Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Long Overdue Salute to Dad

One of the earliest posts on this blog was about my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. There I gave a brief description of my mom and dad and their background, but today, on Father's Day, for obvious reasons, I'm thinking more about dad.

About 13 years ago I was running a Theatre box office in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, when I got a call from dad. He was calm, quiet, but insistent. He needed me to take him to the hospital. After the immediate "what's wrong?", he told me he felt fine, but his doctor, on getting his test results from a routine checkup earlier in the week, was meeting him at the hospital. Pronto. As I only worked about four blocks from where he lived, and the little hospital rendezvous concerned his heart, the doctor and my dad decided it'd be prudent for me to take him. He was admitted that day and operated on the next. A double bypass.

The good news is it was a complete success, and his recovery so complete that even now his doctor's usual response to dad's regular checkups is a lament that a 73 year old is in better health than his 50-something doctor. The reason this incident comes to mind is how my thought processes ran that day.

It's a pretty amusing little irony that while I can't remember what I had for lunch two days ago, I remember exactly what I was thinking while I waited for the outcome of that operation thirteen years ago. The only close family mortality issue I had ever dealt with up to then was my grandfather's death, and that was a sudden heart attack. No surgery, no extended hospital stay. It was right to the mourning stage. This was scary. There was time to think. Everyone kept telling me it was going to be just fine, it was routine. Like any open heart surgery is going to be routine.

My first thought was how would I deal with it if he didn't make it? Cliches kept running through my head. Would my first thought be: "I haven't told him I loved him?" I decided it wouldn't be, because although I hadn't said it to him in many years, I knew he knew. I actually began to (speaking of cliches) sort of see HIS life, as it passed before MY eyes.. his life with me, that is. I remember thinking, even at the time, that I was putting together a eulogy of sorts for the man, in my head. What I came up with, with regards to regrets, was a rather simple one: I had never told him how proud I am of him.

Dad and I saw eye to eye on virtually nothing when I was growing up. He was a 'wrong side of the tracks' kind of guy, a greaser who hung out with questionable crowds, went into the army shortly after high school. Not a big reader, or the intellectual type.

What he was (and is) is the hardest working human being I have ever met. When my brother and I were growing up, dad managed paint and hardware stores (mostly for Alan Saks, opening and running any new Saxon Paint stores up in the Chicago area). He worked five days a week on a good week, six or seven on most others. He worked a couple nights a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays - that's another odd thing to remember). We lived in a middle class Chicago neighborhood where everyone on the block knew everyone else.

We got by most times, and in a good year, we did better, in lean ones, maybe a little worse. But we never lacked for anything. I never appreciated the work he did, until much later, after I'd spent a number of years in retail management after college. And his work was much more physically demanding than mine ever was. Every time I saw him at work he was on a ladder fixing a lighting fixture, or dismantling a display, or boxing cartons, or building something.

In time, when he was in his 50s, my parents came into some money when the people who raised him (my great aunt and uncle) passed away. One of the things I find most remarkable about the man is his life didn't change when he came into the money. Not that it was millions, mind you, but enough that they didn't need to worry about the bills. Probably for the first time in his adult life in fact.

When the time was coming for him to finally retire (he had, from his late 50s on, finally given up management and was working as a salesman for a paint wholesaler), my mother and I had a bet that he wouldn't actually retire.... She said he'd finally settle down and relax, I disagreed. Sort of. Dad's concession to retirement was to cut down the hours. He travels some now (reluctantly), and still goes, three or four times a week, a block away to work at the car wash. Dad has always loved cars, and talking to people, so now he gets to talk to people while he supervises the kids who dry the cars. Oh and mom? I win the bet.

Anyways, the whole point of this is just to give Robert Henry Paullin a shout-out on his day. I love ya dad, and I'm very proud of you. And see? You made it into print (of sorts), and it didn't involve a subpoena... ;)