In Memory of My Father
I guess I'll do this as a series of memory-snippets. I have to write this.
But you do NOT have to read it.
And those of you in the "Sunshine and lollipops, all is well" club (you know who
you are) will not be pleased with this one. Just skip it, ok?
My brother on the phone this morning:
"He was, without a doubt, without
even a close second place, the single most miserable person any of
us [the 3 kids, being my sister Chris, brother Bob & me] have even
known in our entire lives, bar none."
Regrettably, I must confess to the world, myself, and the world via
GodsWebsite.com, that my brother was not even remotely exaggerating.
My dad has wanted to die for a long time. He had actually been talking
about it, directly, on the phone for about 2 years now. It really
intensified, into high gear, when "That goddam socialist Obama" was elected.
And, I'll say this for the very last time, THERE ARE NO EXAGGERATIONS HERE.
Accept it or not. The election of a "radical socialist who wants to
destroy this country out of revenge for it" was just too much for his heart to
And his heart is what finally gave way. Acute heart failure brought about
from extreme hepatic encephalopathy. That's liver failure from 6 decades
of Olympic-level drinking.
For the last year, every time we spoke on the phone, when he wasn't too mad at
me for one of my many offenses, he mentioned his mortality. What
would happen if he died first, what would happen if Norma (his wife, my
stepmother) went first, etc.
He was adamant he didn't want a memorial service. And there won't be one.
This is, I guess, as close as we're going to get.
Vital stats. He was born in October of 1931. He was an all-star, 4
letter jock in high school. He spent some time touring the country in
minor league baseball in the Dodgers farm club. Figured he wouldn't really
be a major star, so he became a stock broker to support his (first) wife Merna
(Odd but true file: Merna divorced Van and married Stan. Van divorced
Merna and married Norma) and 3 kids, Me (b. May 1958), Chris (b. Jan 1960) and
Bob (b. May 1961.) He left the finance world in the mid 80s to start a
prison ministry, helping those about to be released to deal with the demands of
the outside world. There he met Norma who became his second wife in the
early 90s. In 2004 they moved from the San Diego California area to Bend
Oregon, where he remained until he died Saturday night, Nov 6, 2010. He
was 79 years and 6 days old. He experienced 28,861 sunrises on earth.
of me - in the scrapbook my mom kept - 2 years old, in baseball garb...it was
obvious, almost from day 1, that I was not going to be a gifted athlete.
Dad: "From the day you were born, all I ever wanted was a jock son to play
baseball with." Sorry. So sorry.
I was born to be an egghead. Sorry. In the 8th grade they charted my
IQ at an alleged 154. Sorry. By the time I was in 3rd grade he
taught me how to play chess, and stopped playing with me in 4th grade
because....how to put this...he just couldn't beat me.
We were almost never on the same level. On almost anything.
I've learned from many people over the years that feeling sorry you cannot be
more like what your parents want you to be is a fairly common human experience.
But it didn't feel very common to me.
So sorry, Dad. So sorry.
No one in my life has caused / inspired such extremes of thought /
feeling as my my father. Not even close.
My childhood was freaking amazing. Frankly, my entire LIFE has been
a blessed journey that I simply would not change for anything. Oh, sure,
little things, like maybe getting the nose cancer cut out before it
turned into the semi-major surgery it was. But all and all, the extremes
of my feeling as I contemplate my dad's death boils down to these:
My life has been astoundingly blessed.
I owe huge amounts of this, if not in fact the majority of it, to Van Huppert,
Yet he seemed to be mad and disappointed with me so very much of the time,
and his open anger and hostility as the years went by were truly staggering to
From one marriage came 3 kids who are, each in their way, utterly anointed and
beautiful, he never missed a meal, had most of the material blessings that a
person could ever hope for, and yet...
was, indeed, the single most miserable son of a bitch that any of us have ever
No one is alone? (http://www.reverbnation.com/karenreneerobb#!/artist/song_details/5893631
is my friend Karen, with yours truly on piano. It's the song we recorded
while Van lay dying alone.)
Dad died alone. Tied to a hospital bed. With mitts on his hands so as not
to be able to tear out the feeding tubes, because of the ants he felt crawling
all over the place....
