HAMBONE! My Dad, My Fallen Hero

susan-dad-gardenGreetings!

That is how my dad began every conversation and letter.  My dad died last year. I’m still in mourning.  I spoke at his funeral and am so glad that I did.  My dad is one of my heroes. My dad’s heroism wasn’t the sort that people celebrate publically.  He died from lung cancer.  And yes, he smoked.  He was also 71, so he lived a good beautiful life, that was cut short, but not by decades.  His work was mostly quiet and behind the scenes in mental health – not an area most people like to think much about.  I think he reminds me that a life well lived, a life full of love and passion – will end up touching people in ways that are heroic.  Showing up is half the battle.  My dad is my “fallen hero.”

Oh – when you are reading & you get to the word “Hambone,” you need to imagine it in a deep bass voice, booming out, like the echo after a California ocean wave hits the cliff.  And then imagine an inflection as if someone were frustrated and laughing at the same time, and put all the inflection on the” bone”. (Imagine your daughter locking your keys in your car for the 3rd time…..)

Here is what I read at his funeral.  Thanks for letting me share, thanks for the comfort.  I love you all.   Susan

My memories of my dad are mostly of his voice.  It was full of power, humor, passion, authenticity – it is a voice that resonates in my brain.  I can call him up in my mind simply by thinking the word “hambone” or “hellooooo Sue.” My dad is the only person who calls me sue.  And somehow, even tho I am 44 years old, I am still completely comfortable saying “hey daddy.”  That makes me smile.  I am, and was as a child, so different from my dad, that sometimes it is hard to see what we have in common.   But I am very proud of some core things that I inherited from him.  A belief that anything is possible.  A total confidence that you might just be right, no matter who else is in the room.   And a laugh that friends recognize from a distance.   I’m a lot more willing to say “I love you” out loud, but my dad always and forever made me feel loved, deep inside.

The things I remember about my dad.   Hearing him sing – my God, that voice – hearing him speak to a crowded room.  I would sit in the audience as a child and I would always know when he was talking. His love of animals.  When I think of my dad, I always see a companion in my mind’s eye – a kitten tucked in his jacket hood, a pup by his side.  I see him riding off on a bike with a milk crate in the back.  Walking off with a cigarette and an interested mind.  Never happier than when just a man w a dog or the woman he loves.  I think of The New York Sunday times book section and a cup of reheated coffee.  He would reheat that cup all day – ewwww.  And a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  Six foot six, and as skinny as a rail, that’s my dad with the beard and the twinkle in his eye.

Food – ah my dad was very particular and specific and frankly I would not want to be his waitress.  My love of eggs and tomatoes, a cup of soup, 5 crackers and a piece of cheese.  That’s my dad.  A man who would not spend $10 on shoes – yet who sent me fresh Maine lobsters for my birthday.  A man of sudden and unexpected kindnesses and fierce anger.

I love my dad for mostly small quiet isolated moments of intimacy.  Holding his hand.  Hearing him laugh.  Watching him rub his face against Missy’s.   Seeing him carefully tie a fly or walk off to the fishing hole, pole over his shoulder – that way he walked.  But when I think of his life, I am proudest of his revolutionary work in mental health, especially for kids – how he could see the problem in systems and know how to influence change in big and small ways. (I don’t think most people that know him now, know how just plain cool his work was, in New England).  And of his beautiful powerful voice.

I remember a man who would do anything to help his grandchildren grow into independent adults. Who, in nearly every picture, is turned to look at his granddaughter as if he could not stand to miss a second of her life.  Whose strength radiates out from the photographs as if he were in his own movie.  With a smile that always made you wonder what he was up to.

My dad was fiercely independent.  And loyal as the day is long.  In death I watched those two qualities struggle in the manner of his chosen passing.  Even as he could barely walk, as his voice changed to a whisper, he wanted life. ” I’ll take you for a drive Sue, let’s go up in the ridge today.”  “I’m going to poker, I want to see the guys.”  And it quieted my heart for him, as in the last week of his life, he tried to figure out how to get a still vibrant mind off to his favorite singing group: “Barbara tell them to hold my part.”  I knew that I would not hear him sing again.  But I also know in his mind then, and even today, as his spirit soars to his next adventure, both the communities that he loved and the vibrancy of his voice are still as strong as ever.





 



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