Friday, November 16, 2012

Hate to Harsh Your Buzz And All But...



     Mal Penwasser died two years ago today.
 
   Finally succumbing to a lifetime of bad habits, he lived to 76, which isn’t all that bad.  If nothing else, he surpassed the average life expectancy of a man in the Middle Ages.
 
  It may have been diabetes, a heart condition, or the combined effects of “morbid obesity” (as I later learned was the official cause of death) which did him in.
 
  I really don’t know.

  You see, my brothers, sister, and I hadn’t spoken to him since 1995.  Although I remember the general cause of our estrangement, the specific details had disappeared over the last fifteen years.  What made it even sadder is that, in the intervening years, my father had three more grandchildren whom he would never meet.
 
  As I watched the calendar turn over and assorted parts of my body stretch to the floor, I knew the clock was ticking on Mal just like the rest of us.  I wondered how I’d react when I learned he had finally passed.  Even though my siblings and I joked that the only way we would find out would be via the Social Security Death Index, I was still curious. 
 
  Would I be sad?
 
  I got my answer on November 17th, 2010 when the funeral director in the town in which he lived called.  As she told me that I was now an orphan (Mom had gone at the criminally young age of 44 in 1983), I just answered, “Huh.”
 
  As in, “Huh, well, whaddya know?”
 
  Hanging up the phone, I wasn’t overwhelmed (or even “whelmed”) with grief.  Instead, I kept going back to “Huh.”
 
  In phone calls with my family, we all pretty much had the same reaction.  Neither poignant reflections nor melancholy.    
 
  Just “Huh.”
 
  The more I thought about it, though, I started to grow a little morose.  I’m sad that wrongs (or perceived wrongs) can never be righted.  A father and grandfather will never be a part of a family who rejoices in each other, warts and all.
 
  All because of pigheaded stubbornness. 
 
  Instead, a sad, bitter man was cremated alone, his ashes then spread over Long Island Sound.
 
  Alone.
 
  As I consider our family tragedy, I made a vow to myself.
 
  When I pass on to whatever awaits me (I just hope God isn’t French.  If so, I'll have a real problem), I swear I'll do whatever I can to ensure my son and daughter are by my side.
 
  And they’ll never have a reason to say, “Huh.”

38 comments:

  1. WOW, so sorry to hear of your estrangement, but glad to know you have siblings who can understand what you are feeling. I'm an only child and have a very strange relationship with both of my parents. They are not involved in my children's life at all. I always wonder how I will feel when they pass on.

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    1. With my mom: abject misery. The tragedy of it all is that she never met ANY of her grandchildren (one of whom will have a baby herself in January).
      My father? As said, he COULD have met all of his grandkids, but chose not to.
      If Hell has Visiting Hours, I plan on telling him that.

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  2. What is there to say except I'm sorry? Somehow those kinds of relationships are great for tv shows, movies, and books - but in reality it stinks.

    I hope you have a peaceful day.

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    1. There is a story in all of this. But, when I look at my son and daughter (and Mrs. Penwasser), I'm convinced it has a happy ending.

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  3. This is one of those posts I really want to respond to but find words to be failing me.

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    1. Life is good. I have no idea why I wrote the post. I just felt the need. Golly, what does that say about what's rattling around in my head?

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  4. I had the same reaction when my father passed, it was just huh and that was that pretty much, estrangement can lead to one not caring, or forgetting to care or something. At least if God talks french I'll be able to ask where the bathroom is hahaha

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    1. Oh, great. I hope I don't have to poop in heaven, because I'll NEVER know how to ask.

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  5. It's sad things went the way they did. But it's good that you're close with the rest of your family. When it comes down it, I think family is the most important thing. We had the same "huh" reaction when my stepfather died, and seeing the mess his family was left in made me twice as determined to make sure my family never ends up split apart like that.

    <3

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    1. The cancer started when my parents divorced. A LOT of very bad blood there. Luckily, my stepfather was one of the finest men I've ever known.

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  6. My mum and her mum had a major falling out at one point, and they didn't speak for years. I actually only met my grandmother for the first time a few years ago. I am glad that they were able to patch things up, and I know they are too. I hope as well that if I have kids, they will stay by my side.

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    1. I've been amazed at how easily the older generation of my family just doesn't talk to each other. One of the things of which I am most thankful is that my three brothers, my sister, and our families all get along splendidly. In fact, we're all going to my sister's house for Thanksgiving to drink her beer. And eat some pie.
      Okay, a lot of beer.

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  7. Wow. Sometimes you just can't help a situation like that. Laurie's dad might have had the same thing, except he hearned to his surprise that his children were bigger people than he was.

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    1. The older Penwassers (well, that's not our name, but you know what I mean) were really the insane Penwassers. The nuts in my generation's family tree are a little more whimsical.

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  8. I'm so sorry to hear about you having this estrangement from your father Al in all honesty. My grandfather alienated himself from our family before he died and I know he died alone and I hate thinking of that. You're not like your father Al and you're a great dad and a great grandfather, I don't think you have to worry about dying unloved although I'm so sorry that your father couldn't have been a bigger part of your life over his last fifteen years. Seriously hoping that you're okay on such a poignant day, your reaction of "huh," is exactly how I'd have been if it was me too so don't feel any guilt buddy, hope you're okay, really thought provoking piece of writing for sure.

