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I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook the other day when a meme stopped me. The photo was of an old, overweight guy pushing a cart out of Lowe’s with a dolly inside. The caption read, “They walk among us . . .” On the surface, that refers to aliens, but often it is used online to describe someone doing something stupid. I stopped scrolling because the man in the photo is my father.
At least I think it’s my father. There is disagreement in my family. If it isn’t him, it’s his doppelganger. The pants, shirt, beard, glasses, hair, face—that’s all him. But the shoes don’t look familiar and my dad always wore a watch. Yet I wonder.
Investigating further, I looked the meme up online and actually found a picture of another guy with a dolly in a cart, this time at Home Depot. That brought some comfort—my dad or not, he is not alone. But then I found a site that shared the photo that I think is my dad. There were all sorts of vile comments about his weight and intelligence. Yes, he put on a lot of weight as he got older. But my father was not stupid.
Even if it isn’t him in the photo, it still feels like a cruel violation. Posting pictures online of unwitting people so you can ridicule them is a vicious sport. And It’s certainly not how I want to remember my dad.
He died one year ago yesterday.
Grief is such an unusual and unpredictable thing. The idea of stages of grief is laughable. Grief is all over the place. A year later, I remember my father in vignettes.
Like how he was persnickety with his order at Wendy’s (He loved Wendy’s so much we had his 50th birthday party there.) He only wanted a bun with a plain hamburger and slice of tomato. This consistently challenged the staff at Wendy’s. He was often disappointed, opening his hamburger to find mustard or ketchup or pickles or onions. One time he made his order so forcefully they gave him a bun and a slice of tomato. No hamburger.
He had a curious vocabulary. When things were going his way, he’d say, “I’m codlocked on a three-bagger.” There were many other words he’d use that are best not printed here. He’d spent his career in the Army and then at General Motors, both breeding grounds of creative expression.
As a GM man, he disliked people who drove foreign cars. (One of his grandkids told him her new car was a “GM Honda” and he seemed satisfied.) As a Michigan State alum, he disliked the University of Michigan. As a straight-arrow Eisenhower Republican, he disliked hippies. One Thanksgiving Day, I was driving and he was in the passenger seat and we overtook a rusty Toyota on I-94. The car had a U of M bumper sticker and the driver had long hair, a beard, and was wearing granny glasses. This guy had three strikes on him and he didn’t even know he was up to bat. He looked over at us and my dad nodded and then calmly raised his middle finger. I hit the accelerator. I have long imagined that poor man unable to enjoy his turkey dinner as he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.
My dad voted Republican from 1952 until the 2016 election. That year he wrote in the name of his neighbor Warren for president, figuring Warren had more going for him than either of the major party candidates.
About five years ago we were in the emergency room after he’d had a mini-stroke and was having trouble finding words. The doctor was asking cognition questions: “What day is it?” “Where are you?” Then he asked, “What’s the name of the president?” My dad glared at the doctor and didn’t speak. The doctor scribbled notes. I started laughing and said, “That doesn’t mean anything, He refuses to speak the name of the president.” “Is that true?” the doctor asked. “Don’t make me say his name,” my dad said. The doctor smiled and said, “I think you’re going to be okay.”
He never smoked or drank—yet he had cirrhosis of the liver at the end of his life. The list of things wrong with him at the end was long—diabetes, prostate cancer, vertigo, hypertension, dementia, and on and on. Even with all that he lived to be 91.
That long list notwithstanding, he died suddenly. My brother was with him, so he wasn’t alone, but none of the rest of us were there. There was no deathbed scene, no tearful and heartfelt goodbyes, no last chance to pray and read a Psalm and say I love you. We imagine beautiful deaths at home among family, but many of us die in facilities surrounded by strangers.
I preached at his funeral. Revelation 7 and I Corinthians 15. I preached because it had been 43 years since he’d had a pastor. He was heavily involved in the church for 48 years and then not involved for 43 years, following his divorce from my mother. My dear step-mother is Catholic, so he’d attend mass with her occasionally, but he didn’t really make any strong connections in that community. When I was in high school he was an elder, sang in the men’s chorus and chancel choir, and helped with the stewardship campaign. All that ended abruptly. In effect, my mom got the church in their divorce. She stayed, he never went back.
He loved to play—euchre, pinochle, and most any board game. He loved gathering with his family. We didn’t have to say or do any particular thing, just be together. Being together meant a lot. Christmas and birthdays and an extended family trip to Mackinac Island every summer were big deals.
One last thing: When Michael Moore’s movie Roger and Me came out, blaming General Motors for the downfall of our hometown of Flint, my dad surprised me by going to see it. He disliked it—Michael Moore would never be his cup of tea—but he disliked it for a reason that surprised me. My dad knew people in that movie and was saddened because his friends, good and decent people, were ridiculed by the filmmaker. That wasn’t right. Now, in a similar way, the same thing has happened to my dad. There he is, or someone who looks like his twin, on Facebook, being presented as someone to laugh at.
My father was a real person, fearfully and wonderfully made, complicated and complex.
Just like you and me.
I miss him.