I am not my father. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t love or respect my dad, but at times during my adolescent years those feelings were clouded by my own coming of age issues, as they are between many young people and their parents.
Dad was a business man. He worked his way upward in a company that long ago was called Bell Telephone. That little communications company went on to become the A T & T of today, and my father played a significant role in that story. He started as a lineman, climbing the poles in his youth and finished his career in charge of the telephone employees of Orange County California. He personally oversaw the installation and creation of the so-called “Hot Line,” a direct telephone link between Richard Nixon’s western Whitehouse in San Clemente, California and Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow, Russia.
Dad had a big autographed picture of Nixon, personally thanking him, hanging in the den at home. I never wanted to be like my father.
When Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he never talked about it much. I never asked him about it either. There were some surgeries and lots of pills. But I didn’t live at home then and had no clue about his private life, his pain, or his pleasures. He continued to make stained glass art, his hobby after retirement, play golf and watch football on TV, none of which I have ever done or enjoyed.
He died on the golf course. He was 70 years old. Dad was a big man, six feet and four inches tall. He was imposing, outspoken and outgoing. I had small bones, held my tongue, was shy except when doing my work as an entertainer on stage, and I kept a low profile.
After he died, I retrieved my father’s score card from that golf game he was playing and saw that he was not scoring well that day. I was intrigued by the irony of that, since he was often in the winner’s circle in his golf tournaments. I suppose we don’t often get to choose the circumstances for our last day on Earth.
With Father’s Day approaching on June 19th, I’ve been thinking about my Dad. I’ve been thinking about his cancer. And mine. I don’t know if heredity played any role in my own disease, but it doesn’t really matter to me. But I do wonder if there are characteristics much more profound than our physical traits which are passed along to us in our own lives from our parents.
As I reflected on all of the varied and sometimes confusing feelings I’ve had after my own recent cancer diagnosis; thoughts of dying, of leaving my wife and siblings behind, of my unfinished work and my significance in life, I suddenly understood not just how my father lived and died as a result of his cancer, but how he felt.
I saw myself in a different body, but with mannerisms and movements and thoughts, and most importantly, with actual feelings that are locked into my genetic code, the result of my Dad’s transmission of parts of him to parts of me. I saw the look in my eyes, the posture of my body and the thoughts in my head, and I felt that I knew precisely how he felt back then; and as a result, I felt a closeness to him through this common bond of cancer that I was never able to know through our interests or vocation, life styles or limited conversations.
I am alive today, surviving cancer like so many others, and deeply grateful for such feelings that seem to be linked in some amazing, primordial way, not just to the characteristics of my parents, but to the emotions and feelings of my parents. Human beings are such a wonderful mix of parts, a glorious hodgepodge of ancestral influences and collective factors. We are unique, it seems, by virtue of the unlimited combinations from which we are built, but we are still connected chemically and physically and emotionally to those who gave us life. It took over sixty-five years for this simple truth to arrive. But guess what?
I am my father. Happy Father’s Day Dad.