His wife Norma did everything she possibly could. And then some. To
the point of harming her own health. And thank you, thank you, thank you
Norma for all the warmth and comfort you tried to bring to Van in his last
years, days and hours.
But there will be no memorial. No chicken casserole for the post-funeral
gathering. He didn't want one. He refused to make friends with
anyone in their new town, and had systematically divorced himself from every
single person he had ever known. "I don't have to put up with that crap.
You can't talk that way to me." One tiny normal human lack of
consideration or rudeness, just one misunderstanding, and he wrote you off
Since I was one of the few people left who could / would actually talk with him,
I was able to have 5 "We're done, that's it, the final communication from me
ever" discussions, in the last year alone.
His rudeness to Norma and the hospital staff goes beyond mentioning.
He died alone.
As the 3 kids have talked recently, over and over the topic returns to Base
Zero: "What Happened? Why was dad so bloody miserable??!?"
Perspective. It's always perspective. I really think that's
somewhere between 95% and 99.99% of the whole game.
My dad never missed a meal his entire life. Except for voluntarily
camping, he never lacked a roof, or hot and cold clean running water.
Minor league baseball and business and vacations allowed him to tour the USA.
The army (he was a part of the Korean occupation just after the war, he was
never shot at) allowed him to tour some of the world.
As toys & technology came along, he was always right there to join the party.
TV? Check. Color TV? Check. Cable TV? Check. When mono records
turned to stereo? Check. VCRs? Check. CDs? Check.
Computers? Oh yes, very much check. We'll come back to this one.
Cabin by the lake? Check. Boat for said lake house? Check.
Membership at the private Pittsburgh Country Club? Check.
Money to send 3 kids to private school during their formative years?
Check. Check. Check.
Look, I still have no idea about Van & Norma's financial situation, and it's
none of my business. But I will say that just a few months ago, when gold
started to go thru the roof and Van knew that I had bought a bit, he called
wanting help buying $100,000 worth. So, even in his late 70s, there was
enough scratch around to explore $100k of gold, his insurance (all social
security, medical, and State of California, "goddam socialists" was one of his
favorite phrases) took care of the medical issues, he owned a house...
Yada yada yada...So, ok, he wasn't Donald Trump rich, but you get my point.
His fortunes rose & fell, but all & all he spent life as one of the 99% richest
people in the history of the planet.
Even the poorest people you know or don't know in America are in the top 25%
richest people on the planet. Really. over half of the planet lives
on $2 a day, and YES that is adjusted for standards of living, etc.
I mean, what could YOU get for $2 a day in the USA??!? For the record, for
a family of 4 the official poverty level in the USA is anything below $22,000 a
year. And, yeah, it's very tough to get by on that. But at $2 per
day per person, 1/2 of the world's families of four live on the equivalent of
$3,000 a year. So, for $2 you can get maybe a cardboard shack,
maybe a cup of rice in some putrid water. And yup, that's about what
it's like for oh so very much of the world...
My simple point being that, though he wasn't a gazillionaire, Van did just fine,
marvelously well thank you, by any rational measure of finance.
So, again...Why the misery? What happened?
Memory scene 1....A few B's and C's on my report card...Dad: "You are just not
working hard enough."
Memory scene 2....Straight A's on my report card...Dad: "Clearly, you are just
not taking hard enough classes."
Now, that kind of thing can put a hole in your head. And yup, it did to
me. You wake up and realize that less than straight A's or even with
straight A's, nothing will eve, ever, ever be right enough or good enough.
I graduated Magnum Cum Laude with a Bachelor's Degree from Chapman University in
1980. There were 8 people in my class who graduated ahead of me.
Jokingly, perhaps, but in reality Van said that "I could have worked a little
harder, gotten to the head of the class."
He quickly became ashamed of me yet again, because I "threw away" all that
education by becoming "just" a toilet scrubber. Quotes. Yup, after
graduation I had a housecleaning business.
And then the good time hit.
From one of my mini-autobiographies, "Hell In the Kitchen:"
In 1983 my dear beloved father was
the manager for the investment division of the Hansch Financial Group.
Part of Gus Hansch’s vision was that in addition to the life insurance
people and the disability people and the estate planners, the
accumulation people would also work in conjunction with all the others.
