My friend Mr. Bill said this all the time. Being a Dad was the most important job to him. It’s a lifetime job. You don’t retire from it, even when the child becomes an adult.
Mr. Bill was on my mind this past weekend as I was doing the spring garden work. He always liked what I had done at my last house and once again I’m starting from scratch. When I had to lose a huge maple in the yard, I had them cut me some wide tree rings that I carved to make garden markers. Mr. Bill called me the word that rhymes with ‘witch’ (gasp!) when he saw the first one carved. “I thought it was a great idea, but I never thought you could actually pull it off. People would buy these!“
I hadn’t spoken to him in about two months and planned to check in with him. Share my trials and tribulations and plans. Catch up on his news. Next week the Hook reopens partially, and though the Sea Gulls’ Nest won’t be open we could meet if he came back across the state line – and then perhaps visit the remains of our other haunts along the shore.
I’ve known him for twenty years. We’ve both had good and not so good times in our lives. We’d meet for weekend breakfasts, catch up with how our week was, weekend plans, news events. This was in addition to seeing each other on the volleyball court which is where we met. He had a Not Quite Ex. They’d been legally separated for many years but she refused to give up the title “Mrs.“ even though they led separate lives, had separate houses, had already split the assets and dated others. It sometimes put a crimp in his relationships. Always he kept me up to date on his daughter. Where her life was leading, what he was doing for her. “I’m a Dad.“ he’d say. “That’s my job.“
The second year I put up a Christmas tree, for some reason in the middle of the night, it fell – still in the stand. I was in tears. Glass everywhere. Mr. Bill and Rick came over the next night to anchor it. While doing so, the phone rang and I knew it was my aunt so I took the call and left the boys alone. It got quiet while I was on the phone. Too quiet. When I returned to the living room I found they had strung giant cat’s cradles across the room numerous times. “Good. I got you to laugh. I’ve done my job.“
That was his line for me: “I got you to laugh. I’ve done my job.”
I’d borrow power tools from Mr. Bill – until I bought my own. He thought me a very unusual woman. “I don’t know of any woman who gets excited like you over power tools.” He helped with the shed raising party, which was filled with way too much testosterone. Helped with cutting down the blue spruce that never should have been planted where it was and weeks later agreed I was right for getting rid of it even though it was thriving. The yard looked better without it.
At the free kayak and canoe clinic in the park, I was the one who found the perfect design. “Damn. You would be the one to find the perfect kayak.“ He bought one and spent many weekends paddling the different local waterways. I helped him select new carpeting for his house because he needed ‘a female opinion’. He even let me help tear down a wall in his remodel. (more, please, I’m still stressed from work!). There was the time we biked the not nearly paved reservoir path, he with a fancy mountain bike, me with my old 10 speed. His bike blew a gear. Mine survived just fine – even with the skinny skinny tires only meant for paved roads.
We used to tease him when there was a sale on frozen dinners because he didn’t cook for himself. And at least once a year I’d have a dinner party for the single guys who helped me out from time to time and didn’t cook for themselves just so that I’d have an excuse to make a roast or a full course dinner. They’d come without asking what was on the menu.
We shared a lot of walks and made the bouncer at the Tiki jealous when we stopped in when I had no id (“Damn. She must be legal and what’s she doing with him?”) and laughs, (“What, you get a Victoria’s Secret catalog and don’t share??”) and even the not so good moments in our lives over the years.
Some years ago, he was in a very bad car accident. He suffered permanent nerve and brain damage from it. I’d stop by after work to check in. Did he need groceries? Could I pick up an audio book from the library for him? And he’d get upset thinking he was going crazy because he couldn’t stay on one topic of conversation, his mind jumping from thought to unrelated thought. He was out of work for months, went through months of therapy, physical and mental, and would be limited in future work opportunities. I told him not to settle his lawsuit for less than a million. He settled for less, gave the money to his daughter to buy herself a house. She found one that she wanted to remodel and told Mr. Bill to do the work. “I’m a Dad. That’s my job.“ he said and redid the house for her. If her car got a flat, she’d call her dad, not AAA. “I’m a Dad. That’s my job.”
I couldn’t relate. My father has an entirely different playbook.
Then came the girlfriend who only wanted him to do ‘couple’ things. I wasn’t part of a couple. So there went the breakfasts, and the walks and the drop-ins. She didn’t want him to know any other women. He always thought I was too young for him, though he wasn’t even close to being too old, nor was he old enough to be my father. He moved in with her and didn’t leave a forwarding number. A few years went by and then he showed up on my doorstep again. He wasn’t sure he was still welcome. Always. I’d been disappointed that our friendship hadn’t meant enough to him to keep in touch even though he was a part of a couple, but he always remained someone I called a friend. We’ve been in touch ever since, despite the girlfriend. It pissed her off.
He was there for me when I suffered a massive broken heart. Stayed up all night with me while I cried. Knew the man was a fool for running scared. Knew the man would regret it. He’d done the same to someone in the past. When I was moving to be with The Ex (I was getting married, and we were going to get an “us” house!), he asked if I had a picture and said he hoped the man knew and appreciated who he was getting. He knew how long it had taken to heal my heart and didn’t want to see me go through the pain again.
What The Ex did pissed him off, but he was getting me to laugh as I put my life back together. “It’s my job.”
He was my friend.
Mr. Bill died this week. Cancer. He never told anyone and never went for treatment. Now I realize that his phone call a couple of months ago was to say goodbye and not just to reminiscence. He knew I’d never see him alive again.
Another name will be hung on my Christmas tree this year.
“When you were born, you cried
And the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die,
The world cries and you rejoice.”
– Old Indian saying
And we are crying, Mr. Bill. Though I’m sure I pissed off the girlfriend again by beating her to the condolences. You gave me one last laugh. You did your job. Rejoice, my friend. See you on the next court. And don’t even think about blocking my spikes.