There are some people who blame many of the “special” days in the year on the card manufacturers. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and of course Father’s Day. I’ve never believed this theory or that these days are “just another day”. We mark these days and others as times to make sure that our family, friends, and loved ones know that they are special to us. Yes, Hallmark, FTD, and 1-800-Flowers love these days for other reasons, but that is no reason to dismiss their importance or miss an opportunity to let some one that matters to you know just how much.
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about my Father, Joseph Francis Rial. I spent much of my life living far away from him and the rest of my family. I moved away from Iowa in 1981 when I joined the Marine Corps. I lived in Minnesota from 1986-1989 while recruiting, but most of the time I’ve been much further away. When you live so far away from family you miss out on a lot of things that others take for granted. My relationship with my Dad was not a bad relationship but we rarely talked when I wasn’t visiting him. I hate to admit it, but I’m not sure if I have been home on Father’s Day since I moved away. I’m sure I called a few times, but my Dad and I rarely talked on the phone. Unfortunately I won’t be able to call him or visit this year, he passed away last Christmas Eve.
My Dad lived a full 81 years. He enjoyed his life, but had an unhealthy lifestyle. His health declined fairly rapidly over the last couple years, but regardless of his lifestyle, he had been very healthy for much of his life. I give credit to the fact that he worked hard most of his life. He didn’t have to worry about going to the gym or going on walks, he worked hard instead of working out hard. So many of us these days sit at desks all day and have to simulate hard work in the evenings.
We celebrated his 80th birthday with him in September 2013. By then his age and life style (heavy drinking) had taken a toll on him. He spent most of his time on a scooter. Although his body was weak at that time, his mind was clear. Clear at least in some ways. At times he was an irrational and exceptionally grumpy old man, but that was not due to a lack of clarity, it was just part of who he was. Thankfully at his birthday party he just relaxed and enjoyed the day with his family.
I spent some “alone” time with him in his apartment, the week we were in Iowa for his Birthday. Although he spent most of his time in a chair or on his scooter, he did get up and walk a couple times while I was there. He was very shaky, but I thought it was good that he was not sitting all the time. Unfortunately, a few months later he fell, likely during one of these “up and about” moments. When they found him a day or two later he was still on the floor. He was confused and unsure of where he was. He never recovered from that fall. I visited the next September, while I was home to celebrate my Mom’s 75th birthday, and he didn’t recognize me. He did still speak, some of it was English but some wasn’t, some of it made sense and not all of it. Although it would have been easy to say things like, “he’s already gone”, in fact I did say that more than once, I could still see parts of my Dad when I was with him. His smile, his personality… the good and the bad, and the intensity of his gaze. It was very difficult seeing him, recognizing some of him, but realizing he was not all there.
We buried Dad on a very cold December day in the Catholic Cemetery near his parents graves. The funeral was difficult, but upbeat. For me the remembrances we shared had been events that had all passed much too quickly. When you live so far from those you love, looking back can be tough. Nearly every time you see them they are a year older or more. If I add it up I probably only spent a few months of time with my Dad the last 25 years of his life.
Although it we had not spent much time together in the last couple decades, I have a very vivid and long memory. I remember things my Dad said and did from about the age of three. He was a husband…
of five eventually, but just me and my older sister Erin to begin with. Mom and Dad look great in this one, but I obviously liked to eat!
I remember the family times when I was young. Watching Lawrence Welk, or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
and road trips: Colorado, Texas, Fort Wayne Indiana, and South Dakota.
Unfortunately, many of my memories of my Dad, especially in my early teens, are not good. His drinking took over his life, and set him on a course that would lead to a lot of terrible things and eventually my parent’s divorce. For much of that time he was not a nice guy, not a responsible person, and not a good Dad. Those experiences would strain our relationship for the rest of his life. He never remarried, lived most of the rest of his life alone, but he did stay connected to us. If I had lived nearby we may have had a closer, more connected relationship as I got older. We definitely had some good conversations over the years. Most of those were sitting on a bar stool next to him at his favorite drinking hole, but that was just the way it was with my Dad. Although he was able to quit smoking cold turkey in his 60’s, he never was able to shake the hold alcohol had on him.
Regardless of his faults I loved my Dad. He worked hard physical jobs all his life. He helped others without a second thought about it. He as a mechanic, machinist, electrician, welder, plant maintenance man, and good at all those things! He was very smart, but left school in the 8th grade. Although he struggled with reading/writing, he read the things he needed to for work and read about the things he enjoyed. Popular Science and Popular Mechanics were a couple of his favorite things to read. There was always a warm hand written note in cards he would send for the holidays.
I wish I could have a long talk with him this weekend on Father’s Day. It wouldn’t bother me at all to sit on a bar stool in his current favorite place if that’s what it took! So remember this Father’s Day – it’s not just another day!
Here are a few more pictures of my Dad…