My father died of lung cancer. He started smoking when he was in high school and quit when he was about 60. It caught up with him and killed him.
Dad was remote to me. My siblings loved Dad. They all have fond memories. I don’t. I don’t have bad memories. I just don’t have many memories at all. He was away a lot on business when I was an adolescent and teenager, but even when he was around, he never took much interest in me.
My older sisters – simply by being older – were more interesting. By the time I was age X, my sisters had already put him through the adventures of a girl of age X. My younger siblings had the novelty of being boys. We were all good athletes, but, in the rural Midwest, girls’ athletics are recreation while boys’ athletics are life-and-death. Also, as my sisters and I moved out, the family at home got smaller and more intimate.
More than that, Dad and I never shared any interests. In everything important to either of us, we were opposites.
School and books were everything to me. Dad had been an indifferent student at best, more interested in basketball and girls. He went to two colleges but never finished a semester. I don’t remember him ever reading a book until after he retired.
When Dad was in school, teachers constantly compared him unfavorably to his older brother. My uncle was the most brilliant student ever to graduate from their school. Dad resented the comparison. I imagined, rightly or wrongly, that his resentment transferred to me. I won all the academic medals at school, was valedictorian of my class, graduated with honors from an Ivy university and earned a graduate degree in a highly quantitative discipline. But Dad never gave me a single word of encouragement or praise. He went out of his way to belittle academics and academic achievement. He mocked any perceived lapse in my intelligence. Only after he died did I find out that he held me out to my younger siblings as a model.
He never understood why I left town for the city, why I left the Midwest for the East. As I get older, I start to see some of the charm of my home town, but I could never live there. Conversely, he could never imagine living in a city.
When I was young, I didn’t understand why Mom married Dad. Mom is a lot like me, which is unsurprising: I’ve always tried to be as much like Mom as possible. Love is a funny thing. Dad and Mom loved each other more than any two people I have ever known.
Dad and I grew to appreciate each other over the last few years. I’ll miss him.