My father was in charge of the stocks and the bonds purchased and sold
through the Hansch Financial Group on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Like I said, it was a different world. You couldn’t just set up your own
e-trade account, transfer money from your online bank account into your
e-trade account, make a couple clicks and buy yourself a thousand shares
of stock in XYZ Company. It didn’t work that way in 1983. Remember there
were no personal computers back then.
In 1983 stockbrokers generally
worked with really rich people. Almost every person who had reason to
call a stockbroker had to pass tests called ‘suitabilities.” You had to
prove yourself suitable for a particular investment, for a particular
type of stock or bond you wanted to buy. It has nothing to do with my
story, but if suitabilities (a natural part of my father’s work flow in
1983) were still in place, the economic collapse we are facing now would
not have been possible. But I digress.
During the summer of 1983, Dad had
watched me play with my silly little Texas Instruments TI994A. He
watched me learn how to do graphics, and on the 4th of July
have the thing do some very primitive multi-colored ‘fireworks’
displays. He watched me learn how to make the thing generate tones and
program the opening movement to a Johann Sebastian Bach organ prelude
into the machine. He watched me create an accounting system for the
co-op I belonged to so that everybody who belonged to the co-op could
check off what they wanted to buy on a little computer print-out (I
spent more of my “accumulation” on the TI printer extension) so the food
co-op would know how much corn, lettuce, how many pounds of beets had
been purchased by the co-op and this became, when subtracted from
inventory, the order for the next food delivery.
Dad made a
crucial decision at this point in my story. He had to have some
accounting software for the Hansch Financial Group that would keep track
of every bond and stock that is bought and sold on a daily, weekly,
monthly and annual basis. He couldn’t find anyone who could put this
software together for him, so my father went out and in 1983 dollars
spent $4,000 on a brand-new Compaq portable IBM PC compatible computer
complete with an Epson printer. He brought it home, sat it down on the
kitchen table, called me to his house and basically challenged me to
write the accounting software he needed for the Hansch Financial Group.
The proposed program was so complex
that I asked him to stop talking so that I could go out and buy a tape
recorder and some blank tapes. Then for an hour and a half he talked
into the tape recorder and explained everything he needed the software
to do. I don’t want to talk above my audience, but the hardware is the
machine. Again, the machine is just a dumb box with a bunch of on/off
switches. The software is simply what we tell the on/off switches to do.
In my Dad’s case, he needed to know the names of the stocks, the names
of the customers, the names of all the stockbrokers, the name of the
customer who bought which stock through which broker at what price on
date at what time of day. As it added up and changed over time, he
needed to see how many shares of XYZ were bought and sold, how many
shares stockbroker A was responsible for selling, how many shares
customer B was responsible for buying, all part of a very complex system
of commissions and overrides and how much the customer was charged for
making purchases and sales, etc., etc. etc. Dad had to be able to do
this with great flexibility because he wasn’t certain he even knew
everything the software needed to do for him and for the Hansch
Dad’s challenge was somewhat
intimidating to a guy who had just spent a summer trying to make his
TI994A explode a graphical starburst for the 4th of July. But
the challenge was not half so distressing as the prospect of the beige
box with the green screen, the Compaq portable IBM PC compatible
computer complete with Epson printer that my father had paid for with
$4,000 of his own money. The Compaq had 256,000 bytes of memory compared
to my little Texas Instrument’s 16,000 bytes. This baby was a monster.
It didn’t use cassette tapes but used 5 ¼ “ floppy discs. They really
were floppy, and held 360,000 bytes each. This computer had two
The date was August 20th,
1983, approximately 10 weeks after I purchased my TI994A. My father
hands me all the material, the hour and a half long tape, the Compaq
computer with 256K memory storage, the 720K bytes of storage capacity
and said “I’m countin’ on you, son…”
Seven days later I gave Dad his
completed working program.
Now, you may not believe me, but
frankly I could not care less. It is the truth, and I know it. Remember,
you are reading an aging man’s post-traumatic stress disorder therapy
journal, and I would be at counter-purposes if I were to lie to my own
journal. Lying wouldn’t help my healing process.
