Thirty Years Ago Today

Three and a half years ago–well, if you’re familiar with this site you know what happened. It’s no secret that I think of my dad Patrick often, and miss him, and–you know, all that stuff.

Today however is a bigger milestone. Thirty years ago today my dad John passed away.

Dean and Debbie recently visited the columbarium where John and Willie’s ashes are buried.

I’ve written about John before, about my early childhood memories of his scratchy beard that smelled of Old Spice back when he was Granddaddy, before my adoption, and later on, about when he and Willie took me into their home, attached their name to mine, and made me part of a family again.

I’ve written too of the things that made him proud, and the disappointments he felt for me, and of the things I wished I’d learned from him when I had the chance.

Like my dad Patrick, my dad John was bright and articulate, with a wry sense of humor and a love for puns; they both valued education, traveled the world, appreciated other cultures.

John expressed art through painting, inspiring Patrick to pick up the brush for a time in the late 1950s. John loved to read, enough so that after he went blind he continued “reading” through the Talking Books program, just as Patrick roared through books at a voracious pace to the very end. John loved music too, though never explored instruments and performance which, as we know, was Patrick’s way of of life, his raison d’etre.

It was early in the morning 30 years ago when Willie called. She'd begun notifying family back east first, but waited until 7 AM (California time) to let me know. She asked me to contact others on the west coast for her while she made the next wave of calls to people on the islands. I remember sharing the bad news with my bio-mom (just as I did 27 years later about Patrick), and then calling her sister Phyllis, who broke down on the phone with me.

Each was loving (in their own distinctive way) but only John was there to manifest that love during my formative years. While Patrick explored Europe, music, and relationships–connected with me only by infrequent letters with exotic postmarks–John established a safe haven, a nest if you will, for a steady, nurturing feelings of family.

With Willie at his side I grew up with a sense of place, of belonging. I didn’t lack for shelter, fear hunger, or worry about getting new shirts when I outgrew the old ones. I suddenly had older brothers to teach me stuff, to guide by example the ways we grow up.

I was fortunate, lucky even, to have been taken in, to have two sets of parents, two batches of siblings, two distinct fatherly influences whose guidance–consistent in some ways and wildly divergent in others–established the man I am today. I am thankful for that good fortune.

I remember in my early 20s thinking that I wanted a life like John and Willie’s: they traveled the world but they always had a home waiting for them at the end of each journey. Patrick made that happen for himself with Stephanie. Perhaps I’ve accomplished that in some small way too, though in a different form.

And so, here we are. Today, on the 30th anniversary of John’s passing, I’ll hug the family a little tighter, relish the moments we share together, and raise a glass in his memory.