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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Me & My Father/ Steve Martin & His

Just this morning, I read an article in January's Reader's Digest entitled "The Death of my Father", an essay written by Steve Martin. I included the link for the online version embedded into the title of this blog.  (Can also be read by viewing this link).

In reading this essay, I was reminded of my father, Maynard Tobin Marine. He and I had a rocky relationship; hell, who am I kidding, he had a rocky relationship with pretty much everyone in his immediate family. However, that all changed in 1999 when we found out he had small-cell basal cancer and there was absolutely no cure for this. His oncologist told us from the beginning there was no cure and any treatment would be simply for prolonging his life and improving the quality of his last days.

I'm not going to say we all embraced our father in a new way in one fell swoop but eventually my siblings and I came around to see who our father really was.

Daddy, as we all called him, was born in Washington Court House, OH in August 1926. He was born to an alcoholic father and a mother who was tired of it all. He was years younger than his next oldest sibling and at a young age he also became a drinker. This was his life-long path, until the last few years of his life, when all the kids had grown, moved out and had kids of their own. Daddy was an extremely large man, six feet six inches tall, and he was larger than life. He had a booming voice that reverberated against the walls. When he walked into a room, you knew he was there almost instantly. Daddy had a ready sense of humor and smiled the broadest smile. When he laughed, his whole face showed it. His eyes were a pale gray and he had a distinctive nose, one that became the "Marine" nose, having inherited it from his father, who had inherited it from his mother. He was also the smartest man you would ever meet.

But he was also an angry man...

Daddy seemed to suffer most of his angst towards me, physically and emotionally abusing me whether I had done something wrong or not. This was him, this was very much him. Until my dad became ill with cancer, I can't remember a time I didn't hate him in some way, either large or small. In the midst of his illness, very early on, I found out I had cancer as well. Mine wasn't NEAR as serious as my father's but the family was concerned. I came out of it okay and after my final treatment, I went to see my father in his hospital bed, an inpatient for one of his many runs of chemo. I had just seen the movie, "Saving Private Ryan" and my thinking towards my dad was starting to change. Only after Daddy's death was I able to realize the man he truly was and it explained so much.

Daddy lived a pretty normal life in Washington Court House. He was in the marching band and the jazz band in High School. He played the Bass Fiddle and the saxophone and could do both better than anyone else. I can recall as a child his being in a swing band, playing his Bass Fiddle and he loved Big Band music more than life itself. It was in 1944, one month after his 18th birthday, that everything changed for him and it changed forever. Something the rest of us never knew, something my mother and father had never told us, was that Daddy didn't graduate high school with his class. Daddy received, one month into his senior year, a draft notice telling him to go to war. This was not uncommon of the time, but it must have been a secret shame of Daddy's, for him to not tell us. He finally got his GED in 1959, the year my oldest brother was born, and DID take "some" college courses later on in life but to his dying day, he never told us he didn't graduate with his class.

During WWII, Daddy was with the 752nd Tank Battalion as they traveled through Africa, Italy and Europe at large. Some of the stories he tells sound like he was in the Battle of the Bulge but he would never acknowledge this fact. Were he still alive today, he'd tell you he wasn't...

Following WWII, Daddy left the Army Air Corp and attended a couple semesters at Ohio State before leaving to joining the Air Force, newly formed. Recently, I was looking at some of Daddy's old report cards from Junior high and high school. On one of them, the teacher's notes were that he showed an inordinate and obscure love of anything to do with airplanes and music. In the 1930's, my father loved airplanes and music. This was something he carried with him his entire life. When Daddy was in the Air Force, he worked with airplanes, more specifically fighter jets, as an avionics specialist. My two oldest siblings were born in Bermuda while my other two siblings and I were born in Louisiana, all in the midst of a war.

Daddy ended up serving 22 years in the military, retiring in 1966 when I was 18 months old. I have no memory of my father ever being in uniform, though I saw them hanging in his closet for decades, too small for him to be buried in, as he requested. Following his retirement from the Air Force, following his serving in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, Daddy's life should have, could have been good, were it not for his drinking and anger. He went to work for IBM, a job he kept for 20+ years, retiring at the age of 65. This job helped him raise five kids, buy a larger home when the original two kids turned in to five, it bought he and my mother new cars every three years or so and it took us on family vacations every August, the first two weeks thank you very much, every single year. I've seen much of the United States from the back of a station wagon thanks to my father and his wanderlust. Daddy needed travel like a fish needed water. I attribute this to his time in the military when he traveled almost constantly for 22 years. You could almost sense August coming, my father nearly vibrating as it grew closer. I can honestly say, while we were on vacation we were safe from the usual abuse. Daddy never hit any of us once on a vacation, not once, not ever.

