The Death Of A Quiet Man

I don’t even want to look at when the last post on this blog was, or even what it was, because it was probably a long time ago and it doesn’t really matter now.

On December 5, 2017, my father died. He was 87. He died in his sleep. He was walking, talking, and even driving a car up to then. All things considered, in your sleep at 87 with your faculties intact is high on anyone’s list of ways to make an exit.

It feels weird to not have a dad anymore. He’s been such ninja-like fixture in my life that I sometimes forget he’s gone. My dad wasn’t one of those blustery, football-watching types. He was quiet and measured. He spoke when there was something to say. My sister and I are blended mutts of both our parents, but in different ways.

I got my mom’s messy, but tasty, wing it cooking style, while my sister uses dad’s “measure it twice, cut once” type. I’m quiet like my dad, my sister is noisy like mom. My mom and sister like the newest gadgets and buttons, while dad and I would drive a car until it wouldn’t go anymore. I inherited my dad’s diminutive Finnish upturned nose, light eyes, fair skin, and fine hair; and my mom’s sturdy, Germanic hands and feet.

From finding his body to having to live alone for the first time, the loss has been hardest on mom. They were together over 50 years and she was 19 when they got married.

My sister and I drove out to Michigan in June for his memorial, and to help mom go through his workshop, which he called The Tinker Room. Like a lot of men, my dad was a pack rat when it came to tools and things he might use someday. We found empty containers of all varieties, countless bits of wood and string, pencil nubs, and a thousand screwdrivers, though I didn’t count them. He had tools from his father, my mother’s father, and his own. There were at least three of everything. Just how many planes does one man need? The answer is at least ten.

Towards the end, if he couldn’t remember where something was in the countless drawers, bins, and jars screwed to the ceiling, or if it was too difficult to reach, he’d just buy more. So much stuff.

My father was incredibly handy. All the folks in the neighborhood would bring him broken things to fix, and he’d not only fix them, but he’d make them better than they were before. My father never did anything in half-measures. Why use one nail when you could use 5? Why make something that will last 10 years, when you can make it last millennia? If my dad had built the leaning tower of Pisa, it would damn well be straight or he’d knock in down and build it again properly.

My taciturn Finnish grandfather showed my dad how to use tools to make and fix things in probably the only conversations they had other than “this is how to ski” and “drink more coffee.” My dad showed my sister and me all of those things, too. For the last few years, his fingers were so stiff that he couldn’t really use his tools as intended anymore, so he made his own tools to be able to use his tools.

I call my dad ninja-like because he was there when you needed him without even asking, but his presence was not overpowering. Most of the time, he was working away like a background process on a computer; integral to operations, but not flashy. As I write this, my computer is doing a thousand invisible things to help me out without my even knowing what they are; that was my dad.

In my whole life, I can only remember seeing my father angry three times. All three times were because someone was messing with his children or wife.

The first time was when he flew out of the house and confronted my uncle as he was seconds away from hitting my sister. After that, my uncle was always very deferential to my dad.

The second time, he almost literally threw the asshole who abused my sister and me out of the house. He didn’t need to actually throw him since, as soon as he saw my dad was angry, he ran like the coward he is. It a good thing, since Dad probably would have killed him otherwise.

The last time, when I was in high school, he slammed his fist on the table during dinner and said “Enough!,” to my  grandmother when she was verbally abusing mom and me. All the plates and silverware clattered. It shut her up for weeks.

Never once did he get angry with me. Not even when I deserved it. Unlike me, my father didn’t lose his temper unless it was necessary. He was a Zen master. I wish I was more like my father in a lot of ways, but especially in that.

I came home with a miter saw that literally had my name on it, an assortment of tools, my Finnish grandfather’s knife and pocket watch, my dad’s National Ski Patrol paraphernalia, his army dog tags and a grenade from the Korean war, more of his wood carvings, and various tidbits. In the end, a human life boils down to memories and stuff.

Hundreds of people from all over the country came to his memorial. People I’ve never met before came up to me and told me how much he will be missed. They unveiled a plaque with his name on it for the countless hours and expertise he donated to the community fixing and building things. For a quiet man, he sure made a big impact.