On December 1, 2012 my father passed after a brief illness, he was 78. Dad was fairly private man who liked to laugh, enjoyed a good joke (mostly on others) and above all else and obeyed authority, even if he mocked it in private. Dad was not well educated, but like the lyric of the Paul Simon song, Kodachrome ‘he could read the reading on the wall’. I loved that about my dad and I think he taught me that, though who knows how.
As I have written many times before, Dad and I were not very close while I was growing up. I believe that might have been a generational thing, though I believe the generation who was at fault was mine. I was drawn to my mother, I loved her greatly and so did my father. Sometimes I wondered if we (the two men in the family of three) saw each other as competitors in the race to have my mom’s affection. It would not surprise me if someone could reconstruct the family dynamic if that isn’t what they found. Though there was certainly no need for that, if anyone could love her husband and her son it was my mother so if this was the case, I have to wonder what we were at odds with.
As I got older mom became very ill and frankly that certainly played into our disregard for each other. By the time I started Middle School mom was nearly blind, and her feet hurt so badly that she could barely move, except all night, when the neuropathy hurt so bad she walked the house front to back, back to front every night. By the time I started High School mom was on dialysis and of course in those days it was a death sentence.
That meant that mom spent many of her days and nights in Indianapolis at Methodist Hospital and at Indiana University Hospital then two separate organizations. Dad, played more than the dutiful husband he drove back and forth nearly each day going to work at 4:30 AM, off to Indianapolis, home at 9:00 to 10:00 PM to start the trip over the next day. Traveling 60 miles each way and having mom in Indianapolis perhaps 40% of the time, plus doctor appointments, meant that mostly I did not see either parent and of course when I did see dad, he was exhausted. I graduated from High School in 1975 and mom passed in 1986, the time between was even worse and my dad had to retire at 46, in order to support mom’s needs.
In 1974, I was diagnosed with Diabetes, and while I admit I thought a great deal about the hardship it caused my mother, I seldom thought of the hardship it caused my dad. No one knew more than dad what it meant to live with a diabetic and how quickly things could so wrong. I think being in the hospital despite dad’s jokes, which I didn’t find funny, I saw the pure fear on his face. It was like, oh no here we go again, and his fear more than my mom’s tears worried me. I just never saw fear on dad’s face before.
From my point of view Dad was and is a hero, he sacrificed for my mother and I and he kept going when other people could have reasonable called it quits. He never did and I admire him so much for what he did for my mother. Up until my mom’s death I was very close to her and I could be around my dad.
After mom passed in 1986, I got a second chance with my father. After mom passed we had little in common. I had gone to College; dad was barley a HS graduate. I was a professional: he was a factory worker. Dad, loved woodworking, I could barely hammer a nail. Dad could work rings around most, I worked with words. Still we had some common traits. We both adored my mother and we both had suffered a great loss. Oh and we both loved my two sons without limits.
At first we did not have much contact, but over time it was my two sons that brought us together. You cannot remain separate from a man who loves your kids so much and of course I didn’t. Dad helped my sons while they were in college, he would sometimes even take chicken to my youngest when he lived at Indiana University. Dad loved my sons, I loved my sons, so we became closer. In a weird way it was a third person that drove us apart and two third people that brought us together.
I came, over the last few years, to admire my father a great deal. Dad served my mother faithfully, both as a husband and partner. He served me as his child, and he loved my sons as much as I and their mom loved them. We spent years apart, but he was my friend, father and he was one heck of grandfather.
One the happiest memories of my life was my dad finding out that I had been award the title Doctor just a few short weeks before he died. He was thrilled and we discussed how much it would mean to my mom. My father, first born son and I share the same name. He was proud to say that if one of us achieved a degree so did he. One of the last times we talked he reminded me he was three time HS graduate, he held two bachelors degrees, one masters degree and one doctorate.
Yes my dad passed one year ago and I miss him a great deal. He was a good example of what a father should be, could be and what I aspire to be. I was wrong when I was a young man and I got a second chance. We should all be so thankful.
Dr. Lawrence Richard Phillips Jr.
aka - Rick