I would go to my childhood house every once in awhile only to discover my dad Marty in the attic. Not a normal attic that you can simply climb a set of stairs to get up to, but the kind that you have to pull a ladder down from the ceiling and climb up into cramped quarters. At 80 years old, when most guys his age were letting others do the heavy lifting, moving and schlepping, Marty wanted to do all of that himself.
Me - “What are you doing up there Marty?”
Marty - “I’m cleaning it out up here. When I’m dead, I don’t want your mother to have to deal with all this crap.”
Me - “Ok, do you want some help?”
Marty - “No, I better do this myself. You won’t know what you are looking at, probably will hurt yourself, and then your mother would be pissed at me.”
Me - “Makes sense. I’ll stay down here.”
Marty - “Hey, let me ask you something, are you sticking around for a while? I have some questions about the computer. Yahoo moved something and I can’t seem to find where they put it.”
Me - “Sure thing, what got moved?”
Marty - “Alix (granddaughter) was over and messed up the internet. I’m not letting her get on the computer anymore. Effing kids.”
And so it goes.
On several visits, the conversation progressed into a series of lessons that, at the time, did not appear to be tutelage at all. But looking back, this patchwork quilt of sage but unconventional teachings, made up of a collection of lesson swatches, when stitched together, became the cloak of fatherhood, a la Marty. These lessons, in addition to his expressions, have shaped me and my siblings into what we are today. I sometimes hear myself using these “Marty-isms” and smile. I especially love hearing these expressions used by my kids. I get choked up just thinking about the word, “Truly!”
In Marty’s unique manner, there were plenty of lessons to be learned. Not the type of lessons a father would sit down with his son and say, “Son, get good grades and work hard at school and you will go far in life.” He’d say things like, “When I was 10 my dad gave me a carton of cigarettes and a bowie knife that I could carry in my boot. I’d skip school and run away from the truant officer.” He’d release a belly laugh and get on with his day. The moral of the story was up to my own creativity. It was sort of like Marty exclaiming, “Take what you want from this lesson buffet, you ask too many questions Doug. Don’t you have someplace to be?”
As the patriarch of the family, this man of steel carried many of life’s lessons in a tin box. When I first learned of the tin box, I played it off, making light of its necessity, thinking the explanation of the contents, and the carrying out of the instructions within, could wait. This immortal man of steel, my Mom’s Superman, would outlive us all, I’d thought. Marty knew better. Of course, like everything else in his life, Marty was practical, he was a realist and he knew his clock was ticking.
As I open the tin box now, the lessons come at me like dice on a craps table, each come-out roll being a winning seven turn of the dice. Marty, speaking to all of us from that new place his energy resides as the contents of the box speaks to me, like the croupier yelling, “Winner, winner!” As I pull out the papers one at a time, I am reminded of the lessons Marty teaches me about life, fatherhood and the human spirit. The contents include:
His VA papers - Dedication to his country that he was so proud. Fight for what you believe in.
His Passport - Never stop taking adventures. Life is full of things to see and places to go.
His Last Will and Testament - Leave behind a legacy that you can be proud of and that further define who you really are.
His Stocks and Bond Statements - Live your life responsibly, take care of your own and prepare for your later years.
His Listing of Friends that have Died - Realize your own mortality, respect others that have departed before you and keep their memories as a blessing to you.
His Marriage Certificate - What truer way to celebrate life than to celebrate with someone you love. He loves my mother, continues to protect her even to this day and if there was a way to come back to earth if someone messes with her, Marty would find the way.
His Burial Plot Papers - Be a realist, live optimistically, but know that your life is a project, a long list of things that will eventually have an end. Enjoy the journey but know there is a conclusion.
A Picture of His Mother - Always have a soft spot for compassion, empathy and kindness. Make your life one that even your mom would be proud of.
Marty didn’t just live life on his terms, he died on his terms as well. As painful as it is to think about, these last few months have been very tough for all of us. But Marty made sure he eased the burden of his passing, miraculously coming back from an episode with a ventilator to make his own choice to move to hospice care, not leaving that difficult decision to his family, selecting a place that I feel he thought Mom would be most comfortable. He selected a place with a good view, good food and lots of love. His joking and carrying on with nurses and family while in hospice care, continued right up to a day or so before he died. With my Mom right there with him, he exited this world, his final moments early Friday morning.
Our man of steel, with a tin box, our father, our husband, our grandfather, our great grandfather, our uncle, our cousin, our teacher, our builder, our protector, our Marty, our Superman, we love you, we miss you.