I will always feel and see the scar by my left temple from where he either hit me or threw me down. It happened too fast to remember which. There was a blinding burst of white and then my face was touching the kitchen floor and blood already pouring into my blinded eye. I scrambled and stumbled and tried to run, but he easily smashed through the bathroom door and we were immediately tripping and falling over each other until he landed on top of me, hands around my throat and screaming, "I'm going to fucking kill you" while mom helplessly brought her fists down on his back. No dignity.
Dad told me a few years later he was at that time actually terrified of me, despite having 50 pounds on me. We both had terrible, violent tempers. Fear was precisely what I was going for. Back then, I openly insisted there was no such thing as god or love. Like dad, I had bloodied many faces and had my own face bloodied more times than I can remember. I believed the most a person could hope to attain in life was to be feared, as I confused fear with respect or strength. It’s nothing of the sort. I was so ridiculously lucky to have a change of path and heart. Dad was lucky to have the same. Some dignity regained.
When my now engaged daughter was still in diapers, we in Oregon voted on the “death with dignity” measure, to allow doctor assisted suicide for those suffering the most. It is surreal to see how a father who once inspired such fear and hate and then eventually forgiveness, today lays with a tube in his throat, helpless and silent, powerless as a baby. Before he took the most recent turn for the worst, he was already entirely dependent on the nurses at home, daily changing his catheter and taking his vitals. Even when I saw him still conscious and responsive in March, he could not walk or talk. I hugged him in his hospital bed and told him “I love you” and he mumbled back “I uh ooh”. Reduced to diapers and baby talk. Where the fuck is the dignity?
I never passed on the raising of my fists to my now adult son, although he has seen the lingering, clinging hair-trigger temper burned into me by so many fists from my past. Like ghosts across three decades, they refuse to let go or stop swinging. I envy my son’s calmness, patience and self-control. I am proud of him, but also proud of myself for having helped raise him on a far different path than my own. A more dignified path.
When our parents pass, it often forces us to examine our own brief time and influence here, as it should. You wonder what lasting good that one man’s life could ever forge in such a short span. Like a blink of an eye, it is suddenly already over and our footprints look and feel almost immediately erased and meaningless. But in truth, like ripples in a pond, our influence continues to spread out long after all sound has died and every light has faded. Even now, a once violent man, since redeemed, does not continue to fade away all alone and forgotten, but is tenderly and vigilantly watched over by a loving wife and another of his sons. Therein hides an elusive but everlasting dignity.