Thursday, June 16, 2005

Two Mealtime Stories About Dad

Dad and me, late 1957 or early 1958Weekend Assignment #64: Tell us about a moment with your dad that serves as an example of one of his best qualities. That would be a personal moment between you and dad.

Extra Credit: Pictures, naturally -- perhaps from right about the time you were born.- J.S.

I'll do the picture explanations and a brief bio first, and then tell a few stories.  Like last week, I'll limit myself to two of them.

I've written about my Dad before, of course, and posted most of these pictures before.  How old do you figure I am in that first one?  If the answer is less than nine months old (and I was not a healthy infant, so I may have started off a little small), then this picture is from 1957.  The house was on York Road in Dewitt, NY, a couple of blocks behind Genesee Street. My dad, Dr. Frank E. Funk, was an assistant professor in the speech department at Syracuse University when we lived there.  In 1961 we moved to Manlius, and in 1965 he became assistant dean of University College at S.U.  By the early 1970s he was Dean of U.C., and Director of Continuing Education at S.U. 

Since "retiring" he's been president of the Wilmington Railroad Museum, a reader to the blind (on tape), and an elder and recording secretary at his church.  And oh, he's an N-scale model train hobbyist.  Dad and Ruth, my stepmom, have now been married longer than my parents were married to each other--and much more happily.  He still volunteers and travels, and works out every day when he's home.
1971The second picture is of Dad and me on vacation in 1971.  My brother Steve almost certainly took the picture.  It was a ferry ride, but I couldn't tell you whether it was in the Adirondacks or the Thousand Islands or someplace else.  Come to think of it, this was probably Cape Cod.  I took a whole roll of film that summer of Cape Cod architecture.

The third picture is from March, 2005, when Dad came to Tucson for my graduation from University of Phoenix.  My baccalaureate degree took 30 years from start to finish, including about a quarter century of being four incompletes short of a degree from Syracuse University in English Literature and Film.  One of my reasons for going back to school was so that my dad the educator could finally see his kid graduate.  A bad printout of this photo, taken after the ceremony by John with our then-new Canon digital camera, is currently on display inside one of my  three mousepads at work.  It's the one I actually use as a mousepad.

The last two pictures are from the same weekend as the graduation photo.  It's of my dad at Old Tucson Studio, sort of a combination movie set and theme park.  The little observation tower he's climbed up in is supposed to afford a good view of Old Tucson's arson-damaged steam locomotive.  Dad later snuck past the ropes for a closer encounter, as shown here.  Considering the grant proposals my dad has written to help restore a steam locomotive at the museum, the staff of Old Tucson need not fear for the safety of their train at the hands of my dad!

Okay, stories.  If you want light-hearted, read the first one and then skip to the end.
March, 2005.My mom was in and out of the hospital in the early 1960s with encephalitis and other medical problems. That may or may not be why she wasn't around the day I first read Green Eggs and Ham.  I liked the book a lot, and probably read it aloud to my dad. My dad then made green eggs and green ham for dinner that night.  I wasn't so sure the ham needed to be green, since it doesn't say so in the title, but Dad insisted.  He prepared the sliced ham and fried eggs with Easter egg food coloring.  He made sure I knew this so I wouldn't think there was something wrong with the food.  It didn't occur to me until tonight that he may have actually planned the meal rather than thrown it together on the spur of the moment.  What are the chances that we happened to have ham in the house as I read that book?

Fast forward about 40 years. This time, my mom wasn't in the hospital.  She was living in an adult care home.  It was Thanksgiving,  November 28th, 2002, the worst day of my life. I didn't know it yet, but my mom had less than three weeks to live.

