Father’s Day and the Death of My Dad

I thought today, Father’s Day, made this sort of sharing meaningful and special…and maybe even comforting to those of you who will not be able to share Father’s Day with your dads here on earth.

Some of you will remember several months ago, in the beginning of the year, I wrote about my makeup inspiration and my father being ill. When I wrote that post, there was a small shred of hope that I held onto that my dad might find a miracle and pull through, but he didn’t. My dad died.

Guess it has taken a while for the dust to settle. I have been unable to write about it and even now am forcing myself to rattle my keyboard to share his death with you five months later. I thought it might be fair to share about about my life with him too.

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Frankie Freeman

I spent all of my life wanting a dad – my own dad. I had a father, but he was too busy chasing his life, and lust, and running from his demons – a fairly common story. My dad, funded by my grandparents, chased my mother (who was fighting her own battle with drugs and alcohol) around the United States to pursue custody of my brother and me. There was no winner, just a lot of wasted money and confused kids. There were intermittent good times when he was there, but for the most part my raising was done by my grandmother and grandfather, who gladly took me after twelve years of being bounced around from place to place.

At twelve I came to live with my grandparents, who served as the cornerstone of my childhood stability. By the time I moved there my grandfather and my grandmother were both retired and able to spend all of their efforts getting my life stabilized. During that time, my dad was still out there, burning the roads up, on a crusade.

I do not ever recall Aba (Hebrew for Dad, our name for him) working for very long, or being stable enough to have responsibilities. He came to my grandparents for dinners in the evening and every once in a while would show up to pick me up from school and take me to piano lessons or cheerleading practice. He was fun, albeit a little embarrassing. I am not talking about the “he is my dad” version of embarrassing. I am talking about the full-on, “will show up at junior high school to pick up kid with nothing but a leather biker vest, tattoos, and nipple rings – with matching chains embarrassing.” He was doing his own thing – he was clear and unapologetic about that. He also dabbled in drugs, newspaper headlines, and Torah teaching. Super confusing!

He went on with his life and I went on with mine.

I lived with grandparents who gave me everything they could in an attempt to give me anything I had ever done without – including love, gifts, a beautiful home, clean underclothes, and dinners  served at the same time each night. It was the undoing of a lot of booboos.

They also provided for him, because they loved him like I did – above and beyond whatever he wanted the world to think he was. We all knew he was so hurt by feeling unaccepted as a gay kid in the south that his pendulum swung to the other side – a safer position for him. He pushed others away by being loud, obnoxious, and flamboyant – and it he made it his choice to be rejected. That was unsuccessful too. When he was tired of being showy and just relaxed into being the person he was – apart from his persona – he was pretty loveable. That was his true self; hurt like the rest of us, human like the rest of us. My daddy and my grandparent’s little boy.

Years went by and my dad and I had a pretty great long distance relationship. I was safe to just be his daughter without media coverage, heckling, and rejection from people who thought my dad being gay also made him a pedophile – or worse. It was just easier to cope with having a long distance relationship, given a little space to just enjoy the calls and letters (you know I am old now – we did not have email back then). He got to be himself without all of the other stuff. I did too.

So that was our relationship for years. YEARS. It worked for both of us. Time passed. Life passed too. My grandfather died while I was pregnant with my oldest child and life changed a little. I appreciated Aba more. I needed him more. I only lived an hour away so we visited together a lot and I got to know him more as an adult. We were friends – close ones.

As those years passed, my dad had several people in his life. Most of his boyfriends were relatively harmless – most of them were kinda funny, or weird. Some like cartoon characters, like the deaf guy who resembled a giraffe. Or like the Latin guy who looked like he was stripped from a black and white movie. Then he had a partner for several years and I loved him dearly. He loved my kids, shared my love for Madonna, and was fussy like me. But, sadly, his partner (my precious friend), John, died of HIV … then everything changed.

