Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dad's 91st Birthday

Richard Franklin Lane in his Army uniform during World War II.
My dad would have been ninety-one today.

He died four years  and a couple weeks ago, but I don't care about that date.  I remember his birthday because I remember his life.

When he died, Dolores and I had to take care of most of the arrangements.  I'm not the oldest of the siblings, nor was I the executor of the estate, but my sisters all live out out of state, and my brother, though normally an extremely strong man, couldn't really deal with it.  I wrote the obituary, made the funeral arrangements, picked out the casket, gathered the pictures for the funeral, and got a pastor for the service (funerals are for the living, and if my sisters and brother needed a damn pastor to get them through the funeral, they were going to have a damn pastor). Through it all, I was sad, certainly, and I was very thankful that Dolores was next to me throughout, but I had a sense of serenity and calm that at the time I attributed to my not yet accepting he was gone.  It was, after all, a shock when we got the phone call from my sister telling me he was gone.  He hadn't been sick or had any health problems that one wouldn't expect from an eighty seven year old man.  He was eighty seven, however, so it had been a call we'd known we'd be getting sooner or later.  The fact I couldn't must more than a couple of fond sets of tears during the whole process bothered me a bit until I realized the reason.  I really couldn't find any tragedy in the event.

They talk about the "Greatest Generation," but I knew that before Tom Brokaw turned it into a pop sentiment.  Dad was in college in Youngstown when the war broke out, and he tried his damnedest to get into the service.  His eyes were going bad even then, though, and he was rejected.  He even traveled to Canada to try to get into the service there, but he didn't have any luck.  Finally, after what I recall as four attempts, he was allowed in, and he spent the duration as an officer in the Army Air Corps in India.  To him, not serving his country was not an option, and that sense of responsibility and selflessness was something he would instill in us for the rest of his life.

On record, Dad was a Presbyterian, but I can only remember setting foot in any church a handful of times growing up.  Mom was from a devout Catholic family, and she was going against the church by marrying Dad.  When they moved to Pennsylvania, Dad was disgusted by what he viewed to be politics and backbiting in the Presby Church in town at the time, so they just kind of let church going fizzle.  Weddings, baptisms, and funerals were the only reasons I can recall for our visits the entire time I lived at home.  I can't say that my father was a non-believer.  He would probably have said he believed, but he didn't have any time at all for the religious.   In fact, looking back at those years, Christmas was a HUGE part of our year, but it was almost completely secular.  There was a manger under the tree and an angel on top, but the absurd bulk of the decorations my mom put up (starting in early November and not finishing until sometimes Christmas Day itself) were Santas, snowmen, elves, and reindeer.

My dad and mom when he returned home.
I don't know if Dad or Mom would have considered it a good thing, but I owe them quite a bit for not making us adhere to any real belief system.   I don't think it was on purpose though.  Whenever I brought up anything religious to either of my parents, I got a somewhat canned, somewhat uncomfortable answer.  It seemed as though the entire subject bothered them a little, and perhaps there was even a bit of embarrassment about having to talk about it at all.  I certainly may be reading more into it than was there, but to my mind now it seems as though they rationally couldn't reconcile the mythology of religion, but weren't quite ready to admit it to themselves.  I'm okay with that, if it indeed was the case.  It certainly made my ultimate decisions about reality easier to accept.

When All In The Family was a hit show on television, we used to kid that they based Archie Bunker on my father, but really that's not even close to being true.  He was definitely a staunch Republican, and he held some archaic beliefs about race relations, but I never heard him use a racial slur in anger.  About the only time I recall him using the N-word was to defend my grandparents use.  "It was a different time," he'd say.  "Grampy didn't mean 'n-----' in a bad way."  He was  fairly anti-union, but as a business owner with about seventy-five employees at his peak, he was very concerned about his workers' well being and their families.  My brother and I have both had people coming up to us on the street to tell us how they used to work for my dad and that he was the best boss they'd ever had. It took me a long time to realize that not all employers were as just as my father was.  When I did, he and I would argue, and when we did, my kids and the dog would leave the room.  It had a tendency to get loud, and more than once my wife told me that if she closed her eyes, she couldn't tell whose voice was whose.  That used to piss me off, but now I take it as a compliment.  He taught me not to back down...not even to him.
Dad and me.  I'm in front.

Dad had five kids, and he'd lived to see all of them grow, have kids, some grand kids, and even so great grand kids.  He was married for decades to my mom, and when she passed, he was fortunate enough to find another woman to love and cherish for over another decade.  He had a successful career and was able to get out semi-gracefully when the economy turned, giving him the financial freedom to traverse the country and visit his family as he wished.  He was healthy until the day he died.  He even managed to play an exceptional round of golf with friends, ending three under par.  He even went out on a good note on the greens.

I don't believe in Heaven, Hell, or souls, I don't believe I shall ever see my father again.  He's gone. I don't find that depressing at all, though.   He lived, he loved, he fought for what he felt was right, and he had a family, and that's all any of us can really aspire to.

And I'm lucky enough to have had him as my dad.  I can only hope that someday my kids feel the same when I am gone.

Thank you, Dad.  Happy birthday.

No comments:

Post a Comment