As I wrote that e-mail message, a sort of blue fog washed over me and I really couldn’t think of what to write or what memory to share so I put the Father’s Day blog post on hold for what I told myself would only be ‘a few hours’.
Then, Sunday afternoon, Bob and I participated in a make shift ‘flash mob’ that was put together for our good friend, Charlie, who is in the last days of his battle with esophageal cancer. Diagnosed exactly one year ago, this incredibly smart, strong, witty, handsome and amazing man has mere days left in his journey. A fantastic father, his only daughter is set to be married next Saturday and the one prayer he has left in the world is that he be here to celebrate this special day with her.
For the flash mob, in less than 12 hours, two women rallied about 40 of us and we gathered together shortly after lunch where we were handed rewritten lyrics to the song that was once “You Are My Sunshine” written by an advertising executive colleague. His song, while keeping the same tune, was entitled “We Love You Charlie” and, as the haphazardly parked group rapidly assembled along the country road outside Charlie’s home, we practiced singing it a few times to at least appear as though we knew what we were doing.
We nervously laughed at the off-key singing and quickly pronounced ourselves “perfect” before we began our enthusiastic march down the long pebbled drive toward the dream home Charlie and Mary began building approximately thirty months ago. While no one spoke of it, I am sure many, like me, were cursing this cruel irony, as we were directed around to the back of the house outside the large sunroom overlooking Lake Michigan, where Charlie now spends his days. This dream house that Charlie so lovingly designed for their retirement years and into which they moved less than one year ago. This dream house that was intended to provide nothing but comfort now holding him captive.
We awkwardly crooned a few verses of our new song and Charlie waved from his hospital bed. His bride Mary, the kindest and most caring friend in the world, allowed tears to run unabashedly down her face as she looked out at so many who were channeling their love through song. Their daughter, Martha, clung to her father’s side only briefly coming out to thank we merry band of singers. Tim, the lovely son-in-law-to-be ran around the group from one side to the other like a super hero trying to catch the entire experience on his iPhone. I suspect that is how he spends most of his days – these days – franticly running from person to person and task to task ….problem solving as best he can. Such an amazing soul, that Tim.
We were in and out in less than seven minutes. Our ‘goodbyes’ far less animated than our ‘hellos’ had been just a few moments earlier. Waves of hands replacing the previous hugs and kisses…shuffling feet over the pebbled drive … no more purposeful marching.
It's not that I don’t always have much to say about my father. I do. So many memories and stories to tell.
One of the things I find most interesting as I ponder Dad these days is not whether I was the most spoiled (get over it) but the unique relationship I believe I had with him that none of my friends had with their fathers. Maybe mom and dad were just tired when I got to high school having had 9 before me…or maybe they felt guilty about moving to Arizona the minute I went to college…I don’t know. But, I do know that I feel as though I had a "simpler" more "easy" relationship with them, more of a friendship, particularly in my collegiate years. And it was very special.
One night I came home from the college Library after studying (I remember this because nights at the library were so very rare) and my roommate, Peggy, said that Dad had called and left a message that I was to call him back as soon as I returned home. Peggy looked concerned, which made me concerned. I quickly picked up the phone and dialed.
SUSAN: Hi Dad. It’s Susan. You OK?
DAD: Oh, yeah. OK - I’ve got a good one for you. So, four men are out golfing in their regular foursome early one morning and a hearse goes by with tons of cars behind it all with their headlights on and one of the guys takes off his golf hat right there on the fairway and holds it over his heart until all of the cars have passed. His friends just stand there – stunned. As soon as the last car passes and the man puts his hat back on, one of the other players says, ‘hey, that was really nice of you to recognize that procession like that,’ and the guy says ‘oh, well, it was the least I could do – she was a darn good wife for 27 years.’ BWAAH HA HA HA! Tell your friends that one, ok?
SUSAN: Ha Ha. Yeah Dad, I will. Was that all?
DAD: Yup. Just thought you’d like that joke.
I remember turning around to see my friend, Peggy, who was still certain something terrible had happened, and just shaking my head.
On that same college house refrigerator, we had a huge red piece of paper with “Bill Whitakerisms” written on it. “the house is not a toy”, “who you working for Reddy Kilowatt?”, “where’d you go for that pizza, Chicago?”, to name just a few.
I don’t think I ever told him how cool my roommates thought he was. In my typical (okay, spoiled) way, I just took these things for granted. Cool? Dad? Really?
In our family we often reminisce about how we were unfairly punished as children – and believe me I absolutely remember the hot sting of his belt – but when I think of Dad today, my memories are mainly about the friend he was. About the man who wrote us letters with bold ideas. About the guy who wanted to make sure I had a good joke to tell.
While I pray for a miracle for my friends Charlie and Mary so that Martha can have her dad with her for just nine more days, I also hope they are able to share all of the things they want to say to each other in these last few precious moments.
Oh, and lest I forget...Happy Belated Father’s Day to Dads everywhere…including many of my crazy brothers, brothers-in-law, my wonderful husband, and the gone but never forgotten Bill Whitaker.