Let me tell you, Plinky, about the last time I saw my father.
He died young, mid-fifties, of pancreatic cancer. He was only twenty years older than I am, almost to the month, so I find myself rapidly approaching the age he was when he died. Even when it was happening, I didn’t feel so far away from him in age, and felt like what was happening to him could just as easily have been happening to me.
I hardly knew him at all. Honestly, I never felt like I needed to.
He was a pipeline welder, moved from town to town, job to job, staying only a month or two or seven at a time in any given trailer park. When I was very young, pre-Elementary School, my mom and I traveled with him. Those memories, and that mode of life, still strike me as pleasant, adventurous, and perfect. After I started school, we only went with him during the summers. Even when we were with him, though, we hardly saw him. Pipeline work makes for long hours. I disappointed him by being too sissified to join him on the job like all the other welder’s sons did. You would have been too sissified, too, I’m betting: the welding rig is loud, the hole you’re working in is deep; the arc welding is hot and scary (it can blind you if you look at it), and I wanted to go read comic books and kiss boys. (He didn’t find out about that last part until many years later — long story).
My mom and my little brother resented life on the road. I liked it.
My mom and dad got divorced when my little brother was in high school, and I was in college. I don’t think it was good for my little brother at all. Let’s just say that neither my mom nor my dad was blameless in the thing, and leave it at that. Let’s just say that there was ten metric tons of drama. I lived two hours away from all the drama when it went down, and it still tore me apart. I dropped out of school that semester. I don’t think I ever got back on track.
I wasn’t with my dad when he died. I had been working out in San Francisco. I flew “home” to Russellville, and hung out with him a couple of days at a small cabin my aunt’s husband had let him borrow to die in. He lay in bed and wheezed, talking incoherently most of the time, while his second wife waited on him like a trooper.
At one point, he opened his eyes, though, and looked at me, and asked me, point blank, if I resented the way he had lived.
I told him no.
This was the truth.
He died while I was on the plane going back to San Francisco. He didn’t leave me any money — which was fine; I didn’t need any — but he also didn’t leave my brother anything, either. And my brother did need some help in life at that time. More importantly, he needed to know that my dad had loved him. I think he had always thought that dad did. And then, quite suddenly, he thought that he didn’t.
Me, I never felt like I needed much love from my dad. So I was fine.
You know what? Maybe this was a form of resentment after all, this not needing anything from him. That occurs to me just now, writing this.
Anyway, I think my brother went crazy for a little while after that — with grief, with resentment, with longing for at least some kind of acknowledgement from his dead dad that he had existed, had mattered. I don’t want to get into the details. It’s still ongoing, I think.
Everything dad had — it wasn’t much, but there was some land by my grandmother’s house that my brother had particularly been interested in living on someday — went to his second wife and her son by a previous man, whom I’d only met once when he was, like, five. They were from another state, another life. They sold the land, I think, and we never heard from them again.
So if I could go back in time and relive one day, I would ask my dad to leave my brother something, anything, in his will. Not necessarily the land. Just anything at all.