In March of 2006, I received a call I was in no way prepared for. My father called to tell me he had been diagnosed with cancer.
At the time, I really didn’t have much of a relationship with the man, and I had no idea what I was supposed to feel. There was dread, sure. But, there was also a numbness that had always been a part of the way I thought and felt about him. My father, you see, was not exactly what anyone would consider a great father. The man’s nickname was Stormy and stormy-tempered he was. That might have been, in part, due to the alcohol and drug use, but it was also just part of who he was. I know this because I have a short fuse myself that I constantly have to keep check on. It's hereditary. My brother's the same way.
In the weeks that followed that first phone call, we all learned that it was renal cell carcinoma; that there was a softball size tumor on one kidney; that it had already metastasized to other organs including the brain; and that without treatment, he might live two weeks while with treatment, he would have maybe six months.
Over the course of that 6 months, we spent some time together. I let him play with my son, his grandson, and I tried to find some forgiveness…to reconcile before the cancer won in the battle for his life.
I tried to forgive the times he called me lardass, dummy, and Crisco when I was an intelligent, normal-sized child.
I tried to forgive the nights I was scared for him to come home, the nights I was so quiet so maybe he would forget I existed and leave me alone.
I wanted to forgive him for not being able to let go of the drugs and the drinking so his children could have some semblance of a normal life.
I needed to forgive him for all the hurt, physical and mental, that he caused to me, my mom, and my brother.
But, it just didn’t happen. Even in the end, when he was too sick to talk anymore and he grabbed the phone to kiss it when I called because he couldn’t tell me anymore that he loved me, I still could not make that reconciliation happen in my heart. Even after it was over—after he was buried on my birthday that year, September 26, 2006, almost 6 months to the day after his diagnosis—I still couldn’t let go.
He introduced me to some greats. Janis, Jimi, the Allman Brothers, the Stones, Zeppelin, Cream, Derek & the Dominoes, The Doobie Brothers, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and more, more, more. Dad knew his shit, and it makes me smile to think back to him laughing, smiling, even tearing up over songs. I got my love of sharing music from him, too. I don't remember much about growing up....side effect of the childhood I had...but I do remember him making people listen to the different songs he loved and keying them in on the best parts while they had their drinks and whatever else may have been on the menu that day.
The realization that Dad taught me how to love music and really open myself up to it led me further. I got a lot from the old man; I’d just never been able to see it before. He gave me my openness, quick intelligence (he was a human calculator, no lie), my ability to speak my mind without fear, and my rebellious, non-conformist attitude—you should see pics of him in the 70s. All in all, so much of what I love about myself came from the person who also put me through hell growing up. Eventually, I saw the balance in things. He wouldn’t win a Father of the Year award, but he helped shaped me into the person I am today and in his own way, as evidenced by the kisses on the phone if nothing else, he did love me.
I would be much less of a woman if it weren't for you teaching me how much music could mean...how much it could move you and connect you to others. Thank you. It is about forgiveness, isn't it? I love you, you crazy sonofabitch.