My dad started bringing home drug addicts and thieves. One of his boyfriends, a crack addict, stole all of my grandmother’s jewelry – precious gift from my deceased grandfather. Diamond anniversary gifts, baubles he had saved for, her engagement ring – all gone. When I saw that my dad pretended nothing happened and refused to act and keep my grandmother safe from those skimming off of her, I started drifting away. I saw him disappearing too. Perhaps he was busy struggling and I missed it…

He was so hungry to fill that vacancy in his life, and he had spiraled so low (likely fueled by drugs), that he ended up espousing a mentally ill man, who is a murderer and con. No really. I cannot make this stuff up (feel free to read more about his partner here).  Eventually, after several years of my dad and his partner stealing from my grandmother, I confronted my dad. It changed everything and he stopped speaking to me. It hurt. I felt he chose this monster over me. Our whole family was torn.

Melissa Sue Gerrits

It hurt, but I needed that distance. My grandmother soon passed too. So there was nothing to keep him from running amok. After burning through all of the inheritance he had, he was a pauper begging from neighbors. His health deteriorated and his partner also began abusing him and neglecting the medical care he needed.

But, that is not the end. I hope you made it to reading this part – because it is the part I want you to know: God allowed us reconciliation.

My dad had been hospitalized, in critical condition for nearly two months before I was notified. My dad’s partner would not allow me to see my dad. When I told my little brother about my dad’s failing health, he immediately made a way to come to North Carolina from Spokane, Washington and my dad’s condition was clarified. In the midst of my brother’s visit – when my brother advocated for my dad – his conman partner went missing (and has yet to show back up). Because my brother had to return home, I was left as the geographically closest next of kin, and was finally allowed to visit with my father.

The week before he died was the first time I had seen him for over two years. His nurse called me and said that I was given permission to come and that she felt his health was failing, “come soon if you want to see him alive.” I visited him in the ICU of the VA Hospital in Durham, NC. His head had been propped up with a rolled up towel and his eyes were open, but I was told that my dad was brain damaged over the largest part of his brain and he would never be able to be more than a “vegetable.” Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I knew that he heard me. When I came in, my dad opened his eyes, and every time I cried he looked away or closed his eyes. It was always hard from him to see me hurt.

I spent a few hours with him and left.

The last day I spent with my Dad

I never saw him with his eyes open again. The next day would have been my grandmother’s birthday. But, it was not a day of celebration; it was the day the nurse called and said that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and could no longer support his own oxygen levels. Although he was supported with increased oxygen, he was regularly being suctioned and required a nurse at his bedside to suction him out and keep his airways clear. The nurse told me he was being taken to hospice, but there were currently no beds, so they had him heavily sedated so he would be comfortable. I went back to the hospital that day and spent the day with him. I told him silly stories, and talked to him, I played his favorite music, and I just sat and held his hand. The sun streamed through the hospital windows, and seemed to brighten up the room with peace.

When I had to leave, I was heartbroken with a heavy burden and a sense that I might never see him again. On my hour-long ride home, I kept feeling a strong pull back. I called the chaplain to be with him because I feared me might die while I was gone – and that he would be alone. There was nobody else to be with him. Since my brother left, I was his only visitor – his only immediate family left in the country. My sister was preparing a letter for me to read to him (she is in Israel and they had also been estranged), but it had never come due to internet issues. She called on my way home feeling uneasy that she could not get her letter to me and that there was nobody to put her on speakerphone at the hospital.

By the time I got home, my husband told me to go back and have no regrets. I left. The weather was terrible, but my hour-long drive took me forty-five minutes. The letter from my sister finally arrived and the typically-frustrating parking at the hospital was clear so I was easily back to the ICU where I was greeted by the Chaplain, who had the Rabbi on the telephone. The weather had been so bad that he could not come in person, but wanted to pray for my dad so he could be heard, on speakerphone. The nurse told me to hurry that my dad “was waiting for me to come back.” The Rabbi read the prayers in Hebrew and I resounded an “amen.” I read half of my sister’s letter, until the words, “I forgive you” and my dad sighed his last breath like a wave of relief that left the dust of death over the room. That was it. Altogether, I had been at the hospital only twenty-two minutes when he passed. I knew God allowed us to be together; so he would not be alone, and I would finally feel like his daughter and he could just be my dad – nothing else.

Aba taught me many lessons, but this final one was clear: Just. Love. Yes, even when people are wrong, hurting, human, or busy fighting their own battles.

Written with love…just love,

That Basic Chic

I wasn’t the only one who loved this guy. Here is another post remember my dad. I am not even sure who this gentleman is. All I know is that he had the pleasure of love, life, and lessons with my Aba too.

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