Yes, indeed, the truth is, seven
days later on August 27th, 1983 I gave my father a fully working copy of
I was somehow
able to stitch together the finishing pieces of my father’s stock
market accounting software application. Day, week, month or year, stock
or bond, stockbroker or customer, my software could now tell anyone what
everyone is doing, with profits, losses, overrides, commissions and a
whole host of other details properly calculated. What mattered was on
the beige Compaq with the green screen and the 256,000 bytes of memory
and the two 360,000 byte floppies, I delivered to my father a complete
working piece of accounting software. Dad sat there seven days after
the initial lecture with a full working system and said “OK.” He
described a few features he would need modified, but he was basically
That is a crucial aspect of my
entire life: I went from professional toilet-scrubber (which I still was
in August 1983 while I was programming my father’s Compaq) and seven
days after his initial description, with the IBM PC book, with prayer
and meditation and talking to the master’s degree in computer science, I
delivered to him a complete working version of his software.
By Dad’s acclimation, my efforts
earned approximately a B-.
Over the course of time, I developed
many axioms, saying and proverbs in the world of computer science. One
of them is, you have only two options: perfection and failure.
More times than I would ever want to count in my career as a software
developer, I would later find that once you delivered something with all
of your hundreds of thousands and millions and eventually billions of
on/off switches firing exactly right at exactly the right time, and all
of your hundreds of thousands of lines of code working absolutely
perfectly with basically the same amount of quality assurance that we
measure the space shuttle program by, you would then get a check-mark
and a passing grade. The tiniest little deviation from perfection would
be called failure.
So if any of you are reading this
for the purpose of trying to learn what software development is really
like in the real world, learn this lesson very well: you have two
choices: perfection and failure. There is no in-between. It is either
absolutely what the customer needs within the customer’s technological
framework, within the cost/benefit analysis of what your customer (your
boss) can afford, and it works exactly as specified OR if it costs too
much, if people don’t like it enough, if it has the tiniest little bug
in it, it is an abject failure. I learned this lesson very early in my
life. Thanks Dad.
Rewind to 1976. I was a freshman in
college. During high school I was a decent student but never did I get a
4.0 or straight A average. In my freshman year of college I finally
managed the magic combination. I was taking Advanced Calculus, English
Composition, Introduction to Physics and Shakespeare, where every week
we had a lecture about a Shakespearean play, took a test on the play on
Wednesday and on Fridays we watched the movie of the play. Finally,
magically, I brought home this 4.0 straight A grade report. My father’s
response? “That’s only because you’re not taking hard enough classes!”
Oh boy, was that a difficult thing
for freshman in college me. It seemed at the time that everything I had
done that was less than perfect needed improvement, and when I finally
reached the pinnacle where no improvement could be made, it was only
because I wasn’t doing anything challenging enough to need improvement.
My father’s response drilled a hole in my head.
But I will tell you, now that I’m
looking back on 25 years of my ‘hell in the kitchen,’ that was the
best preparation for a software development
career that my father could have possibly given me!
So on August 23rd 1983
I’m delivering his complete accounting software on his own IBM PC
platform and he expresses his thanks, noting the many things that needed
modification. Dad’s father never praised him; Dad has always found it
difficult to praise me, and we learn to live with all of it. However, in
the scheme of things it turns out that ‘all of it’ was going to be small
What had happened behind the scenes
that my Dad had mercifully not told me was the Hansch Financial
Group had, in downtown Los Angeles (we lived in the ‘burbs 50 miles
south) one of these multi-million dollar mainframe computers. Over the
previous six months, the people who ran the mainframe said that my
father’s application was too complicated, required too many variables,
they couldn’t program it and they couldn’t support it. That, it turns
out, was the reason my father spent the $4,000 on the beige Compaq with
the green screen. It turns out that is the reason why he came to me with
his software needs. It was with the transcendent subconscious/a miracle
from God/my savant ability (you can decide for yourself what to call it)
that seven days later Dad was looking at a fully working copy, after the
people who ran the mainframe said it couldn’t be done.
Suddenly, young Ahyh the
toilet-scrubbing, easy class-taking slacker who graduated with a
Bachelor’s in the World’s Religions, trained to be a prophet and priest,
who merely ten weeks before had bought his first baby step computer…was
now known as the computer expert for the entire multi-million dollar
Hansch Financial network.
And it all happened just like that.
