By Mark Ryan
I guess we took for granted that he was going to be around forever. He’d bounced back before so many times, we figured he’d just get out of the hospital bed at some point and come home.
Dad was 87 years old when he passed away, unexpectedly, two days before Christmas.
While Mom has coped by going back to work, keeping busy with substitute teaching at Kenmore East and Kenmore West high schools, most of us adult children – sons, daughters and grandchildren – wonder if we’ll ever get used to Dad not being there to answer the phone when we call home.
In Neil Chethik’s book “FatherLoss,” the author categorizes four reaction types for a son having lost his father. I would likely be considered Chethik’s “delayer” type, one who shows little immediate emotion, or perhaps the deeply moved and action-taking “doer.”
Given the powerful emotional reaction of one of my nephews, he would be labeled as a “displayer.” The nephew described Dad’s tough love in his eulogy.
An excerpt from the eulogy:
“My grandfather, took care of us, took care of everyone, set everyone straight. You could count on him for anything – money, advice, a ride. Well, maybe not a ride ...
“He wasn’t raised spoiled, and he wasn’t one to spoil his kids or grandkids with rides. If you really needed a ride, he’d give you a ride, sure. But … he was more likely to recommend you utilize one of the bicycles, or say something like, ‘three miles, that’s a nice walk, good exercise.’"
I thought of a winter morning when I was a teenager. The winds were howling and the snow was coming down in near-blizzard conditions. My brother and I were hoping for the schools to close, but they were still open. We realized we needed to get ready for the mile walk from our home to Tonawanda High School.
As we began bundling up, Dad surprised us: He asked us if we wanted a ride.
We couldn’t believe it.
But then, just as we had settled in in the car, maybe an eighth of a mile from the house, at the corner of the street, he stopped the car: “OK, get out,” he said. “I got you guys a good start. You can walk the rest of the way from here.”
No, Dad was not one to spoil his kids.
Dad’s generation was less dependent, less needy – and maybe a bit more ambitious. My father taught high school geometry and calculus at Niagara Wheatfield High School for over 20 years. He also worked summer jobs as a customs and immigration official and Greyhound bus driver to help support his family.
During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In his college days at Buffalo State, he played varsity soccer and cleared 10 feet as a pole vaulter for the track and field team. He reminded us that he competed with a metal pole, before the evolution of fiberglass.
Dad remained active almost right till the end. He exercised daily. In his mid-80s, he was still riding his bicycle every day.
As a family, we’ve been very fortunate, strong and healthy for so long.
If it was up to Dad, he’d have us speeding through the mourning process. He’d be advocating for the “FatherLoss” dasher reaction mode. But it doesn’t look like we are going to be snapping out of this grieving thing anytime soon.
This year, we’re approaching Father’s Day on an unfamiliar emotional landscape. When one loses a parent, one truly realizes that life is short.
Don’t wait. The time is now to let your parents know they’re loved and appreciated.
Mark Ryan, a Buffalo native, works as a registered nurse in Gainesville, Fla.