Dad: A Personal Post
Last month, my dad passed away, very unexpectedly. That night, alone with my thoughts and unable to sleep, or do anything else, I wrote this post. I didn't write it for my blog, I wrote it for me. I needed to. I didn't post it then for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I don't generally share personal or vulnerable things here. I can understand if that's not why you're here. Today, I decided I would, as a kind of memorial... And immediately cried. So, please: Feel free to skip this one if it pops up in your feed and you're here for the tech. This isn't that post. This one isn't for you, it's for me, and my dad.
[Posted later] Today my dad passed away, unexpectedly. I am thinking a lot, and so sad. I need to put words on a page and get them out of my head.
When I was 5 my mother and my biological father, barely in their mid-20s, got a divorce. Even I could see that weren't compatible. My mom, just finishing college had a lot of friends and they would occasionally help us out in many ways: From picking me up from school because my mom was held up, to to helping us move into our first apartment - or sometimes, just inviting us over.
One of those people, who I saw more and more of was a young man named Jim Wyse.. Jimmy... My dad, who passed away today, unexpectedly.
Legally speaking, I guess, Jimmy became my "dad" in a ceremony when I was 7 - but that's bullshit, because the truth is, I can't even tell you when it became clear that this distinction was uttlerly meaningless to us. I was his son, and he was my dad. It wasn't because of biology or law or ceremony, but by virtue of all of the things that ultimately matter so much more...and by choice. I couldn't tell you when, because it is seamless in my mind.
From the very beginning he cared for me. He took me camping, and fishing. He taught me to shift gears while he worked the clutch. He played with me in the yard. We wrestled and "boxed". We swam and we boated. He took me to see the movies of my childhood: The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II and Rocky 3. He gave me my first tastes of coffee, beer and wine. He told me stories of his childhood. We laughed together. He taught me to build and fix things, or at least he included me, as if my "help" (often counter-productive) really mattered. What really mattered was something more than that. It's easy to see that, now.
In fact, we spent what seems like, in retrospect, an impossible amount of time together. He cared when I was sad. He celebrated my victories. He taught me to be respectful and empathetic and generous and forgiving. He provided discipline too.
Jimmy came from a large family by today's standards, 4 brothers and a sister who all grew up and spent their entire lives in the same small 3 bedroom, 1 small bathroom house. It is generous, in fact, to call it 3 bedrooms. One of them, I believe, was converted out of the largest of two when my aunt was born. I worked on houses with my dad that had walk-in closets that are larger. They weren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but they were close, and he still lived in that house with his parents when I met him. He was younger than my mom.
In this I got a whole new (big) family too. Cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents with grand children who would become fixtures in my life. They were, of course, all actually biologically related and yet this distinction seems to have been totally irrelevant to all of them from the beginning as well. We spent holidays and vacaations together. In fact, while we lived near enough, we spent many weekends and evenings together too. Several of them lived with us and worked for him for a stint during difficult times in their own lives.
When I was 9 my sister Jennifer was born. It would be impossible to overstate how much I loved this new baby that came into our house. And it would be impossible to not see how much he did too. Perhaps it was the fact that some people began congratulate him on his "first child" that caused me to hear him first address the issue. It may well be the first time, though it was certainly not the last - that I heard him express just how much he loved me and reassure me that I was every bit his child. It was genuine.
By the time my sister Sarah was born there was certainly nobody I met who doubted this. I was "Jimmy and Adele's kid" and most people referred to me as a Wyse.
My sisters are much younger than me. I don't tell them enough anymore, but I hope they know how much I love them, and how much he did. Because of our age differences, I probably have different memories than them. By the time they were probably old enough to remember much, I was already in my teenage years and spending less time at home. But I have so many wonderful memories of time we all spent together.
Somehow, it is amazing to me that the first time heard anyone refer to us as "half-brother" or "half-sister" I was 40. Despite knowing this to be a biological truth in my mind, I considerably was taken aback just to hear it and it still feels... wrong.
Tonight this memory dawned on me again as I realized it might be difficult for me to help with arrangements. He and my mother divorced long ago, so on paper we're as good as strangers, probably.
As I spoke to my sister on the phone, this realization fresh in my head, I began to worry that perhaps there was a difference. My heart broke again as I imagined the pain my sisters must feel - is it more than my own? Perhaps it is even insensitve to not acknowledge? He was, after all, the man who held them in his arms at the hospital moments after their birth - they have known nothing else. I offered a stuggled, "I know it probably isn't quite the same for us... I'm so sorry.".
