I first met M. when I was in junior high school. We began by studying geometry together and ended up best friends. That was thirty years ago, and although there have been times when we’ve been closer and times when we’ve been farther apart, we’ve pretty much stayed best friends. And from the time I first met M., I’ve known her parents.
One of the things that so closely bonded M. and I from day one was our parallel family dysfunction. My father is an alcoholic; her mother is an alcoholic. My mother served as an oasis of sanity and unconditional love in the chaos that swirled throughout our house; M.’s father was her oasis. Very quickly I came to love her father dearly. For the person that he was, and for the person he was that my father wasn’t.
M.’s dad was quiet, a private person. But there’s a reason the saying “still waters run deep” has become a cliché – it’s so often true. M.’s dad was like that. He might not say much, but he didn’t miss a trick. If you didn’t pay attention, you might miss one of his dry remarks – and that would be a shame because he was clever and funny. After a while I noticed that when M.’s dad spoke, the savvy people in the room would immediately shut up and listen to what he had to say. If you could get him to tell a story, you’d probably end up wiping tears of laughter from your face.
M.’s dad didn’t have a fancy childhood. He worked hard all his life, but in a matter of fact way, asking for no pity and expecting no accolades. He gave his kids a better life than he had and was proud of that. He saw his son and daughter go to college, not just go to college but excel there, and go on to have satisfying careers and comfortable lives. That meant a lot to him. He saw his two children get married to loving spouses, and welcomed three grandchildren and three granddogs into his life. I’m sure they were the light of his life. I’m sure it made it easier for him to leave this life knowing that his children grew up to be such impressive people: hardworking, responsible, family-focused, able to appreciate the small joys of life as well as the large, full of humor and irony – all the traits that I saw in him.
You may recall a few months ago, when I made a pair of Notre Dame-themed bed socks for Molly’s dad. He was a passionate Notre Dame supporter and felt a great attachment to his Irish roots. (I’ll never forget the time, about 15 years ago, when I had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV, and the phone rang, and I picked it up, and it was M’s dad, singing the Notre Dame fight song because Notre Dame had just beaten Michigan – my alma mater – in football.) M’s dad was a Fighting Irishman to the end: roots firmly planted in the soil, hardworking, spiritual, equally appreciative of the joy and the pain in life, stubbornly refusing to die except on his own terms.
I loved him and I mourn him.