So....There was one of the key, essential turning points of my life. That
computer program lead to a career that, like my dad, did not make me Bill Gates
rich, but really really provided a very nice business and income. I
essentially retired a week before my 48th birthday.
So...Extremes of emotion...here I sit in my outrageously lovely home, listening
to my outrageously wonderful stereo, recalling my outrageously lucrative
computer programming career made possible in part due to the years I spent in
private school education, and...I OWE IT ALL TO MY
FATHER, VAN HUPPERT.
Sure, I had to play my part, exerting a lot of effort, but everything, literally
EVERYTHING was made possible by Van.
And yet...the anger...the disappointment...the antipathy...Oh Dear
The "good time" between the time when I joined the finance world as a computer
programmer and Van left to do the prison ministry. We would, could and did
lunch together, discussing this and that and him and her, good ole normal
Yet there was always the undertone of disappointment & sorrow. Also from
one of my autobiographies:
The Productivity System
[a database program I wrote] was now complete.
At a demonstration and sales conference (which I did not attend), Bill
Staake [one of the key people in my computer world]
presented my Productivity System to a roomful of life insurance
agents and financial planners. At one point, Bill demonstrated one of
the features. A gentleman stood up and said “I want you to know that I
used to work for Ashton-Tate (the big database sales leader in those
days) for several years and we tried to make what you are describing
happen. I’m here to these people that you, sir, are a liar. What you are
describing cannot be done.”
Bill Staake, nonplussed, said “Well,
perhaps Ashton-Tate couldn’t do it, but our programmer did.” He invited
the man to come to the front of the room and look over the software. The
man sat down at the computer, clicked the keys and looked around,
clicking and reading, and after about two minutes simply muttered under
his breath, “Holy shit.” Yup. That, too,
One of the most revered members of
the financial planning business community was in attendance that day:
Sir William McMurray. He had been partners with Gus Hansch (again, the
father of financial planning) since they were young businessmen. Bill
McMurray was easily twenty years my father’s senior, and my father
looked up to him as one of his cornerstones of the business community.
Bill McMurray called my father and related the foregoing incident in
very glowing terms, praising yours truly.
That night, I was programming my
computer as usual in my ocean-front house and my father called. I am
quoting exactly, because I will never forget. He said “I want you to
know, son, that from the day you were born the only thing I ever wanted
was a jock son to play sports with me. I never understood why God gave
me an egghead for a son. But I want you to know that I understand now,
and I want you to know that I am very proud of you.”
I love my Dad in many ways; and not
just due to filial piety, but for all he provided for our family, for
his work ethic, for his commitment to us, for his genuine concern for
other people. He had made possible my brand-new career by giving me the
opportunity to deliver his accounting software. I know in his heart of
hearts my father was being as kind and loving and supportive and
encouraging as he possibly could be. It is the curse, sometimes, of
human communication, that what we intend to say is not nearly what is
heard, because for me, his words were sharp, stabbing wounds into my
Though he didn’t mean it, I felt at
the time that my straight A’s in those really tough classes weren’t the
least impressive to him. The organ concerts I used to give were not
notable. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, but the
bachelor’s degree in the World’s Religions that I received magnum cum
laude was not remarkable. Just simply who and what I was as a person was
unsatisfactory. But now that Sir William McMurray had told my father I
had done something that really impressed him? Now my father could
be proud of me.
I’m glad the event happened and I’m
glad that I went on to have a career my father could be proud of, but it
always caused me to ponder. One of the Proverbs in the Bible says “Raise
a child up in the way he should go and he will not vary there
from.” Most people interpret that to mean “Raise a child up in the way
you want him to go,” but that’s not what it says. It’s very hard
for parents not to see their children as a reflection of themselves. I’m
convinced that parents take way too much blame and way too much credit
for the failures and the successes of their children. It’s one thing to
have a child who fits your image of what he should be; it’s another
thing to give that child enough love and opportunities to enable that
child to become what he wants and needs and should become.
Memory scene: I go on to have this little website, the ministry that many around
the world have found very helpful. Van visits my wife & I in Nashville in
the summer of 2008. He can go to the Wednesday night Bible study I'm
teaching, hear his son speak directly to people, a chance he has not had in
literally decades. But he opts to stay home to watch a college softball
And then the anger...1998 I changed my name. This was one of the most
horrid things I could have ever done to the man, and to this day I'm sorry it
was so hurtful. The reasons why have been published to the Web for years,
you can read the letter here.
