Thursday, December 28, 2017

Learning While There Is Still Time

My 90 year old father was very recently diagnosed with leukemia, the side effect of medicine that kept him alive this long.  So, we have weeks or a few months left with him.  He seems to determined to live them on his terms (escaping from his first rehab place) by sharing his stories about his parents and the extended family and his own life. The good news about this is that his mind is still very much intact so most of his memories are quite sharp (except where motivated bias kicks in).  So, on the way back from winterfest with my wife's relatives, we stopped off for potentially our last visit with my father.  We always had a fairly lousy relationship, so I was determined to put it behind us.   Well, I was not entirely successful, but I learned much.
  • One of his mother's brothers was S. Klein, who owned a major department store (and property in NYC).  I knew that, but I didn't know the details, including S. Klein was the first department store to take returns.  That it would not advertise sales because those tended to lead to riots.  The wikipedia page lists all the references of S. Klein in Mad Men, I Love Lucy and elsewhere--it was a NYC institution... which I did not appreciate until now. 
  • Timing is everything--serving the last few days of WWII in the Navy= lifetime benefits and no Korean War. Draft dodging was something he didn't do, but did seem to be pattern of my ancestors as they fled various countries that ultimately led to the US.  So, it was fleeing the draft rather than pogroms.  
  • Bureaucratic politics and organizational culture were things in the IRS in the 70s.  My father's career had bumps along the way thanks to some backbiting and some lousy bosses, but he seemed to be a good boss himself.  I remember when he retired (early, thinking he would die by 70) that his subordinates had very positive views of him as they told my sister and I about him at the retirement party.
  • He and my mother traveled extensively after he retired--as in all continents.  His favorites?  The national parks in the US and Galapagos.  Which explains why he has wanted to take the family to Galapagos.  Instead, we went to Alaska, which was excellent given both the nature we saw and how gimpy he has been.  Oh and great food, which has always been important for my foodie folks.
  • Mortality breeds some self-awareness and some desire to have some closure, but does not erase the personality nor the tendencies that, well, were not so helpful long ago.  
I was glad to have the chance to say goodbye, if it was that.  I have instructed my wife and daughter what they must do when I am in a similar state--mostly involving sweets like cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies.  While being told one is about to die is not a great thing, I do think that having a month or two or three to finish things is not a bad way to have it happen.

Anyhow, most folks don't get this kind of chance, so let them know how you feel in case you or they depart more quickly than my father will. 

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