November 6, 2011

Goodbye Dad

The story that keeps coming back to me about my father is from when I was 13. I liked a boy named Joey. He was 15 and drove a blue Camaro. I think he also had an earring and perhaps a moustache. I liked this boy and he came to the house once to see me. I was, under no circumstances allowed to ride in the Camaro with Joey. I was the last child and my parents were tired, but they were not stupid. And thankfully, I was just stupid enough to be a very bad liar, so I never managed to successfully sneak out.

If you stop here and think about it, the real miracle is, as I recall this, that my father lived as long as he did. He had 4 daughters and was principal of an all-girls Catholic High School. A lesser man would have crumbled under that weight.
Back to the story -  Joey comes to the house to see me and instead of coming to the door, he honked the horn for me to come out to see him. As I went for the door, my father stopped me and said, “You are not going out there until he comes to the door and rings the bell.”

I was furious. I cried, I screamed, I pleaded. Joey honked the horn a few more times and then, I suppose, assumed I was not home and went away.

I was beside myself with anger toward my father, toward Joey, toward all the injustice of being thirteen years old, but my father held his ground and said, quite plainly, “one day, you will thank me for this.”

No doubt I disagreed and likely expressed my displeasure in all sorts of unpleasant ways. It took a few years, but I did eventually thank my father. I thanked him for taking up for me when I did not know how or why I should.
My father was a good man. The story I told you was one of thousands where we disagreed. For a long time, we could not agree about anything - from politics and religion down to color preferences and pets – I love dogs and Dad was “allergic” to them. Everything was always so important to me back then. Getting him to see my point of view and all the ways he was “wrong” was my second job for a while there. And, as tends to happen, as time marches on, things and issues lose their significance and what bubbles to the surface is not words or beliefs, but actions.
During the hurricane fiasco, when we were homeless evacuees wandering the state of Texas, it was my father who stepped up to care for my dying mother. He sprang into action with his list. Yes, if you knew my father, you know the man didn’t do anything without a carefully planned list. He organized setting up their Houston apartment and making sure my mother was taken care of at MD Anderson. He did all the housework and grocery shopping. And although I had to show him how to work the washing machine, once he learned, he did all the laundry afterwards.

I thank my father for being steady and consistent. My sisters and I often teased him for his predictability and fastidious nature, but in reality, we never had to worry about anything because he took care of everything for us. When Alice and I were at the funeral home with Gail, Alice remarked that this seemed more organized and easier when Mom died. And I said, “It was, because Dad did everything and made all the decisions.”

He mostly planned his own funeral as well. I can picture him orchestrating all of this from heaven, where he was positive he would spend eternity. He told me, one day not long ago, that perhaps he would not go to heaven right away, but he was pretty confident he would end up there eventually. And how could I argue with that? It was, after all, on his list. “Go to Heaven.” Check.

My father, on top of being highly organized, was also in his own way incredibly flexible. He loved to travel and was very good at it. As a frequent flyer myself, I can tell you, letting yourself and your fate be at the mercy of the airline is not always easy. But, Dad was an incredible traveler and always went with the flow. I suppose being stranded at an airport for a few hours is child’s play compared to being responsible for 1500 hormonal teenage girls.

Dad also, while being the serious one in our family, also went along with the craziness more often that you would expect. He and Mom had come to visit Mike and me in Houston once and when I declared I was going to pay for everything in Sacagawea dollar coins because I had taken to wearing my hair in braids, he offered to bring me to the post office to get some. I was in my thirties at this point, so it’s not like he was placating a child. He was an active participant in the Murphy Family craziness.


Dad was also the official videographer of the Murphy Family. So much so that we used to joke around that the grandkids were going to grow up thinking Grandpa had a video camera and tripod growing out of his face. We would hector him mercilessly for this insistence on filming every occasion, but the end result is thousands of hours of family memories captured. It was a couple of months ago that my Dad passed his video camera onto my sweet husband, Mike and dubbed him the new video man. He knew he was leaving this world and that he would not need his camera anymore. His work was done. And he did it well.

I loved my father and I will miss him. It is an odd place to be in this world without living parents. We are lucky to have a host of friends and family like Sue and John Barker who can remind us all of the good times from years past, like trips to Grand Isle and Mardi Gras Days spent chasing floats and counting children to ensure none were left behind in the chaos. My father adored his best friend John Barker and I am so grateful we have remained close to our Asher Street friends. Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill have also stepped up and filled some of the void left by the departure of Mom and Dad and for that, I am so very grateful. And of course, we have Gail, our Stepmother who has accepted this crazy family as her own. After Dad passed, she expressed concern about losing us and we laughed at her silliness – does she really think she’s going to get off that easy? Nope, she is stuck with us. She is GG to 11 grandchildren.

I happened to be at my Dad’s bedside when he died. We were all at his house and people were wandering in and out of the room. I wandered in to sit at his computer and for some reason, turned around to hold his hand. And it was then, that he took his last breath. It was peaceful and calm and he simply slipped away.  It is the way he wanted it – a peaceful death without lingering on. It was on his list.

Goodbye Dad.  I love you and I will miss you.