Screaming. Yelling. The hurt was so great. I'm so sorry Dad.
He was able to articulate it.
In the summer of 2000, after one of our many
fights, he sent me the following letter:
My apologies for the alcohol induced
rage when you visited me on Father's Day,
How inadequate that sounds, I know.
If I even try to connect with the
pain I have caused you, my shame and guilt leads me right back to my
bottle. I don't know if I will ever be able to quit and be the man you
deserve to have as your father.
From the time you were a little boy,
the stark realization I could never be for you the father you could look
up to with respect has haunted both of us. My ego just couldn't handle
having such an exceptional young man as competition in my own house. You
possess all the qualities I mistakenly assumed were not "manly",. You
are sensitive and very connected to the beautiful in life. I grew up
thinking I had to display my "manliness" through sports and had to
reject my softer side. It frankly frightened me. A part of me was real
sure I was a piece of crap and I have spent much of my life drinking and
proving the theory to be true.
The only thing I could seem to hold
on to was: I had given you your name. You were always my son Mark. That
would never change. But it did. And then, I knew the full extent of my
separation from you and all I could express was rage.
I know it's always about me, and not
you. I have been very self-absorbed. My cup was never filled, and there
was not ever enough to flow into yours.
Your perseverance to succeed in
spite of the lack of love and support shows a strength of spirit I do
not possess .... I see the love of the True Father radiates within you
and around you and is making you whole.
Sincerely, Your Dad
It just would not go
away. Even in August of this year he was greatly incensed about my
Facebook screen name, and once again said we were "Done."
And then another
unforgivable...Sept 2009 Van was going on about how Obama shouldn't be talking
to the nation's kids, "That's exactly how the Hitler Youth started." Then
he said he wanted to talk to his grandson, my son Isaac. Isaac's mom, my
wife Libby heard this, grabbed the phone and said, "What do you want to talk to
This was unforgivable
rudeness. Libby was never again allowed to talk to him, or be a
consideration at all. Another non-person.
Van once wrote his
daughter, my sister, Chris out of his life, for almost 10 years, for two
unforgivable sins: teaching her kids at home, and being a vegetarian.
Cutting her out of his life was the only way he knew, he told me this, to
try to get her to see the light.
So...mountain out of a
molehill, you say? It was constantly like walking on eggshells. I
tried, really TRIED to befriend him and get to know him in the early months of
2010. "Why did you become a stock broker?" "Why did we leave
Pittsburgh?" That kind of thing. So, at one point I say, (this is
all happening on the phone) "Libby & I were talking the other day, and she was
wondering, Why did you put me in private school to begin with?"
Seems simple enough,
right? But there is an Unforgivable in the question. Can't see it?
Neither could I . It took weeks of emailing to finally get to why he was
so very angry immediately afterwards, and for weeks after:
Your second response " I thought
.....life's history" was not relevant. You never asked a
question about anything, You said "Libby wanted to
You can't ask a question
that is wrong! Questions for others do not carry this promise.
See? I phrased the
question "...she was wondering why did you put me in private school."
Libby was a non-person. I had committed (again) an unforgivable.
It was like that for so many
years growing up...Things would appear to be going essentially well, and then my
mom would say just the wrong thing, and Van would spend literal weeks giving her
& the rest of the family "the silent treatment."
And then, there was always the
My whole life. Alcohol
everywhere, all the time. Brother Bob drunk when he was 10. The
summer of 2008 when Van visited, in those 4 nights he drank 2 "handles" aka 1.75
liters apiece, aka basically a gallon of straight gin in 4 days. Go
ahead, you try it. You have to train for that kind of
He died of heart failure
brought on from liver failure from alcoholism.
Even to his dying day he
denied that booze had anything to do with his health problems. Or
any other problem, for that matter.
His heart started to fail, so
he started to pass out, couldn't get to the bathroom, so he had to be in the
hospital, so he couldn't drink, so he started going thru what we used to make
jokes about on TV and in the movies: The DTs. Delirium Tremens. "https://health.google.com/health/ref/Delirium+tremens"
He had it all, including the seizures and hallucinations, ants crawling all over
his skin...that's why he had to be in restraints with the mitts on his hands...
