My father died in 1994 and I still think about him, especially on Father’s Day.
We were a lot alike. I was born on his birthday and grew up to be the same height and weight, as well as having the same color hair and eyes. I used to joke that we were identical twins born 32 years apart to different mothers. Of course the similarities caused some confusion. At that time, a NJ driver license number consisted of a couple of letters from your last name and about 16 digits based on other information about you. I ended up with a number that was identical to Dad’s except for the last two digits, which called out the year of birth. Since I lived at the same address, it was much too easy for people to confuse us when looking up personal data for things like credit applications. I used the ‘Jr’ suffix everywhere, but it didn’t always help.
We were also very different. Dad had a much tougher life than I did. I had all the issues that arise from the vacuum that results when both parents work, but my father definitely went through worse.
He never knew his birth mother, who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 six months after he was born. Grandpa John remarried, and Dad and his two sisters did not get along with their new step mother. They all left home fairly quickly.
I don’t know much about Dad’s history from that point until he was drafted in 1941. I do know that he was captured in the first action he saw, a botched campaign in North Africa in which we fought the Germans for the first time and lost badly. Dad’s unit was nearly destroyed. The general in charge was sent back to the U.S. and dad landed in a German prison camp where he spent the next 16 months. During that time, he learned to play the guitar. He also suffered a back injury, although it has never been clear whether that happened in the battle or in the camp.
He came out of that camp a very bitter man. When he learned that there would be a two to three year wait before he could get his back injury treated, he took his mustering-out pay and had the surgery done privately. It didn’t work well, and he spent the next 50 years in pretty much constant pain.
He also met my mother somewhere in the post-war confusion. She was an Army nurse, and I assume they first met while he was being processed as a returning POW. I really don’t know the details and I really wish I had asked more questions while they were still alive. But somehow they met, and were married in 1948.
Fast-forward to early 1994. I’ve been married now for nearly a year and I’m looking forward to finally going home so my parents could meet Jen for the first time. We planned the trip so I would be home for our shared birthday. But it was not to be. By this time, Dad had bad diabetes and other chronic conditions. He had been in and out of the hospital several times, but was stubborn and kept working as a public accountant and tax preparer. On Monday, March 7, he went into the hospital. He died two days later.
I knew when he died. I was at home that Wednesday evening and I suddenly got a strange feeling. Something at the edge of perception had changed. My sister called a half hour later to tell me that Dad had died. I realize now that I had been feeling his pain at some level and was startled when the pain suddenly stopped.
So Dad never got to meet Jen, which saddens me. But Dad had called out of the blue one evening a couple of months earlier, and we ended up talking for an hour and half. We talked a lot about our wives, and realized that our stories were very similar. Neither of us had been looking to get married. Both of us met our wives through improbable sequences of events. And both of just knew from the start that we were going to marry this woman we hardly knew.
So Dad got to meet Jen, sort of, through my descriptions of her. I wish he could have met her in person, but I am consoled by one thing: at least he knew that I was happy.
-= G =-