctor. He wanted to be there for the same reason that I wanted to be there. From talking to him, you would get the feeling that his dad was also dying.

Back when we were in high school and college, my friend had a lot of great times with me at my parents’ house. We have often found ourselves over the years reflecting on all of those fun memories. But I did not realize, and I don’t know if he realized, the degree to which he was attached to my parents. Because his family life at the time was not so great, we had kind of become his surrogate family. And as he told me shortly after finding out about my dad’s death, my dad embodied for him the qualities that a father should have.

This story is not an isolated case. Other friends and childhood neighbors, some of whom knew my dad well and others who didn’t, have expressed similar feelings. It’s like I suddenly have more brothers and sisters than I previously realized. A part of me would like to think that people liked hanging out at my house because I am such a great guy. But my parents had a remarkable ability to create an environment in which people felt at home. My mom is one of the most outgoing people that I have ever known, but my dad, like myself, was more of a quiet, introverted type. But his calmness (most of the time), corny sense of humor, playfulness, and steady presence seemed to put people at ease. And without trying, and probably without realizing it, he played the role of part-time dad for some of the people that I know best.

I guess we never know how we might be impacting the lives of others. We humans, after all, especially in this culture, have a hard time telling other people what they mean to us. Sometimes, we don’t know how much other people mean to us until they are gone. I just hope that I can help to create the kinds of fond memories for my kids and their friends that my dad helped to create. I also hope that my dad realized how many lives he impacted in his quiet, steady way.

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