My dad was here and now he’s not. He passed away on Thursday at 5:42 p.m.
That first sentence makes it sound like my dad was a magician. He wasn’t, though he was a sort of serial-flasher all my life. He could have been part of the cast of The Full Monty! I have, unfortunately received the full frontal from my father more times than I am able to recall. It wasn’t weird. My dad was just comfortable with his body and in the privacy of his own home, or at random lodgings, he thought nothing of being au natural in front of others, mainly me, his son.
I am a modest man. I think I was a modest kid, preferring to disrobed in a locked bathroom, my own bedroom, or awkwardly in some toilet stall if need be. There were times after swimming when my dad’s suit came right off as soon as we were home with no thought or consideration of my eyesight. Many times, when I came into his room, (with warning and invited, mind you!), and he was getting dressed, dad would be wearing only his birthday suit. When I was a kid, it never seemed odd. Sure, the inevitable anatomical comparisons would be made in my head, but it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t necessarily happy about it, don’t get me wrong. Who really wants to see their parents in the buff? No one! Especially when you’re a kid and the notion of flab and body hair hasn’t really occurred, or happened, to you yet.
The last time he flashed me was in 1999. We were driving across the country. I had just graduated from college and I was fullfilling my dream of doing a sanitized version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. He tagged along. We had some great conversations and saw some cool stuff. In Oklahoma, we stopped for the night, right after I got pulled over for speeding! We shared a room, of course, and I think we ate pizza, then hit the hay rather quickly.
In the morning, I got up and showered, taking my underthings with me for easy access, (and for modesty’s sake), after I was dry. My dad got in next while I busied myself with packing my things, looking over maps, reading my travel guide, and basically planning our adventure for the day. I hadn’t noticed him enter, but when he came out he asked me a question, probably about breakfast, and I looked up to find him drying his hair with the towel. (Now, the motel we were staying at was not exactly five-star-fancy and the towels were essentially worthless anyway, but all the more so if one did not bother to use them to properly cover oneself!) Dad only had one towel and it was not where I thought it should be at the moment. He was oblivious. He was just doing his thing. I think I muttered, “Good God!” or something like that, before turning away. He sure took his time getting ready, too. It was like he was daring me to stare into the belly of the beast, or at least the undercarriage!
Last Thursday, it was a new sort of full frontal that I experienced. Dad was in bad shape. His organs were not cooperating and all of the heroic medical treatments that had been undertaken on his behalf had failed. He was faced with tubes, lots of tubes, being a permanent part of his life and body. He wasn’t one to be tied down, obviously. He liked to be free. We made the decision that he would have made if he could. And then we waited. It took a long time, over three hours, but in that time my dad gave me a front row seat to one of the basic facts of life.
Dying is inevitable, but our society has spent so much energy in trying to hide it away that we almost forget that it is our destiny to one day “shuttle off this mortal coil,” as the Bard once so eloquently wrote. So, I faced it. I cried and I tried not to become a blithering idiot. I didn’t want my dad’s final moments to be in witness to my pain when I was supposed to be there to witness his; when I was there to help see him off. It was hard to watch. It was hard to hear. But this time I didn’t turn away. I set aside my notions of modesty and I witnessed it all.
I said my dad wasn’t a magician, but when his last, labored breath came and went it was a kind of magic. He’s gone. I saw his chest rise and fall one final time. On the monitor, I saw his heart, which was supposed to be so weak, continue to beat for almost a full minute afterward, slowly counting down to zero. Yet, he’s not gone. He’s still here in my mind. And like it or not, so are all the memories, including all those in which he flashed me! But I’ll take ’em because those moments, along with countless others have helped shape my life and in another kind of magic his presence, his touch, his hand will continue to guide me as long as I live. Who Knows? Perhaps I’ll even pass on the uncomfortable flashing memories to my own son.