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    1. I'm feeling a little introspective today....I really think I should call up those "monkeys smoking cigars" pictures.

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  9. I sympathize with you, and in spite of your post I'm sorry for your loss, especially the loss of what might have been. I haven't spoken to my brother in ten years. No fight, he just decided one day that I wasn't good enough to be part of his rich and beautiful life. He did show up at our father's funeral (he hadn't spoken to Mom or Dad in fifteen years) but he managed to leave without saying anything to me.

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    1. I just can't imagine that with my brothers and sister. I think, if we've learned nothing, is that family is family, warts and all. Maybe that was the gift the old man really gave us...?

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  10. I can hope for the same, I don't want to be a "huh". ::hugs:: Your way!

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    1. I don't want abject misery, gnashing of teeth, or rending of clothes-just more than "huh." In fact, I would hope that it would be an occasion for a few laughs. My stepfather's funeral was a true celebration of his life mixed in with a few chuckles-that's how I'd want to go.
      I had suggested to my siblings that I would like a knee-activated sensor in front of my casket at the wake. One that, when you knelt, you'd hear my voice, "Hey, thanks for coming."
      My sister thought that would be a bad idea, "You'd scare the old people to death!"
      I had to remind her that we WERE the old people now.

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  11. I'm glad to read you had a step-father who literally stepped into your life and filled it with happier memories when your father was unable to do so, Al. He's the one that taught you to be such an awesome Dad to your kids now.

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    1. He taught me how to be a man. The alternative was to learn how to be a mean-spirited bigot. So, I guess I dodged that bullet.

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  12. Wow, I wonder what he had to do to cause his children to dislike him that much. Must have been a mess...

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    1. It was years and years building to a head. What was really sad is that he expressly named us in his will as not getting a thing (like we wanted his sock full of change and recipe for California Onion Dip with a mustard and onion sandwich anyway). And he also left instructions that we weren't to be told of his death. Thank goodness the state didn't allow for that kind of foolishness.

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  13. We are coming up to the one year date of the death of my boy's father on the 11th of December. I am letting them call how it goes. There's been a bit of "Oh, we should be sad" but then they just move on, get busy, and continue their lives.

    I can relate to "huh". When my ex-sil called last year, I believe all I said was "okay."

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  14. So sad that your father chose to miss so much. Glad the rest of your family is close. Mine is, too, and to me that's so important.

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    1. We cherish each time we get together.
      And wonder who's going next.
      I think it's me.
      Because I lost a coin toss with my brother.

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  15. That's sad, Al. I'm sorry it ended that way. But live and learn at least. If my dad passed, and at 75 & morbidly obese, he very well might, I would be sad, because he's my dad. But that man is all about himself. He's the single most selfish, self-centered, narcissistic person I've ever known. When I signed a book deal, all he said was, "I bet I can, too." And proceeded to write a (terrible) book. Now that I'm published, he hasn't congratulated me or is even interested in reading it. So yeah, he's a jerk and has reaped what he's sown. Will I cry when he dies? Yes, of course. He's my dad. But I won't give him much more than that. That's sad, too.

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    1. I wondered if something was wrong with me that I didn't feel any more than I did. I do know that I spent the day contemplating the reality that I became an orphan in 2010.

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  16. This is the most touching post you've ever written - beautifully done. And that picture is precious. You were (I mean, ARE) so darn cute! I understand the conflicting feelings, and the apathy, that you and some of your other readers describe. It IS sad, especially when children are involved.

    xorobyn

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    1. Thank you, Robyn. The whole thing began with a bitter, bitter divorce in the early 70s. Our family (my sibs and I) could have really gone downhill from there. Luckily, no.
      And I'm the only one who's been divorced.
      But, that's okay. They really never liked Mrs. Penwasser #1, anyway.

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  17. Gosh, Al, I'm saddened with your story. This is one of those rare occasions when I actually can relate to such a sad story.
    My father is a stubborn man, still alive, as only the good die young, but he does what he can to keep the rift alive. I have long since moved on and as I read your "huh" I wonder what it will be like when I get that call.

    Hugs to you, and your family...
    Jenny

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  18. "Only the good die young."
    That's EXACTLY what I said about the old man.
    That...and "Evil never dies."

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  19. It's amazing how well you turned out. I'm glad that you had such a great relationship with your stepfather. I hope that he got to know and appreciate your children. I'm sure that he appreciated you. Sorry that you lost your mom so young.
    Julie

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  20. I dont think there will be any chance you will be a "huh"

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  21. That is too bad that things were like that. My husband is estranged from his father, but his brother speaks to the dad all the time. Some day we will probably get a phone call like that too.
    One of these days I imagine I will be estranged from my sister for completely different reasons. And that makes me incredibly sad.

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  22. we choose our friends, not our families- despite what the newagers say. i say- give lots of love and compassion to all, and whomever returns it- great, and who does not, fine. then you know who accepts your kindness and can focus it there.
    still, i'm sorry for this loss/experience. obviously you are effected/affected by it. no seed goes 100% unturned.

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