I'm the lone daughter of an Irishman. Not many people have the option of picking a parent, but in a way, I did. I chose to have a relationship with my father. I didn't know my father throughout my whole childhood. My parents divorced when I was 10 months old and I never saw him until I turned 19. I looked my father up because I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful baby girl, and wanted him to be part of her life--a part of my life. I heard he was in Lafayette, Indiana and found his number without much difficulty. It was my half-brother Allan with whom I first spoke. We talked and I realized that my father's side of the family had always been eager to have a relationship with my brother and I.
We began visiting with our father regularly and, right away, everyone could see a striking similarity between my brother and father. Even their mannerisms mimicked one another's—especially how they held their cigarettes. They clicked. The DNA was visible. For a long time, I couldn't seem to find a strong tie between my father and I. Nonetheless, I enjoyed being around him and was happy to have him back in my life. I just couldn't say that he and I shared many qualities. But very recently, within the last few months, I had found something that made me feel connected to him. Something that would link us in a special, personal way. Something that would finally make me feel I was a part of my dad.
My father had come up to Dekalb in late December to go to a Madrigal performance that both my children were performing in for the high school. I knew it would be something he would enjoy, as he was into fantasy writing and the Madrigal’s medieval flavor would appeal to his tastes. He really enjoyed the show, and we went to breakfast the following morning, as was tradition when he would visit. We began chatting about my son Joey’s up-coming play, The Music Man, in which Joey was the lead, my daughter Amber would be doing lights, my husband Mike would be manning the spotlight and I would be stage managing. I found out that my father almost went to school for theater at the University of Illinois instead of joining the Marines. That would have been a huge life shift for him, as he served two full tours in Vietnam. Funny how one decision can change a person’s life so much. He had been in a play, like my son, but was really a backstage techie—just like my daughter and I. Suddenly, my children and I had a strong connection with my father through our love of theater. After he had returned back home, I had to wonder if interests could be hereditary.
January and February flew by, and it was already Saturday March 4—time for the final show of The Music Man. Again my father traveled, this time with my grandmother, to see the performance. I looked forward to their arrival and proudly escorted them both to their reserved front row seats. I beamed after the show about the play and my family’s job well done. So did dad. I later found out that, during intermission, he and my grandmother were bragging to those around them that the lead was their grandson, and that our family was very involved in the play. Our bond was tightening like a warm, strong hug.
My husband couldn’t make the family breakfast the following morning, as he had to work. During breakfast, my father was all-a-buzz with theater talk: where the kids would go for college, what plays he had done in school, which plays he thought Joey’s theater group should do, roles he thought Joey would be good in, discussing with Amber how lighting had changed over the years. None of us wanted it to stop. He told us a story about when he was in high school, in his one acting role, he and the girl playing opposite him had decided to enter the stage off-cue and ad lib and move furniture around during the scene. He recalled how mad the director was at them afterwards. We all had a good laugh about it. Dad and grandma decided it was time to get going. It had started snowing and we were supposed to get a small accumulation in the area and he didn’t want to drive through it. They made sure to stop by my husband’s place of employment on their way out of town to say goodbye to him.
It had only been a month. He and my grandma were in California at my aunt’s retrial. There were a few emails from Dad explaining how the trial was going for his sister, and how they’d be back home soon. My last email from Dad said the trial was going longer than anticipated, and that he was flying home to get the car, then driving back out to CA after paying bills and filling prescriptions for both he and my grandma.
Then came the call early Sunday afternoon. My brother’s voice was shaken. Dad had gone off the road somewhere near Ft. Worth Texas. The car had rolled over and over. He had been thrown 45 feet—obviously not wearing his seatbelt. He had been conscious at first, and couldn’t feel anything below the waist except his toes. Then they began to lose him. He had been resuscitated four times. He was stable in ICU. That’s all he knew. He gave me the phone number and what bed Dad was in. He gave me the attending doctors’ and nurses’ names. That’s all I now knew.
I hastily began to make plans for me to travel out to be with him. We decided I was to take a bus leaving the next evening, staying the week in Texas. I decided to call the hospital and check his status in a few hours, and tried to focus on finishing cleaning the house and finishing the laundry—especially since I’d be gone all week. My worry mounted around 5:30 and I recall saying to my husband that I had started to have a bad feeling about the situation. I called the hospital at 6:30 and was told all they could say was that my father was in critical condition and was doing very, very poorly. I began to sob. The nurse asked me if I had my half-brother Allan’s phone number. I didn’t have his cell and so the nurse gave it to me saying I should call him for further information. I called Allan. He told me that he was sorry, but that Dad was brain dead and they were keeping his body alive until they could harvest his organs because he was a donor. I remember being in shock and basically repeating what I had just heard. "What you’re saying is that Dad is brain dead and they are just waiting to take his organs?"
"I’m sorry, Sissy," came my brother’s reply. I began bawling. My husband came over and comforted me, rubbing my back saying he was sorry.
"No. No, no, no." I kept saying it. "No." He’s not gone. This man that I had just learned I shared a creative passion with. This man whom I could now see even in my children. No! It was just starting, just really beginning for him and I and my children. It couldn’t be.
Then I got mad. Mad at my dad. Why didn’t he have his seatbelt on? Why didn’t he pull over if he was tired? (We assumed he had fallen asleep because of the time of the crash, we later learned of other possibilities.) Why did he have to be so damn stubborn?
Sadness, Madness and Shock played catch with me, and they each threw too hard. It stung.
It is now Tuesday, and I am finally coming ‘round to the understanding that I will never see him again. That he will never see my kids’ plays again. That we will all be cheated by death, not just my father.
Today I have also realized something comforting. I have realized that the qualities of impatience and stubbornness have always been mine as well as my dad’s. I just didn’t see this similarity before. It’s the Irish in me. I can see my father even more now when I look in the mirror. He’s telling me I was always his princess—even when I wondered if I was. And, that the same impatience and stubbornness in him and I continues on through my children—for they, too, share these traits. They, too, are passionate like the Irishman who is my father.