I’m not sure you ever get over the deaths of your parents. I’m not even sure you ever get fully past them. At odd times, something pops up and takes you back to where the missing them isn’t quite the knife twisting in your gut–it’s just the moment the knife is stuck in.
I had another of those tonight. My Dad has been gone nearly 6 years now. There are still some boxes of stuff from his house that I haven’t went through, and things of his that I have went through and decided to keep, but that still bear the indelible stamp of him. I don’t think they will ever be mine, really. They’ll be his, I’m just borrowing them.
My Dad was a land surveyor, licensed to practice in several states in the Southeast. He was, if I may say so, damn good at his job. In my younger days, I did some surveying, acting as a rodman for a couple of local surveyors as well as my Dad. Without going into how you determine such things, my Dad’s surveys were always of much higher quality than the other guys. Theirs were good, more than good enough, but his were better–better researched, tighter, more professionally drawn. On the few occasions he had to defend a survey in court, his surveys always stood up.
I have a number of his old field books. Field books are small notebooks, about 8″ x 5″, that use 6 rings to hold the paper. They’re a specialty item, and getting hard to find, even in the stores that cater to surveyors and engineers. They are the best notebook in the world. Small enough to be handy, big enough to be useful. There are new ones, bound like an over-size exam book, but they’re not as good. The loose leaf paper in the older ones can be removed, re-ordered, replaced–whatever you need to do. Dad left me 6 of them and probably a thousand sheets of paper–likely a lifetime’s supply.
All save two are simply filled with blank paper. It’s the two that aren’t that really got to me. The first, an over-size, very thick field book, is filled from cover to cover in notes and sample problems he used to pass the various state licensures. All in his neat, practiced draftsman’s hand, the slightly yellowed paper holds data and information as undecipherable to me as my IT jargon and knowledge was to him.
The other held the gas mileage records for his pickup truck. From when he purchased it in 1996, with 13 miles on it, until 2008 when he inexplicably stopped keeping the records (perhaps it was too much trouble, considering by then he almost never drove), I could look at it and slowly watch my father age all over again. The early entries were in that practiced draftsman’s hand, so neat and precise. As the years went by, the neatness started to deteriorate, the bold lines of the numbers wavering, until at the end they only barely resembled the 1996 entries.
I’ve removed those pages and they’ll be consigned to the flames the next time we have a fire. I can’t forget the memory, but I won’t have to see it again.
When my Dad died, I knew there was something more bothering me than the simple fact he was gone. It was more than the reminder of my own mortality. It took a while, but I finally figured it out. It meant that, for good or ill, I was now the family patriarch. Before, if I had a problem, if I needed help, I could always call my Dad. He was my backstop. Now, there was no one to call. The duty is now mine–I’m the backstop. If my kids need help, if I need help, I’m it. If I can’t figure it out, then I get to bear the consequences. There is no help out there, no cavalry coming over the hill at the last minute. If I want a happy ending, then I darn well better make it.
Even at 50 years old, that was a frightening realization.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown into it. It’s changed the way I look at things, the way I approach decisions. My willingness to accept almost stupidly high levels of risk in certain decisions has pretty much evaporated. I take more time reaching decisions. I’m a little (Mrs. Freeholder would say very little) calmer now and not as quick to anger.
But tonight, none of that matters. The family patriarch misses his Dad all over again.