Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The month of ghosts

August arrived this morning. For many people August is vacation month, summer's last hurrah. Here in Minnesota August is the month of the State Fair, a huge part of our collective consciousness. It's a month of pennant races, pre-season football, golf championships and some of the best, most accessible sunsets of the year.

It's my least favorite month, by a long shot. Everything I mentioned above is important to me. We have had some wonderful times during August, but it is the month of ghosts. It is the month that I lost both my parents. I've discussed my mom at some length in this feature earlier this year, and there's a lot more to say about her amazing, contradictory, awful yet fascinating life. But today I'm going to talk a little about Dad.

Dad was born in 1933, a child of the Depression. He came of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a time of tremendous upheaval in our nation. His generation is something of an afterthought in the American pageant. He was still a boy during WWII, but was a grown man with young children during the 1960s. There has not been a president from his generation, and it is quite likely that there never will be. No one ever called his generation the greatest, nor were his contemporaries indulged as the Baby Boomers are.

Dad, like his contemporaries, was simply expected to participate. He was expected to graduate from high school, and he did. He went into the Army in between Korea and Vietnam, serving two years in Europe. He came back, went to school and married a pretty young executive secretary. He went off to the big city of Chicago to make his fortune. But because his wife suffered from demons that he could never quite grasp, he decided to return to the relative safety of the Fox River Valley. He worked hard, traveling extensively for business. He played hard, too. He liked a cocktail and a cigar and often had a set of golf clubs in the trunk just in case an opportunity arose. He had a warm sense of humor, an expansive if conservative world view and a trusting nature. He had friends all over the state of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was, in short, a hell of a guy.

But the defining relationship of his life, his first marriage, was disastrous. His wife's mental illness was an explosive, insidious beast that caused him almost unbelievable grief. He tried to protect his children from the rages, but the task was too large for him to bear at times. He soldiered on, as members of his generation do, for 13 long years, but after a while he could not take it any longer and he eventually left. It would be six years before he could finally help his children find a better life under his new roof. And then, only seven years later, he was gone, dead from complications following open heart surgery, on August 30, 1990.

Dad died less than a month after Jill and I announced our engagement. I am comforted to know that he knew I had found a wonderful woman to marry. But he never met any of his grandchildren. It's a shame, really. And while I think of Dad nearly every day, it's always in August, the month of ghosts, where it gets toughest of all.

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