Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Yesterday, July 26, sometime before 9:03 AM, my father passed away. I was alerted to this when I received a text at 9:03 that read, in its entirety, “Just a short note. Your Dad passed away early this morning. A peaceful ending for him.”
Nice way to start the day.
Not that it was unexpected. As my regular and even recent readers are aware, he has been in Hospice since July 20. I was made aware that he was in hospice by a text, just as brief, from the same unknown phone number that I believe to belong to my brother-in-law Phil.
I don’t want this to sound like an obituary, but I hope my readers will forgive me as it seems the only way that I can think to really start this. Dad was 88, and a veteran of the Air Force where he fought in the Korean Conflict, I believe as a mechanic. He never spoke of his military experience, at least not to me. He had two children, my sister and myself. I am now the last male in this particular Bleil branch.
He went to work for NCR after his service was up. He graduated Batavia High School before joining the service, but never went to college. He began working for National Cash Register at a time that they offered in-house training and worked in electronics. I’ve never been certain of his title, but I believe he was a “Field Engineer”. When people had problems with their NCR products, they would call in and my dad was one of the people who would try to walk them through to a solution so they didn’t have to send anybody out in person.
I can tell you that he hated the phone as a result. He refused to answer the phone, even going so far as to develop a secret “ring” so he would know when we were calling. Sometimes it worked. If we had the nerve to actually answer the phone, which inevitably would incur his wrath, we were never allowed to say that he was there. It made it difficult in a day when there was one household phone, no caller ID, and as teenagers we had friends who would sometimes call. If he gave us permission to answer, he would sit, sullen and as silent as the Great Sphynx of Giza. If it was for him (since he was actually always on call, and if he was in, he was on the call for hours), we were trained to say he wasn’t there. I’ve always wanted to say, “He’s never home from the bars this early,” but, no, I never did. He was NOT known to have a sense of humor.
My mind has been almost as chaotic as my feelings today. They seem to run from memories of dad, to thoughts of my mom, to the dynamics of my family. My relationship with my father was not always the best; he was guarded, and uninvolved, and the more time that passes the more I realize that I grew up in an emotionally abusive home, but it wasn’t always bad. When I was very young, I was dad’s “little buddy”. We had some good times together. He would occasionally play “catch” with me, but not often enough for me to be good at sports. I believe dad suffered from depression, as did I. When he got home, he wanted nothing but “five minutes of peace and quiet”. I timed it once; he wanted more than five minutes.
As I got older, my lack of skill in any form of sports set me apart from the other kids, and having played football in high school, I think he had hoped that I would follow in his footsteps. As I fought depression, isolation and sought to feed a hungry mind, I spent more and more time alone in my room. As my interests turned to science, I think he felt unable to relate. While my sister and mother built a strong relationship, I believe the family dynamic meant I was supposed to forge one with my father, but it never materialized. Unfortunately, my studies took me further and further away from my home both physically and emotionally. I know my grandmother once said while I was in graduate school that she didn’t like talking with me because I was so smart that she didn’t know what to say to me. This hurt. A lot. On reflection, this is the time that my parents pulled away from me as well. I can’t help if my education is part of the reason that I felt I had lost my father many years ago.
Today, I’m stuck not knowing how to feel. Maybe I haven’t processed my feelings yet. I was at a post-doctoral position in New York City when my grandfather passed away, with a relationship even more distant than that with my father. But, for weeks, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Eventually, I decided to donate blood in his name (the blood bank played along but didn’t really care). That night, I wept like a baby. Maybe someday I’ll weep for my father. That would REALLY piss him off.