It would be easy to say he was
"just a drunk," had the disease of alcoholism, and leave it at that. Case
But...it's just not that
Look, friends....with the
exception of crystal meth there's hardly a street drug I have not encountered at
some point in my life. It's one of the reasons you'll never get a
holier-than-thou trip from me.
And, with my family and
history, I really know booze.
The happy drunk vs. the angry drunk is real.
I've known both sides of the equation. The booze never creates things, it
only amplifies what is already there. Right here, right
now, there are things inside me that I could / would / am really mad about.
But with this current frame of sober mind I am able to control it, and express
the anger and frustration along with the hopes and love.
Alcohol really amplifies the
anger centers of the brain. It doesn't "make" you mad, but it encourages
the free expression of the anger that is almost always, to one degree or
So, yes, alcohol was a
constant issue in Van's life. In the 52 years I knew him, there were maybe
200 days total when he was not drunk. But it wasn't "just alcoholism."
That expressed the anger. Anger that was fueled, again by his own
admission, of listening to & watching, in the last years of his life, Fox News
14 hours a day. Yup. He could have been exaggerating, but
that's what he said.
My mom died in 2003. Her
literal dying wish was that Van not know she was dying of cancer until after she
was dead. "I don't want him to be able to gloat." They were married
33 years, and the 1987 divorce was not exactly pleasant. He basically
dumped her for a chickie half her age...I'll leave it at that.
My brother & I called Van the
afternoon after Mom's funeral. All he wanted to know, his one and ONLY
concern, was why he had not been informed of her illness and hadn't been invited
to the funeral. He never once, not even a hint, expressed any empathy or
sorrow that his only children had lost their only mother.
Memory scene: Dad & I are in the good time, yes, the good time, when
computers & finance brought us together. My hair was short, he was proud
of me for my computer invention, we could spend time together, and it was,
without question, the best time for us. We were having one of our dinners,
and I remember it so clearly. Many hours of expressed anger and
Me: "Dad, you have just got to let all this anger and
Dad, very calm, very deliberately: "If I let the anger
and resentment go I'll have nothing left. Anger and resentment are
all I have."
Just like alcohol tends to focus the mind on anger, we can choose what in life
we focus on. The good, the bad, the ugly. The accomplishments, good
days, or the frustrations. The failure. The disappointments.
What makes one choose one attitude over another? Hope & Love vs. Anger &
I just don't know.
My mom used to say, "The older people get, the more they become what they really
are." She died sweet, charming, with friends and family. There were
over 100 at her funeral. I played the piano at her second wedding, and I
preached at her funeral.
But there will be no preaching at Dad's funeral. Nor at a memorial.
There just won't be one.
Norma & I had a very frank discussion about it. The 3 kids have financial
/ life considerations, and yes, of course, Norma knows and appreciates that we
really would fly to Bend Oregon to spend time with her. But she does not
need that, we 3 kids don't really need it, we would be doing it out of a sense
of obligation to Norma, and there is literally no one else.
I remember preaching at mom's funeral, and how many people told me it was "the
best memorial they ever heard." Touching, lovely, glad I could say
something that inspired. And I know for a fact that things I said at that
service helped her second husband Stan to do what he really wanted to do with
his last months.
And I've preached many times, and really do mean it, and really try to live it
(on my good days), what would you do if you knew your time was over?
Thanks to Norma and "the goddam socialist medical system" (another exact quote)
my Dad died just about as well as could be expected, all things considered.
The drinking had taken its toll. The bitterness and resentment had done
its number on his soul, for reasons I guess no one this side of the grave will
ever know. He was in a safe hospital, and not some cold street corner.
He had Norma's love and concern, and I have tried and will try again to express
to her my honor and respect, and gratitude for all she did for him.
But God was gracious to take him when and how He did. The likelihood of
Van getting sober and finding peace was very small. At 79, it hadn't
worked over the last 5 years, and it was unlikely it would work in 5 more.
So let's just grant that.
If he'd been released to go home with Norma, things would have been bad...He
really just could not take care of himself at all. To have her deal with
the biological unpleasantries of him dying right then & there in the house, with
her, would have been cruel punishment for all involved.
