The last image I have of my father is his hollow shell after the 21 grams of energy left his body. I’d gotten there five minutes too late. He looked like a puppet. His skin was yellow. His eyes were open. He was staring at nothing but still staring. He looked like he weighed 50 pounds. I reached out to touch his chest and he was still warm.
I’d been driving down to the VA hospice in Northridge almost every day. I brought him strawberry milkshakes and French fries. He was barely there for most of his stay. Getting him to the hospice had not been easy. Now, because he was really difficult to the staff there, angry all the time and refusing to eat, they’d been drugging him, pretty heavily, every day. I think they probably hastened his demise. I think they probably do that to a lot of lost causes who are too much trouble. But maybe that’s paranoid thinking.
My dad had been kicked out of the nicer rehab facility at the VA in Westwood, California. They said he was abusive to the staff. His roommate watched Fox News and my dad hated that. So I brought him a portable DVD player and headphones. He could never figure out how to work it and called me three or four times per day to explain it to him. Then he’d forget again. He could not smoke weed in the VA and if there was one thing that mattered to my dad more than breathing it was smoking weed. I don’t think I ever spent time with him in real life where he wasn’t stoned. So his time in the various hospitals and in rehab were mental and physical torture for him. He took it out on everyone. Eventually my sister figured out how to sneak in edibles for him and those worked for a time.
It was a year of trying to figure out what to do with my dad. He’d had a slow growing colon cancer that required a colostomy bag. He had to go everywhere with the bag. For a while he was driving Uber and customers complained that he smelled weird. Eventually Uber fired him. He had lost most of his teeth and half his body weight from the cancer, so I imagine that was quite a sight for some millennial just looking to hitch a ride to the Sunset Strip.
It was a misunderstanding all around. My dad would not allow the doctors to treat him for cancer because he had been taking an herbal remedy and he believed that it had cured his cancer. So he did not believe that the doctors were right, telling him he had cancer. It would kill him within a year. It wasn’t until a few days before he died, in one of the rare moments where the medications had worn off and he was lucid that he looked at me and said, “I’m dying, aren’t I?” I wanted to say, well if you’d gotten the treatment for the cancer you might have lived long enough to get surgery and remove the colostomy bag, maybe live a little longer. But I didn’t say that. I couldn’t say that.
Instead, I told my dad a lie that he probably knew was a lie. What a moment to sober up. Just in time to realize that you were dying.
My dad was a jazz drummer from the bebop era. He was the best drummer I’ve ever seen. He was the best drummer many people had ever seen.
For whatever reason, though, he could never really get it together in life enough to become really famous. He was just too sensitive for this world and he wasn’t given a proper upbringing that would allow for that. On top of everything else, he struggled with some kind of mental illness that could have been schizophrenia. He had been put in a mental hospital, Camarillo State, and received shock therapy - but eventually he settled in with my grandmother and lived with her until she died, and then lived in her house until he finished his own life.
The funny thing about people is that we are so many things at once. What our legend becomes, what people remember about us, is usually just one road of a two-road possibility. My dad meant well by collecting and keeping Siamese cats. But he was unable to care for himself, let alone any animals. He about six poor cats living with him when he was unable to care for them. My sister had to roust them out of their hiding places, scratches all over her arms, to give them to my mother - who now keeps them in a room by themselves. But at least they have access to the outside world. My dad did not let them outside for there entire lives and they barely saw sunlight since he kept the shades drawn. My mother doesn’t believe the cats will ever be normal but she is making their lives as comfortable as possible.
I have one of the kittens of his favorite cat Freddy. Freddy was a relaxed, easy going cat that my dad loved enough to take him with him wherever he went. Freddy would always be in the car. He thought it would be cruel to spay or neuter any of his cats so they were locked inside, physically miserable. He’d let Freddy out to cat around, impregnating untold amounts of cats in the neighborhood before Freddy’s life was cut short by a car driving too fast. My dad was never the same after Freddy died.
My cat Frosty is Freddy’s offspring. She’s getting old now and probably won’t live much longer. That, a drumstick and a folded up American flag from his Veteran’s funeral, are all I have left of my dad to remember him by. When Frosty finally goes, that will mean all of Freddy has finally gone too. My dad, however, will live as long as those of us who remember him live.
When he was in his last days, I did get a video of him playing his drums. His jazz musician friends even showed up to play with him. My dad was those two things. A well known jazz drummer and someone whose house was filled with traumatized cats.
Love isn’t something you can really control. My dad was a complicated person, there is no doubt about it. But I loved him. It was easy growing up with someone whose brains was wired the way his was. He’d be driving us to Disneyland then all of a sudden turn around and change his mind and drive us back home. Then we’d get home and he’d want to drive us back to Disneyland.
When my daughter was a baby, her father wasn’t around. He lived in Italy. My dad took up the slack, knowing she needed a father figure. He would shop for food and bring it over. He’d hang around with Emma. He’d take her to the “pony rides” at Griffith Park. He was around whenever he could be, even that actually meant him in a zoned out marijuana stupor watching Blues Clues with her.
I also remember when I was in my early 20s and bouncing from one bad situation to another, with no job, my dad would send me a weekly check fo $50. He didn’t have to do it but he did it until I was, what he would call, “on my feet'“ and didn’t need it anymore. In the early days of my website, before I made enough money to support Emma and me, my dad gave me his janitorial route. He cleaned two buildings that “Dave”, his friend from high school owned. Dave had gotten rich selling real estate, and even though my dad had more notoriety as a drummer, Dave was the legend from the old days - the guy who got rich, married a trophy wife and bought a big house in Canoga Park.
Dave lent my dad money, and hired him to clean his commercial buildings he owned. I didn’t mind the gig. As with everything I do, I had to be the absolute best at cleaning those buildings. I wanted them to be so clean people would notice and comment on how clean they were. I saw some things that can’t be said out loud during those afternoons. Put it this way: some people don’t know how to use toilets.
Money was one of those things that destroyed and wrecked my dad’s sense of his own worth. He figured, if had never become rich with the lottery tickets he would faithfully buy or the latest album he recorded, or the pin ball machine business he had back in the 1980s, he could make enough money to be on par with Dave. But he never got there. He had dreams was all.
I was there for my dad in the last year of his life because he’d been there for me. He wasn’t a traditional father, that’s for sure. But he did the best with what he had. I miss that he was always so proud of me - especially that I’d built a business on my own and it was a success, more or less. He always wanted to help me by giving me advice on how to sell ads, how to market myself and how to grow my website.
People are never just one thing. They are a lot of things at once. They are the good stuff and they are the bad stuff. Time runs out on all of it. On everyone. Even if you make it big in the time you’re living through, generations that come after you will forget you, or they will condemn you for not having been exactly right in your time, as we’re seeing now. It is a crushing truth that all we have is the moment we’re living through. But it is the truth all the same.
My dad believed in God. My mother does not. I wish that I did. I wish that I had faith if, for no other reason, that I could look forward to the day where I could listen one more time to the nickname my dad had for me, “Happy Sash.” He called me that because I wasn’t a happy kid - I was a worried kid. He would say it to make me feel better.
So, on this Father’s Day, it would not feel right to me if I didn’t mark the occasion by paying tribute to my wonderful, complicated, sweet sweet dad. Rest in Peace, Pops. You are greatly missed.