One of the single greatest acts from IBM towards my father was when my eldest brother, Charlie, died in 1986. They sent the largest bouquet of flowers I had seen til then and since. In looking through a box of family memorabilia Mother had given me after Daddy passed away, I found no less than ten bereavement cards sent to Daddy and Mother from ALL the board members and CEOs of IBM. That's class, all over the place. IBM would never do that now. They never even acknowledged the death of my father while some of his old co-workers DID show up for his funeral. ***SIGH*** I guess the first casualty of corporate America is giving a damn about your employees, both past and present.

A couple days before he died, Daddy was in the hospital at Wright-Patterson AFB and we were taking turns sitting with him; he couldn't sleep unless someone was holding his hand and he desperately needed his sleep. At one point, he and I were alone in his room and I had let go of his hand to scratch, I think. He awoke instantly, I said, "It's okay, Daddy, I'm just scratching, I didn't leave you." His eyes became sad, as he looked at me, his youngest daughter, the one my parents favored and pinned the most hope on (which came out in letters I found after their deaths, they never told me this) and said, "Nancy, I know I wasn't the best father to you..." I cut him off and held his hand tighter, and said through my newly forming tears, "Daddy, if God gave me the chance to go back and choose my father again, I'd still choose you." And the funny thing was, I meant every word of this.

My father passed away extremely early in the morning on the 20th of September, 2001. None of us were able to be there having spent several days awake and becoming exhausted. Though we all nearly killed ourselves to get to the hospice in time, none of us made it. This haunted us all for days, that Daddy was alone. However, on the night of his memorial, we received one of the greatest gifts in the form of a clock chiming the hour...

In 1969, my Grandfather, Charles C. Marine, died and left a mantle sized Grandfather clock built pre-1800. On the night of his funeral, at midnight, the clock began chiming and didn't stop until my Uncle Urban got up to turn it off. The clock was in perfect working order, my grandfather had wound it just a few days earlier, as he did every Saturday morning. The clock had never done that before and hadn't done it since until the night of Daddy's funeral, when it began chiming the hour at 7 o'clock PM. When the clock began chiming, all my mother could do was point and say, over and over again, "The clock! The clock!" My siblings all looked at her as though she had truly lost her mind. Only I knew the story of the clock, having told my mother a few months earlier my belief as small child the clock being haunted. I was the only one of my siblings who knew the story of my Grandfather's message to us all that he was in heaven. Daddy using the clock to tell us that same was a blessed message to us all, including and especially to my Uncle Urban and Aunt Lois, who couldn't come to Ohio for the funeral due to my Uncle's health.

About a year after my mother's death, I picked up the torch of her cause, that of the family being compensated for the loss of my father to cancer. We all believed, and rightly so, that he got his cancer from being exposed to kilotons of radiation in the 1950's in the deserts of Nevada and New Mexico. It was completely by accident I came across the RECA legislation and had to send to St. Louis for his military record. When I received the file, four inches thick, encapsulating 22 years of my father's service to his country, I learned about a man who saw so much war it was astonishing he survived. I learned about a man who sacrificed much to provide for his family, serving a country who didn't give a damn about him any longer (enough so they couldn't be bothered to send a real bugler to his funeral, his only request). I read about a man who worked hard at a job he loved, leaving behind a small and growing family whom he loved and couldn't/wouldn't tell them so. My siblings and I have learned to appreciate the man my father was AFTER his death, all wishing we had had the chance while he was still alive.

It's been six years now since my father died, my mother following him three years later, on Halloween 2004. My life now has this huge hole in it, my heart aching for them every day, though it gets easier with time. I am now the matriarch of the family, my sister stepping in as the mother to us all, my children looking to me for the wisdom that was once that of my parents. When I have a tough decision to make, harder advice to give, I have to think, "What would my parents have done?" I imagine they are looking down on me now and I hope they approve of the way I am handling my life and that of my children.
I don't know, but I hope...