It was my father’s birthday last week. He would have been 83 years old. I visited him and told him how much I missed him and loved him, and when I left, I wished him a happy birthday. It’s been 3 years since he passed away, and it never seems to get easier.
It’s odd how the world and your view changes over the years. When I was little, my father was larger than life. He ruled the house and everyone in it. He was someone I actually feared. He was smart and he always let us know that he was smarter than everyone else, not only in the family but the world at large. He yelled a lot. He was not always nice. But there were times when he was nice, and he did wonderful things for the family. He was passionate about seeing the world, and took us around Europe, the East Coast, the Sierras and all of California. He was a child of occupied Netherlands. I think that is where he got his fear. A lot of fear. He lived as if everyone outside of our home was the enemy. I can’t even imagine what it was like to live as a child and young teen in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. He never talked about it. He never really wanted to hear about it. His parents and he must have suffered. His father, my grandfather, had four heart attacks and a stroke before he passed in his early 60’s. His mother, my grandmother, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis immediately after the war, and was wheelchair bound when I met her as a child of 6 or so. She passed in her early 60’s as well. I think all of this gave my dad a fear of disease, death, life, and lack of control.
He was not always understanding. He demanded that we obey him on everything. But when he was nice and kind and treated us with respect, he was a good man as we became adults. It was great to talk to him about finances, politics, business, people and the world. He listened a lot more as he entered his retirement years. He stopped fighting the world for the most part. He was a good grandfather to my children. He still would get uptight, but he tried to be a friend. He was my friend for the last few years of his life. He supported my decisions and listened to the difficulties I was having. Although he never understood what I did for a living or what I had accomplished, he was insanely proud of me. I thought his life would end more peacefully than he had lived it. But that was not to be.
He suffered from aggressive Alzheimer’s in his last year of life. The doctors at Stanford said they hadn’t seen anything like it. He went downhill rapidly. He got violent with everyone including my mother. The caregivers at the home I eventually was able to place him in, said it was because he was so smart and that he was fighting the disease in his brain from within. At the end, before he passed, he was kind to me. He looked to me for his care. We got along great. We talked. He listened. His brain was weakening, and I tried everything to settle him down, but he finally was at peace with me, because he had to be. I was at peace with him as well. It was a fast, but sad ending to an amazing life. He left Holland as a penniless young man and husband, became an American, and was successful in his career. He lived a great life. He left my mother well off. He did well in this world. I am proud of him and what he accomplished. He had four successful children, and five amazing grandchildren. His spirit, drive and zest for life live on in all of us.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you a lot and love you.