After high school I went to Saddleback Community College, then transferred to Humboldt State University. I was halfway through my BA degree when I returned home to be with my father, in light of an unexpected series of events – the separation between he & my mother and a life-altering health condition.
My father had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, something we did not find out until later that summer. I transferred to California State University, San Marcos to finish out my degree and stay with him.
After graduation from CSUSM, my dad’s Parkinson’s had leveled out some with the new regimen of medications and he was able to return to most of his normal activities (with caution). He was able to travel back and forth to Montana on his own, fly fish, and continue his post retirement research.
I traveled with him frequently…and we still resided together (in California and Montana)…but I was on the road a lot with my job, doing concert touring and other oddball stuff. A couple of years passed like this and then he was in a horrible car accident en route to Montana. A triple roll-over, demolished airstream, and my father army-crawling out of the driver’s-side window in search of our cat, who had been ejected during the tumble and somehow managed (like my father) to escape with minimal injuries. A few broken ribs and bruising for him and a slight concussion for the cat. I have no idea how they survived.
After the accident, my dad’s health quickly declined, and solo travel was no longer an option. Over the next couple of years, we moved to New Hampshire, he underwent brain surgery in Boston, heart surgery in Boston (unexpectedly), and then we returned to Oceanside, California. About 1 year after moving back to Oceanside and settling in, I applied to graduate school at San Diego State University. My father’s influence continued, and my enthusiasm for philosophy grew.
Our plan was for me to finish grad school, and then for us to relocate to Montana and live on the nature preserve. Every summer we went back to Montana to work on the cabin in preparation for our move.
Unfortunately, our relocation never happened; my dad passed away on May 16th, 2010, about 2 semesters before I was due to finish grad school. I returned to Montana for the summer, a devastating one without my poppa, one of the hardest of my life.
After the summers’ end, I drove back to Oceanside, CA to finish graduate school…the final semester of which was spent in Los Angeles caring for my grandmother during the last months of her life. Shortly after my grandmother passed, my thesis had been accepted, and I graduated…I moved back to Montana to stay for good.
In thinking about this chain of events, I recall a precious memory shared with my father about 2 weeks before he died. I was inducted into a scholastic community, based on my performance in grad school. My father was in a wheelchair at that time (mostly due to lack of strength and balance).
We were driving from Oceanside to the campus in San Diego and I remember seeing a car on the side of the road and an older gentleman pulling a gas can out of his trunk in route to the offramp. I began to pull over to help the man and I recall my father being very adamant that we would not be stopping — we had places to go. I was furious with him at the time, thinking that it was so selfish. Why shouldn’t we help the man?
In retrospect, I wish I had not been so furious. My father had a deeper mission — me. And I also think he knew something that I didn’t; he was not going to make it to Montana. He knew he wouldn’tmake it to my graduation; for him, this award ceremony was my graduation, and he was going to be there to celebrate.
And celebrate we did! At the ceremony, we were given medallions on long necklaces. During the opening portion of the event, we were asked to stand and put our hands over our chests, where the medallions were supposed to be, but my medallion was hanging so low that I had to put my hand over my stomach.
I leaned over to my dad and whispered….”Geezuz, if this is where my chest is now….perhaps I should have sped this grad school thing up a bit?!”
We burst out laughing so hard that the spanakopita he had been munching on ended up all over me - and the back of the head of the man in front of us, who graciously understood, and had been chuckling with us about my comment.
Later, when we were buckling up in the car and getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, my dad reached out for my hand and held it in his: “Thank you for today. This meant more to me than you will ever know. I am so proud of you.” I teared up, as I always do: “Awww, Poppa, of course, poppa. You’re my best friend. I couldn’t have done it without you. Now let’s go get some food, you must be starving! You know… hehehe.. since you lost half your spanakopita earlier.”