it's hard to believe, but it's been 17 years since my dad died. i was just about to graduate from umsl, i was working 30 hours a week and racing mountain bikes and road bikes and even doing biathlons and the odd bmx race or two.
at the time, i really felt like i didn't have the time to visit my mom and dad, even though he was sick and had to frequently go to the veterans hospital. i took him lots of times when my mom had to work, and i remember bitching a lot about that. i'm pretty busy, i would say. and i had even convinced myself that he really wasn't that sick, since he was in and out of the hospital so much and he always came home okay.
i pretty much remember saying that when my mom told me to visit him on april 4th, 1991. she said, "you'd better go see your dad, he is not doing well." she had just come from there. but, you know, i was tired. i had ridden 52 miles and i had to do some laundry or something. i would see him the next morning, because i didn't go into work until lunch time or so, and i could catch up on my homework while i visited.
so when my phone rang after 10pm (which everyone knew not to do in those days because i always went to bed at 10pm, being so self absorbed and self important, i needed my sleep) i figured it was mom. it was. she told me dad died. that didn't sink in.
i had been at the hospital two days earlier, and he was not awake for my visit at all. being self-absorbed, it was easy to be angered by that, because i could've been doing homework or riding or working instead. but after mom's phone call, i remember thinking about that visit, and thinking about not waking him up while i was there, or at least holding his hand or something.
guilt is a strange thing. and it's pretty powerful, too. over the next couple of days, in my head i went over and over all of the things i could have and should have done for my sick father. i didn't want anyone to know what i had done, didn't want anyone to know that i just wasn't there. it's not as if i didn't love him. on the contrary. but i just didn't sense the urgency. i thought he would live forever, and i could bitch and complain to him and about him forever. he was 71, after all, and had lived through the depression, world war II, smoked all his life, drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney, had high blood pressure, and cancer. but he still took my ungrateful ass to school and to bike races and brought my lunch to me at work and put up with my mom and me and my brother, and pretty much wiped my ass for me my whole life....what could possibly happen to him?
if i sound like i still have guilt about it, i do. he was a special man, a great man to us, and i know in my household we really took advantage of his kindness. i don't know if there is any way to ever get over the guilt from something like that. i'd like to blame it on youth, but i was 24 years old at the time, certainly old enough to know better. it was pure selfishness, and nothing more.
elijah's birthday is on the 8th, which was the day of dad's funeral 17 years ago. i guess the double importance of that date will forever remind me about children and their parents, the roles we play in each other's lives, both how long and how short life is, and to never, ever take our time together for granted.