Monday, June 7, 2010

Poppy & Dad

I miss my dad, a bit, even though he and my mum came over yesterday afternoon and stayed for supper.

We get together less often than I would like, but it isn't through any neglect or willfulness on anyone's part; life just continues to be that thing that happens while we are busy making other plans, I guess.

They are pretty much gyppoes now, nomads; they live in their motorhome year-round, spending winters near Oliver, B.C., and their summers in Leduc. Mum doesn't like to drive at night, which makes week-night visits to Edmonton difficult, while our need to get the girls in bed at a half decent hour keeps us out of Leduc except for the weekends. Still, we do what we can and have a very nice time when we do get together.

A few years back, my dad had a series of micro-strokes, which, in the big picture, were not as destructive or debilitating as they could have been, but which did have a pronounced effect on him. His once excellent memory now fails him in unexpected ways, which he finds incredibly frustrating. Why can't I find anything? Who moved that? What's going on? It's been very difficult on Mum, but she soldiers on indomitably, which will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows her.

Some time after this, the sudden realization that there were certain conversations that I simply was not going to have with my father any more, certain insights it would just be pointless to share, reduced me to tears. The fact that my daughters are never going to meet the Dad I remember, except through my own recollections, still saddens me greatly.

Audrey and her co-workers were having a discussion along these lines, prompted by a colleague whose husband had a massive stroke and required tremendous levels of care before recently slipping into a coma. So cruel to prolong the end, one had suggested, to nods of agreement. Better to have the heart attack accompanied by the sound of fingers snapping, the sudden exeunt.

Don't be so sure, another said. A heart attack or a car accident leaves so much unsaid, there is no chance for closure, no opportunity for farewell. Half a goodbye is better than none.

The man my girls know as Poppy is quite a bit different from the Dad I grew up with. Poppy is quieter, more withdrawn. Less insightful, and prone to faking his way through certain exchanges. Still, it's not as though he's a total stranger; the same laugh, the same sense of humour, the appreciation of many of the same things.

Even a lot of the same recollections; after supper tonight, Mum was telling a story about an incident that happened when we lived on a farm in New Brunswick, nigh on forty years ago. She'd been watching our dogs play through the kitchen window, wondering what toy they were fighting over, when it turned out to be a mouse...which, as if on cue, came apart at the seams, messily. Never the strongest of stomachs, Mum became quite sick, and despite being at the kitchen sink, decorum prompted her to run at flank speed to the nearest washroom, thirty feet away, right past Dad and an official from his union. "What was his name, Maurice? Bill something.."

"Jim Davidson." Poppy asserted, without hesitation.

"That's it," confirmed Mum, "Jim Davidson! Well, all he saw was a blur.."

Even though Poppy can't recall everything he's done, and recent incidents are actually more difficult to recall than those from the distant past, there's still a lot there. He remembers occurrences from childhood, his and mine, like names and faces of family members from a motel stay in Manitoba when I was three, which I mostly recall through association with an ancient picture of my then baby sister, looking up out of an ad hoc playpen made by folding a motel cot to ninety degrees, flipping it on its side and moving it to a corner filled with blankets. Poppy remembers who was there and who wasn't.

It's almost as though Poppy and Dad are two different people who travelled in very similar circles, knew all the same people, and so on. Like an unknown brother, or best comrade. Poppy is a great fellow to have around, and I know he speaks to Dad. I don't get the impression of one person who is trapped inside another; it's more like a shape where formerly precise edges have been worn smooth with time, only all at once, rendering it into a subtly different form.

Most importantly, we still get the opportunity to break bread with him, to watch him hug his granddaughters, to see him smile and laugh and to know that he is loved. Every time I see him, I give him a big hug and get a huge smile in return, and so do the girls. To me, that still speaks of a certain quality of life, even it is not the same as it once was.

Much more than half a goodbye.

1 comment:

  1. To be honest, my Dad and I have never had a very good relationship. Nor has it actually been bad. We simply have so little in common that it's difficult for us to talk. Even in my childhood, he was away more than half the time on deployment or on night shift. Just too little common ground. I still love him, and appreciate all he has done for me. We simply are not very close. Ask Pete about me Dad sometime. He might have a few stories, from the very few times they met.