Which only leaves one thing, the most incomprehensible of all. He couldn't
stay in the ICU for the rest of his days (well, I guess he really did, come to
think of it) so at some point he would had to have been moved to an "old folks
home." This would have been the final outrage, and if he had ever come
around enough to understand what was happening, the shock and disgrace would
have killed him anyway.
So, examining the mathematical possibilities (something I do when things are
emotionally tough) all I can say is that, all and all, things were as good as
they could have been.
So, there will be no memorial, no gathering. I guess that's why I've spent
today, Monday November 8, 2010, writing this little memoir. I guess this
is my funerary farewell.
I tried, I really tried, to communicate with Dad, and give him some comfort.
In August, after the last "we are done" blowup over my name, I sent him the
following email. It said, and still says, everything really on my heart.
This letter is
intended to be only good, only loving. I hope it comes across
that way, and you have a chance to read it.
In the summer of
2000, after one of our many fights, you sent me the following
letter. I would like to comment on it.
[....then I inserted
the letter that you read in #13 above...]
I am sorry it seemed
we were in competition. I never meant it that way. I never thought
of you as a piece of crap.
I have tried to say
before, and I will try to say it again, that for me you were the
PERFECT FATHER. I am only sorry that you have been so tortured, and
I have made you so very very mad so very very many times.
You were, for me,
the PERFECT FATHER, for many reasons:
couldn’t play the organ, but encouraged me to, and made it
possible for me to.
didn’t like chess, but encouraged and made possible my mini
for religion, and almost
everything I ever
did. No, my interests were seldom a match for yours, and for
that I am sorry. It seemed the best times were when I was
working with the Hanschs, and when we were able to play
racquetball together. Still, even when my interests were not a
match with yours, you never got in the way. It was the
opposite: you always provided me with the encouragement to be
ME. AND you provided the opportunity, time, place, and money.
figure I’m pretty close to everything I could have been. I
really don’t think I could have ever been too much more. But
ALL that I am has been blossomed and encouraged and possible BY
I have tried to
express my gratitude and love. It is clear I have failed, and again
I am sorry. I tried to SHOW my appreciation by working to make
possible for the NEXT generations exactly what you made possible for
me. Johnny, Melissa and Isaac are ever more becoming who they
really are, even when that is so different from me. It’s an
approach to life I learned from you.
I am really, really,
really, really sorry that my name change thing has been such a
source of pain & misery for you. It seems, from my perspective,
that many times you would get really mad at me for things I never
imagined would be one of the landmines. I thought I was doing
something nice when I …..XYZ….fill in the blanks….only to find out
it caused you great pain.
Inadequate I know, but I simply do not know what else to say.
I guess I would hope
you could just understand two things:
never, ever, ever, set out to do something that I thought would
never, ever, ever, been sad or ashamed or disappointed that you
were my father.
You have made it
very plain in your last emails that our relationship is now at “THE
END.” Ok, I understand. Some hurts are just too great. I only
wish I could have found some words or actions to have reduced your
hurt. And, again, if I had known in advance where the landmines of
hurt were, I certainly would have avoided them.
Thank you again for
all you made possible, and for all your love.
I am sorry the
journey has been so miserable for you. I would change it if I
could. I wish your life could have been happier.
I hope you find
peace and happiness.
it really is the end. No more terror over the possibility that he
might call, and the landmines I might step on. No more stewing over
what I said or did or didn't say or didn't do this time.
no more chance, this side of the grave, to ever find just the right words to
finally, somehow, give the man a bit of peace.
thought about it, though. A lot. What, really, would I say if,
like with my mother, I was to walk on that stage to address the group,
eldest preacher son, here to share his love and inspire and console all
would I say?
course you never know until you do it. But here and now, doing in my
mind what I know will not happen in real life, this is the scene that plays
over & over & over in my head.
I walk to the podium.
I open a large book.
"In my all-time favorite cartoon, Snoopy from Peanuts is reading
from a large book. First panel: Snoopy says, 'A man was born,
he lived, and he died.' Second panel, Snoopy closes the book.
Third panel, Snoopy puts his head on the book and says, 'Gosh, it
really makes you wish you knew the man.'"
I close the large book. "Amen," I say, turn and walk away.