I don’t know about you but most mornings I wake up and think, wow, I’m alive another day. It feels sometimes like Groundhog Day in that the same problems and torments rise up, rinse, repeat. But it is also another morning with a body that works, in a mostly peaceful city, in a mostly peaceful country on an ordinary/extraordinary day. My wonderful father is currently battling cancer. He struggles with the side effects of chemo every day. He says it’s started to mess with his thinking. He’s lost almost all of his hair and his body has withered down to skin and bones. He’s trying now to shrink a tumor and rid his body of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. But he’s alive. He’s here.
It’s Father’s Day. It’s a pre-programmed holiday to make people buy things and buy things we do. No harm done, of course, because what’s wrong with appreciating dad? I think back to all of the ways my dad made my life better, even when he himself felt like he was failing at life overall. He has always been harder on himself than anyone else. His life was never easy. He was raised the son of a single mother, my grandmother, a very early career woman out of Yonkers, NY. My grandmother had grander plans than being a mother and though she helped raise ten of her eleven brothers and sisters raising my dad when she was just starting out as an ambitious, intelligent, beautiful woman was not what she’d had in mind. You did that back then, in 1936 because what else were you going to do? Get married, have kids – that was the plan for most women.
But my grandmother’s marriage fell quickly apart. My father’s father went off to New Orleans to become a jazz musician, start his own new family and leave my father very very far behind. That left my grandmother to care for him and all she wanted to do was work. She wanted to and he had to. My grandfather did not provide for my father so it was on my grandmother to raise her boy alone. But it was too hard to work several jobs at once and give him the care he needed so he was often shipped off to various boarding schools, which was hard on him.
Eventually my dad would become, what he calls, a “greaser.” He’d tattoo his arm, hang with the wrong crowd and eventually become a jazz drummer and wanderer. My dad struggled with adulthood, plagued by the frustrations of his erratic upbringing and mental illness. By the time my 19 year-old mother met him he was living in Topanga, a fun-loving hippie. They had three daughters in succession and my mother, who had one child already, was a mother of four before she hit 25. My dad, like his own dad, struggled with parenthood and before long our parents were split up. But over the years, even though he got a bad wrap for not being there a lot of time, the ways my dad was there are some of the only things I really have been able to count on. It’s true I didn’t see much of him but when I did see him he was gentle and kind, never overly critical or abusive, always supportive and still is. He always says things to me like “I know you must be extremely busy.” How hard it is to be a parent.
I don’t know where our lives go from here. The free fall of time exists in the realm of nature and we know enough now to know that we don’t know anything about how or why we all live or die. We just do. We’re here. We live. We die. Each one of us will have that same trajectory. That makes almost everything we do seem meaningless. Eventually everything will be destroyed anyway, billions of years from now when our beleaguered planet gets toasted by the sun. But it is what we leave behind that seems to matter. And if you can’t find any other reason to get up in the morning and try to live one more day you can think about what you might leave behind.
I love my dad. I love how he has stayed true to his art no matter what. He still plays, even though he’s barely able to walk around on his own. I can’t imagine life without him so I’m hoping he pulls through this. Thoughts about life and death inevitably lead to panic, which occasionally leads to fear, which eventually gives way to gratitude. One more day. Alive one more day.