That this was the moment that finally prompted her to audible tears filled me with instant regret. "No one ever thought that. How could you say that? He definitely didn't see it that way." She's right, of course, and I know it. I'm saddened that I brought it up. He was my dad - and throughout my entire life he has always been there.
My teenage years were difficult. I was difficult. I didn't take school, or much of anything else seriously. But through it all, he never gave up on me. By then he had started a small business as a general contractor and he put me to work weekends and summers (and even the occasional school day when he was very shorthanded and it was clear I wasn't going to go to school anyway). He was a constant force who walked a thin line - both teaching me valueable skills that I might need with pride, and simultaneously constantly pushing me to please use my brain and not my back to make a living.
When I graduated highschool, by some miracle, I went to work for him full time.
The following February we went to a job near Lake Erie to work on a roof. It was just about the last day anyone would want to do such a thing. It was windy, and biting cold - just above freezing. There was easily a foot of snow on the roof, and in inch of ice below it. By 9, a freezing rain had started whipping across us too.
Cold, soaked, and more uncomfortable than I have ever been, I realized that I couldn't imagine lasting the rest of the day. Did I really imagine doing this for another 40 years or more?. It was then that I realized he was right, I should do something else. I wanted to leave right then, but the shame I'd feel walking off the job because I couldn't take it kept me going for another hour... But it couldn't last.
Around 10am, I quit.
Miles from home, I sat in his truck (still very cold, wet and without heat) for many hours pondering my future. I'm sure he took some shit from the rest of the crew about it. I spent months finding a college to accept me on a trial admission program.
I tell this story so that I can add that years later, after honors and success, he told me "That was the plan. I had to show you very clearly the choice in front of you. It was one of the happiest days of my life, when you realized you didn't have to do this.... But man it was cold. That was a shitty day.".
Throughout my life, he's always been teaching me - sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly by letting me fall flat and being there to pick me up and set me right.
He was the model in my young life that set the bar for what I wanted to be for my own chidren. I also watched him a show kindness, patience and understanding to many people, over the years, in ways that remain unparalleled examples to me. He was my example and the man I tried to be in so many ways.
He was the warmest soul in my darkest hours. There were times in my life where he was the only one I could talk to. On more than one occasion, he consoled and supported me in ways no one else could. He sat with me and calmed me while I cried so hard I couldn't speak. I tried be there for him in some of his difficult times too, and he had some rough ones. He wasn't perfect either, but who is?
The truth is, he was more to me than "dad" expresses. Much more.
7 years ago, during one of those difficult times in my life, after my own long relationship broke up, I purchased the home that he grew up in from my Aunt. It needed a lot of work at the time, and he came and did some of it. He replaced the roof and installed new windows in the front. We were planning on doing the back last fall, until the pandemic. A boom in new work after things began to turn around meant we'd put it off till this fall.
It's funny, and sad, how much we (or at least I) put off till tomorrow, and then miss the chance because there are no more tomorrows. I haven't phsyically seen him (or much of anyone, really) in a year.
A lot of our conversation since the pandemic has centered on the old place: Me asking him questions about how to do something, or sending him pictures of improvements or changes I'd made. He'd always reply encouragingly, celebrating my work and expressing happiness that this home remained in the family. "Your grandparents would be happy".
Tonight, as I went to make a call, I realized that I have an unread message on my phone from him from last week. He was replying to to a photo I sent him of some new landscaping. It was a simple message. "Looks great!" Two words and an exclamation point. That's it. Nothing deep, but it made me cry. I missed it at the time, and these are his last words to me. Encouraging me.
Each night I fall asleep in the same room that he did until we met. My bedroom is his old bedroom that I used to go and play in and wrestle with my cousins. I think about all of this often - and how lucky I am that Jim was my dad and that he loved me. I loved him too - and I'm glad I can say that we both knew it. Tonight, won't be different in that respect - I'm sure I'll replay all of this in my mind... But.. It is quite a bit different, isn't it? He's gone now.
One of the things I spent a long time doing since is looking through old photos. Most of these are bad photos of photos, but they give some context to all of this and are some great memories for me... Even if they aren't all of him, he's in all of the memories.<