I've spent the last few hours writing my dad's obituary. Or, to be more accurate, rewriting it. Have I mentioned before that my father was a brilliant, brilliant man? A brilliant man who could not write? It was something of a mystery - he had no problem speaking, he read several books a week and had a near-photographic memory, but he simply could not compose an intelligible paragraph. And he wrote a lot. Volumes. Literally. Maybe I'll post about that sometime.
One of the many things he wrote was his obituary. It listed every place he had ever lived, the years he lived there, along with every company he ever worked for (most of which don't even exist any more). There were a lot of companies, because he really never really got the hang of working for anyone but himself. The bulk of his working years, he owned and operated his own business. It was a wholesale art and picture molding supply, and they did custom framing. To this day, I am quite the snob about frames. We used to earn pocket money by assembling "mini-frames" which were very popular in the 70's. When I was in college, my roomate bought a mini-frame at a local boutique. When she showed it to me, I recogized it. Hey, I made that! I exclaimed. You better not have made it, considering what I paid for it, she huffed. I do good work, I huffed right back.
In any case, I volunteered to edit the obituary into something more readable. It was harder than I expected. But it was interesting, seeing the things he felt were worth mentioning. I'm not sure I did it justice. It's not easy turning a phrase like "and with one exception having the top same likewise" into a real sentence. I worry that I took out too much. Should I have kept the list of the medals and ribbons he was awarded, or was it OK to just mention the Purple Heart by name and simply count the rest? I worry that I didn't add enough. Should I have mentioned the time he testified against building the super-collider before a Senate sub-committee? He didn't bring it up, so I wasn't sure if I should. Same likewise for his being honored two years ago in Guam for speaking up about nuclear testing that was done there during the war, and the cover-up of that testing.
How do you sum up a life? I want to write not about what he did, but who he was. How he worked six days a week and a half day Sunday to provide for us, but was never an absentee father. How he was so careless with things but careful with us. How he let me fall asleep on the couch with him every night and carried me to bed, long after I was far too old to fall asleep on the couch and be carried to bed. How he replied to a note from my first grade teacher complaining about my inattention during class with a note of his own that said, You leave my baby alone. How, in his world, there was only right and wrong, and nothing in between, and you chose right every time, without blinking. How he never told us with words that he loved us, but we were told nonetheless, in a thousand different ways.
Of course, he wasn't perfect. He was stubborn. He could be hyper sensitive. You could not disagree with him, ever, on anything, without his feelings getting hurt. Sometimes, you couldn't even agree with him without him thinking you were disagreeing with him. His social skills were limited. It wasn't until he was 80, and reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, that he recognized himself and found a name for his (and our) frustrations.
Tomorrow, I'll hand over the obituary to my mother, to see what she thinks. I can only imagine how incomplete it seems to her.