the pilgrim: epilogue

I might add more to or edit this entry later.

My biological father died in early October at the age of 71. He put his body through a lot over the years, and maybe it's surprising that he lasted as long as he did. We hadn't seen each other or spoken in more than 17 years, and I didn't know that he had been ill for a couple of years before he died. I knew that he wouldn't have wanted to live in a vegetative state, but it sounds like his mind was intact until the end. He was extraordinarily physically strong, and I think that was a significant part of his identity. I wondered if as he became weaker and more ill he would have made use of doctor-assisted suicide or euthanasia if either had been legally available.

When I was a teenager I had said that I understood he would not want to live in a vegetative state, and that he would want me to find a way to pull the plug, or 'smother him with a pillow' (whatever I could manage).

From what I can make out, he probably had something like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (what we used to call emphysema and is still very common worldwide) for which he was taking major medication that was hard on his system. At the time of his death, first his organs stopped functioning properly (starting with kidneys).

He started smoking when he was 11, and although he eventually quit, he smoked three packs a day for probably 3 decades before he did. In his line of work he was exposed to chemicals that might have exacerbated the problem. In addition, as far as I know, his Significant Others and/or friends smoked, even after he quit (contributing secondhand smoke). He drank heavily, although there was a significant period completely alcohol-free before he went back to drinking, and in later years he might not have drunk the same quantities. However, none of this should take away from the accomplishment of quitting smoking until the end of his life, or that he did have a very long period of not drinking.

When he was young, he did rodeo trick riding, taught judo, and later he was on a rugger team that won a North American championship, the only player to play in all games in the finals. He and my biological mother met when he had a job taking out trail rides. He started off sweeping floors in a printing company, learned every aspect of the business and was eventually running large companies, and won some awards for the work he did. It was extremely important to him to always have animals, horses and dogs, in his life.

Aside from that, who was he? Did I ever really know him?

He had the album The Silver Tongued Devil, and although there are many other albums and songs I remember, this song in particular reminds me of him:

The Pilgrim (by Kris Kristofferson)

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearing yesterday's misfortunes like a smile.
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was going out of style,
And he keeps right on a'changing for the better or the worse,
Searching for a shrine he's never found,
Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse,
Or if the going up was worth the coming down.

He's a poet, he's a picker,
He's a prophet, he's a pusher,
He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned.
He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he's traded in tomorrow for today.
Running from his devils, Lord, and reaching for the stars,
And losing all he's loved along the way.
But if this world keeps right on turning for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around,
From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse,
The going up was worth the comin' down.

He's a poet, he's a picker,
He's a prophet, he's a pusher,
He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned.
He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

The following song represents how I see my father's (unconscious) relationship with his father, but in some ways also how I see my own (unconscious) relationship with my father.

A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash version of Shel Silverstein's poem)

Well, my daddy left home when I was three
and he didnt leave much to ma and me
just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
now i dont blame him cause he ran and hid
but the meanest thing that he ever did
was before he left he went and named me Sue

Well he must a' thought that it was quite a joke
and it got a lot of laughs from a lots of folk
it seems I had to fight my whole life through
some gal would giggle and I'd get red
and some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head
I tell ya life ain't easy for a boy named Sue

Well i grew up quick and I grew up mean
my fists got hard and my wits got keen
I'd roam from town to town to hide my shame
but I made me a vow to the moon and stars
that I'd search the honky-tonks and bars
and kill that man that give me that awful name

Well it was Gatlinburg in mid July
and I'd just hit town and my throat was dry
I thought I'd stop and have myself a brew
at an old saloon on a street of mud
there at a table dealin' stud
sat the dirty mangy dog that named me Sue

Well I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
from a worn out picture that my mother'd had
and I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye
he was big and bent and grey and old
and I looked at him and my blood ran cold
and I said 'My name is Sue how do you do
now you're gonna die!'

Yeah! that's what I told him

Well I hit him hard right between the eyes
and he went down but to my surprise
he come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear
but I busted a chair right across his teeth
and we crashed through the wall and into the street
kickin' and a'gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer

I tell ya I've fought tougher men
but I really can't remember when
he kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss
and he went for his gun and I pulled mine first
he stood there lookin' at me and I saw him smile

And he said "Son this world is rough
and if a man's gonna make it he's got to be tough
and I know I wouldn't be there to help you along
so I give you that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
and it's that name that helped to make you strong"

He said "Now you just fought one hell of a fight
and I know you hate me and you got the right
to kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do
but you oughtta thank me before I die
for the gravel in your guts and the spit in your eye
cause I'm the son of a bitch that named you Sue"

Yeah! well what could I do?
What COULD I do?

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
and I called him my pa and he called me his son
and I come away with a different point of view
and I think about him now and then
every time I try, and every time I win
and if I ever have a son I think I am gonna name him
Bill or George any damn thing but Sue

->exile on meme st: a diary