“Come on, Daddio.” During his visit to DC less than a year before he ended up in the hospital for a routine surgery that went horribly wrong, I called him that. He liked it. I walked five steps ahead of him as we wandered through the Korean Memorial; he lagged behind as he stuffed his pipe readying himself to sit on a nearby bench and puff and ponder the sight of the bronzed soldiers frozen in a stance of tortured combat.
We sat there, the sweet smell of his tobacco filling the air and I watched his face take in the tribute to the war he just missed before he enlisted, and his eyes were wistful as if he wished he were one of those men who felt the impact of battle, real battle, not the kind that he ended up with in his marriages or the drug habit that finally took him down.
I loved my dad, still do. But I’ve always felt that I never really knew him. The box of his things I packed from the squalor of his apartment only told me that he was sentimental enough to keep a wedding photo from each marriage, and a letter that my mother wrote to his estranged dad announcing my birth.
I told my therapist in Maryland that I mourned Bob, the four-legged son of Billy and me, than I did my dad, and that’s true. I knew Bob, and he allowed me to love him. My dad wasn’t as available. His mask of careless happiness blunted any chance of getting to know him, and his absolute refusal to speak truthfully was the moat I could never cross.
The questions remain, but I no longer have the drive to seek their answers. It no longer seems important. My dad lived the life he chose, and that’s probably all I need to know.