23 July 2017

About my dad

My dad died forty days ago.

I've been lost for words since then, besides a wine-and-jetlag fueled post that was all about his nose and which I was very relieved to find in the morning that I had saved only to drafts.

Impressive though my dad's nose was, there are even more notable things that I think should be said about him.

First of all, he was incredibly kind. He cheerfully signed himself up for night duty when Smalls was a newborn who would only sleep when being held. He spent his vacation helping me repaint our house in the UK. He was there to pick me up at any hour of the night when I was a teenager.

One of my cousins wrote me a very nice note about how my dad's smile always made him feel like he was really a part of the family, and it was true that my dad would try to make everyone feel at ease. L remembers how nice he was, especially when they met for the first time and L had the challenging task of asking/informing my dad that he planned to marrying me. My dad said that he would be proud to have L -foreigner, atheist, politically-opposite, dramatically different in personality - as a son-in-law.

When I visited him in November, he told me that his biggest worry was that he would get meaner and meaner as the cancer took over his brain. He would try so hard to make sure he said 'Thank you' to those who helped him, even if it took a few minutes to get the words out. He ended every phone call by saying 'I love you.' and made sure to tell all of us kids that these final two years were the best of his life (because he had such a nice time having so many very nice people around him) - which I strongly suspect was intended to make us feel better about a very shit situation.

Second of all, my dad was so funny. He loved a good joke - especially if it was his own. Family lore includes The Time Dad Snorted Strawberry Soda Out Of His Nose Laughing At His Own Joke. His sense of humor ranged from sophisticated wordplay to Monty Python to the dregs of 'Dad jokes'. My knowledge of the Marx Brothers is embarrassingly extensive thanks to him. He loved a good pun and a funny story - and loved the sorts of stories that were funny at his own expense.

As a kid, I took it for granted, but looking back, it's astonishing how he gamely put up with four kids' worth of crappy childhood films, MacDonald's dinners as a special 'treat', and - crucially - our homemade presents. Especially precious to me is his laugh when he realized that his Father's Day present of a tie made from a butchered pair of tights, which he had been sporting all through the Sunday church service, had been created from a pair of noticeably unwashed tights.

I feel the need to point out that I was six or seven and the tights were white with pink and blue balloons. My mom found the stinky-tights tie in his collection of precious things after he died.

Thirdly, my dad was exceptionally thrifty. He taught me how to budget and how to live within my means - something that I appreciate more and more the older I get. He instilled in me a wariness of buying on credit. He (along with my mom) worked hard to make a college fund for all of us kids and I'm certain I wouldn't have the financial security I have now if it hadn't been for my parents.

I perhaps didn't always appreciate his thriftiness. Take, for instance, my 21st birthday when he took me out for a celebratory dinner and then, noting the ridiculous mark up on the wine, inquired if it wasn't possible to get one glass of wine and split it between three?

Fourthly, he believed in God and was relentless in his desire to live in the best possible way. During my childhood, he was a staunch Calvinist and he later became an enthusiastic Serbian Orthodox convert.

He didn't believe in doing things in half-measure, especially when it came to religion, and he devotedly memorized catechisms, books of the Bible, songs and prayers. He served as a deacon and later, he was an 'altar boy' and did a beautiful reading/singing of Ezekiel 37 as part of the Orthodox service.

Fifthly, my dad would laugh about how he was 'Jack of all trades, master of none.' He taught himself cross stitch and basket-weaving, he rode a bike and a motorcycle. He did pencil drawing. He made amazing brownies. He fixed cars. He rocked the newspaper crossword. He dug holes in the garden where ever my mom requested. He dabbled in being an electrician and a plumber (the latter resulted in the classic story about how he replaced an upstairs toilet that hinged on the line 'the ceiling was bulging, so I thought I'd just push it up a bit...'). He was the family photographer and the family storyteller. He taught us kids algebra and how to drive. He was an excellent dishwashing buddy, singing Avril Lavigne hits as he dried dishes.

In short, it's been a very hard two years watching my amazing, interesting, hardworking dad try to hold on to himself against the all-consuming, all-destroying glioblastoma. He was only 58.

I really miss him.