There was something mysterious and awful going on in my mom's brain toward the end of 2002.  She was only half-conscious most of the time,  flopping like a rag doll  in my car or in her wheelchair, largely oblivious to her surroundings.  Medication changes may have made things worse, but it's impossible to know for sure.  There were lots of doctors and lots of tests, but no clear results.  I'd taken her to a cardiologist, a neurologist and a psychiatrist, an eye doctor, an orthopedist and an ear specialist, and to the hospital for an EEG--during which she had a seizure, while I was prearranging her cemetery plot a mile away.  But the worst day of all was Thanksgiving, the day of the horror show.
Dad looks at the train.I was a few minutes late picking her up, and Rosa had to keep reassuring her that I was coming at all.  But when I served the meal I'd been cooking all day, Mom couldn't eat it.  She'd slowly move her fork toward the plate, and slowly bring it up again and put it in her mouth, almost invariably with no food on the fork.  She said she couldn't see the food.  She did this over and over, for about forty minutes.  I didn't hand feed her.  Maybe I should have, but I didn't.  I couldn't.  Then I went out to the car, and called my Dad on my cell phone.  He listened and was sympathetic.  He had no magic answers, but he was there for me, and the conversation helped me a lot. I can't remember whether I took Mom back to the adult care home or John did it for me.  But I remember crying on the phone with Dad.

Eighteen days later, my dad spent over $1100 to fly in for the funeral of a woman he'd been estranged from for 26 years, a woman who sometimes claimed to hate him.  He did it for me, and I was grateful to have him there.  He was wonderful.  It was great having a parent around who was still alive and well, still enjoying life, still taking care of himself, and still interested in my welfare (which my mom was, also, even at the end of her life). 

The following Mother's Day, my dad called me.  "I know this is the first Mother's Day since you lost your mom," he said, "and I thought it might be a little difficult for you."  How right he was--and how thoughtful and wonderful he was to call!

My dad's not perfect, of course.  Nobody is.  There were times when I was growing up that we didn't get along very well.  But when it's really counted, my dad's always been there for  me.

That's the end of my stories for today.  Remind me sometime to tell you about my Dad at the Louvre, the James Bond New Year's Eve, and about my dad being so allaboshi ficacious.
Dad and the train. Don't worry, folks, he helps to restore these things in his spare time.


My Favorite Veteran

As Many Wars As People Who Were There

The Aging Lottery


ryanagi said...

I love LOVE the pic of you from 71. The stylin top and looked fab! Your dad made you green eggs and ham...that is just too cool for words. :-)

rollinghillsides said...

Your dad sure is a handsome gentlemen, and I very much enjoyed the stories you shared about him, he sounds like a wonderful person.  I had a non-existent dad, an alcoholic who left our family of five when I was eight and married his brother's wife!  He never gave me the "right time of day" so to speak ... so, to read your stories of what a "real" Dad is like made me feel very happy for you!   Thanks.

deabvt said...

Your Dad looked like Orson Welles in the 1st Photo!

rap4143 said...

What a wonderful caring father you have. Thanks for sharing!!!!

debbted said...

Excellent entry and photos! Thanks for sharing! SassyDee50/Deb

montaukny said...

What a wonderful entry!  I feel like I know your dad & am sitting here with tears in my eyes over the support he showed you during your difficult time with your mom.

~~Aunt Nub~~

yankeygr said...

Thanks for sharing your Dad with us. Your very lucky to have such a supportive Dad. Great pic's too. Rhonda

pixiedustnme said...

Sounds like you have a wonderful dad!  Thank you for sharing (and sharing and sharing - rofl!)

ondinemonet said...

Karen :)

This was such a heartwarming entry. Start to finish. I help me get to know you better in some very personal ways, I appreciate you sharing this with us. It's so funny, you and I share somethings in life...including that bonnet! LOL. I am guessing you are about 8 months old. I still have min bonnet somewhere I think, and a picture of dad holding me which is very similar to this one. :) My dad loved the fact that I was bald till I was almost a year old. LOL. So there are a lot of pics with my bald head, but it was all worth the wait...LOL...I got the best hair in the family! :)

Always, Carly :)

psychfun said...

This was so lovely! Thanks for sharing. It is vey mysterious about your mother.


chasenkids said...

Wow... this is truly one of the best entries I've ever read.

::wiping tears::


lurkynat said...

Dear Karen,
What a tremendous dad you have! He is truly amazing, very compassionate and very loyal and helpful! You must be so proud! Thank you for sharing!