Friday, November 15, 2013

I Am My Father's Son

November 15, 2013

Today was my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 88 if he was still alive but he passed away in 2003, several months after his 3rd open heart surgery. As I was sorting through some old photographs of him, I came across the eulogy that I delivered for him at his service.  I was immediately drawn back in time, not only to that day in San Diego, when I stood before a small gathering of family, but across the years of my life that were marked by an up and down struggle to gain his approval. 
My Dad and I 

Spring 1974

Mom called me and said she needed my help. “Your father is in trouble. He got into a fight and I think he broke a rib. He thinks his apartment is bugged. I need you to go see him so you can find out what is going on. I may need you to help me testify at a commitment hearing.” 

Music school and work were occupying most of my time so I was unaware how things had unraveled. I think I knew that Dad was struggling with the separation.  Mom was having regular contact with him and she was concerned enough about his behavior and mental state that she was ready to go get a court order to have him committed. 

The Commodore Hotel was not the kind of hotel you checked into if you were visiting the city--people lived there. It was on Grand Avenue in Des Moines, not far from where we lived in a nice neighborhood. The first time I visited him at the Commodore after he moved in, I noticed the smell. The old carpet, the musty apartment building smell, slightly colored by whatever someone was cooking in the next apartment. The halls were narrow and the lighting was dim. There was a piano bar in the lower level where Dad had been spending time. The place gave me the creeps.

I went to see him the next evening. When I knocked on the door and he asked me who it was, I could hear in his voice that something was amiss. He invited me in and we sat and attempted some small-talk. He had a black-eye and I could tell he was hurt.  Somewhere in our conversation he said something about his phones being tapped. When I asked him about his eye, he said a guy in the bar downstairs had provoked him. My memory of anything else we talked about is unclear, but I remember being shocked and scared-this was not my Dad as I knew him. He was in trouble, big trouble.

The next day I went with Mom down to County Mental Health Department where we met with a case worker. She asked me to describe what I saw and heard. Based on what I told her and what my mother had also provided, she told us that they would commit him to a local mental hospital because  he seemed to be a danger to himself and that he would be evaluated and offered treatment. "The sheriff's deputies will come to get him. You can meet them there if you'd like, but no family needs to be present, it's up to you."

Mom encouraged me to go because there was no way she was going. So I went along with my brother Joe and my middle sister Katie.  The three apostles.  The thought of deputies escorting your Dad out of his hotel room and taking him to a mental hospital without anyone being there seemed wrong. But I'm not really sure why we went.

When the deputies got there, they told us what would happen. They would knock on the door, identify themselves and go into his apartment. Hopefully he would cooperate, but either way, they told us they would handcuff him. 

I could feel heart racing as they knocked on the door. We stood just down the hall out of sight in case he looked out. "Sheriff's deputies, Mr. Kingkade, may we come in?" The door opened and they walked in closing the door behind them. The silence was deafening. I was praying that he wouldn't resist, that there wouldn't be a scuffle. Time stood still. What seemed like forever was probably no more than ten minutes, maybe five. Then the door opened.

Dad was led out by one of the deputies who had a hand on his arm. His arms were pulled back and as he walked by, you could see the handcuffs holding his hands together. That was bad enough-seeing your Dad handcuffed. But what happened next I will never forget. The look. The angry stare that went right through me. The look of betrayal.

I had disappointed Dad before. As a 14 year old, I was caught stealing  a 45 record from the neighborhood grocery store and he was called to bring me home. "You drug my good name through the muck and the mire" as he berated me when we got home.

This look was like no one I had ever experienced before.  Like Judas Iscariot, I had betrayed my father. As far as I knew, the worst sin an oldest son could commit would be to betray his father. Torn between the responsibility to support my mother and to protect my father from himself, I had committed a mortal sin.

For the longest time after that day, I couldn't talk about that moment. As far I was concerned, it was the worst moment of my life. 

Dad spent several weeks in the hospital and was administered shock treatments to pull him out of a deep depression, the first of 3 times in his life that would occur. I found out that he lost his short-term memory as a result of the treatment  and we  never spoke of that moment or how he got to the hospital or who there waiting outside the door. Never. Dad got better, bit by bit, and I went back to music school. But his life challenges and my relationship with him were not done being tested. 

I'm not a religious person, but sometimes when I'm out running, the playlist on my IPod will cue up a Van Morrison tune. I can hear the lyric coming and I smile as I look to the sky remembering the journey I've been on and knowing  that God has shined his light on me.

When I had the courage to go and be there that day, God shined his light on me. When dad fought back again and again, God shined his light on him.
Dad with our first grandson Reese in San Doego
And when I stood before my siblings and delivered his eulogy 29 years later, God shined his light on all of us.

"Whenever God shines his light on me
Opens up my eyes so I can see.
When I  look up in the darkest night
I know everything's going to be alright."

"In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him he is there.
When I am lonely as I can be
I know that God shines his light on me."
Van Morrison

1 comment:

Andrew Sigler said...

Jesus Dan. This is some serious shit. My dad has never actually seen me cuffed, but he's bailed me out. But that's got to be a far cry from the other way around. This one hit me like a fist in the gut.