It’s Father’s Day. It’s a somewhat typical Father’s Day for me. I’m working, which has been the rule, not the exception over the years. I have a long string of holidays and special family days going back across two careers where I had to work. That’s not a complaint. If you work in health care or information technology, the careers that consumed 32 years of my life, you either accept that as a fact of life or go and do something else for a living.
What’s different this year is that I won’t see my family until late tonight. The womenfolk are all in New England for a bridal shower. My brother Bill wisely escaped the estrogen pit and fled to Pennsylvania, and I’ve been able to spend some time with him the past two nights.
Father’s Day has been at the forefront of my thoughts since Tuesday, when I learned my position is being eliminated come November. I’m trying to think through the lessons of my father’s premature end to his career. In his case, it was health issues (and mostly damage he’d done to himself over the years) but I saw the wreckage that followed when he stopped working.
He didn’t do well with free time, my father.
That meant none of us did well with his free time, either. Everyone in my family picked up some scars from that period of my father’s life. Deeper scars for some of us than others, and probably less so for me, because I was nearly grown up and “out of there.”
He was a good man, my father. A moral man. A man with his own demons, though, and when he wrestled with them it could be ugly.
In his last years, we grew closer. Not that there was a wall between us, but I was entering that stage in young adult lives when we realize that our parents, while often infuriating, weren’t as pigheaded or stupid as we thought they were. We are beginning to have to face our own shortcomings, and suddenly theirs seem less glaring.
A year or two before he died of emphysema, he said something to me which I’ve never forgotten. We were driving somewhere together, just he and I, and he said: “I’ve got five kids, and I worry about you all. But I worry about you the least. You somehow always land on your feet.”
I’ve been pondering his words since learning my career is hitting a wall. Like everyone, I’ve had challenges to overcome in my life. But what lies ahead is the toughest nut yet. I’m trying to take a lesson from my father, who didn’t handle the end of his career well. To a degree, he just spun off out of control. He didn’t really cage his demons again until he found a job as a cemetery caretaker. It gave him purpose, and purpose is crucial for many men.
The lesson I’m taking is to be prepared for what is to come and to start planning now. I’ve set a goal for myself: Not to collect a single day’s unemployment. I saw how lost my father was when he stopped working. I’ve seen that hollow-eyed look in some of my friends who’ve lost jobs. I know I may not achieve that goal, but I’ll be damned if I won’t try everything I can to avoid collecting. I need to work. I need purpose. Just like my Dad.
Last night, I drove through Swoyersville on the way to my brother-in-law’s place. By chance, I passed the house my parents were renting until my father passed away. As I drove by, I glanced at the corner room where he died. He’d been in out of coherence for a few days, but a few hours before he died he was remarkably lucid, and we had a long talk, just the two of us. I’ve forgotten every word, and I hate myself for that. All I could think while I sat there was: I’m losing my father.
In the end, I didn’t lose him at all, really. I still have him in my heart. As flawed as he was, I loved him. And I learned from him, from his own missteps as well as his successes. He was human: deeply, deeply human with all the contradictions and frailties that come with our species.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. I’ll try once again to land on my feet.