My dad died tonight.
Albert Sutter. Not exactly sure how old he was, late 80's. After my mother died four years ago, he never really recovered. Al had nothing that stirred his heart, mind or soul. He was terribly unhappy. Suffering from the onset of dementia, he simply lost the will to live. He died of pneumonia complications a few hours ago in New Jersey.
I know this will sound callous, but I'm not sad. Part of me wishes I was. I wish his death were a gut-wrenching experience that flooded me with memories and cracked my heart open. But alas, no.
My lack of grief is not that complicated. I'm sure a few years on a couch could figure out the specifics, but the truth is, I never felt close to my father. Something happened a long time ago, way before I was responsible for my actions -- for some reason, I severed the bond. It was clear to me at an early age that Al wasn't the place I went to feel good about myself.
My dad was raised in Port Elizabeth, NJ. He was a popular, street kid who boxed Golden Gloves, built cars, served two tours in WWII and Korea. He was a bad ass. Not a prick, just incredibly cool. I was not cool. I was a troubled kid. Morbidly obese, hyper-sensitive, a loner, a chronic dreamer. I was a huge embarrassment to my dad. Without the sensitivity or people skills to reach out to me, his frustration with who I wasn't was difficult for him to conceal. The more embarrassed he got, the more of an embarrassment I became. It was painful for both of us to be around each other. The divide grew, the damage was done and neither of us knew how to fix it. I split at 19, moved 3000 miles away and never looked back.
Katey had an interesting take on parents passing. She said that we don't mourn who they were as much as who we wish they were. I guess that's true. I began that mourning process years ago. After I got sober in 1993, I had to look at all my family wreckage. I made amends to my parents and did my best to maintain a loving, albeit superficial relationship with both of them.
It was at that point I had the clarity to understand that my dad was basically an unhappy guy. I'm sure at one time he was a young man full of dreams and enthusiasm. He only had a high school education, but he was incredibly bright and charismatic. I know he had greater ambitions than being middle-management at GM for 35 years. My mother was not an adventurous soul. She was like me, she hated people and didn't like to leave the house. My dad loved people and loved to travel. He always deferred to my mother. Al felt trapped. He was George Bailey without the wonderful life. And he could never see past his own dissatisfaction. That innate misery shaped who he was as a man. I admit, I longed for Mike Brady. I wanted a father who was present. Who would sit me down and give me advice -- about sex, girls, life. I wanted a father who could make me laugh. More than love, I wanted a dad whom I respected and who respected me.
Al and me, we could never deliver those things.
I accepted that reality a long time ago. That's why I'm not saddened by his death. Because the truth is I mourned my father's passing thirty years ago when the bond got severed. All that acting out in my youth -- the obsessive behavior, the eating, the booze and drugs, the anger, the violence -- that was my mourning. That was me letting go of my father. So now, I feel a bit empty, nostalgic maybe, but not sad.
I loved Al as best I could. Al loved me as best he could.
What I try to do is learn from my experience with my dad and stop the cycle of self-obsessive disconnect. I want to be a father who is present for his children. I go out of my way to talk to my teenage son about all those uncomfortable subjects my father could never broach -- sex, drugs, girls, masturbation, relationships. I'm strict with my kids, but I praise them more than I correct them. And I make them laugh. Constantly. I fucking make them laugh. I guess that's how I honor my dad. That's how I preserve his memory, by taking all the things I wish he was and placing that responsibility on myself, so I pay it forward.
I don't know where we go when we pass, but I hope Al goes to a happier place. And I hope he knows, that I am happy with the man I have become. So despite our disconnect, his path shaped my path and I'm glad he was my father.