That's what happens when your father checks out when you are a senior in college. A kid at Catholic High once asked me when I first considered myself to be "on my own."
"When my father dropped dead at 52," was my response. You tend to grow up fast-or faster in any event-when something like that happens. But the truth of the matter is that I don't much think about it anymore. It is just "distant ship smoke on the horizon" as the song by Pink Floyd memorably put a similar state of cognitive dissonance.
Indeed, I hadn't thought of it in sometime one way or the other until the other day when I called an old friend to express my condolences upon the passing of her own father.
"You were so young when you lost yours," she said. "I just can't imagine." Well, I did. It's true. But so many years have passed it's almost just like one of many facts that pile up over time in the building of a life. Certainly at the time it was a terrible and frightening shock. But now it's just part of the resume.
That's not a sad thing. It's just a thing. A thing that happened once upon a time when I was young. Certainly it shaped and informed my world view. Surely it had an impact on my early struggles with law school. I wasn't stupid. But looking back on it I probably should have held off a year which Tulane offered. But I didn't and 7 months after Buck passed there I was in New Orleans.
That's a lot to unpack in retrospect. Not that I was one to unpack things back in those days. I didn't start that until fairly late in life when it was kind of thrust on me. Better late than never I suppose.
Off the top of my head I can't think of many of my contemporaries that still have their fathers. Maybe 2 or 3. Big Don (who has to be pushing 90) is still plugging along with Virginia. When I saw him last Summer he took great pleasure in referring to me as "the old retiree." He still stands tall and his grip is strong. He and Virginia are still self-sufficient and in fairly good health. Good for them. And I enjoyed visiting with them as I don't get to spend much time with the parents of my friends anymore.
But do I wonder what it might have been like had Buck not succumbed to the likely outcome of his addiction to cigarettes? I used to get this question a lot when I was younger. After all, if my father were alive today he would be 88 or 89. Not many folks live that long. Especially with the cardiovascular disease he had and passed on to me.
I know I have told this story before, but Buck wouldn't let me play golf. Although I am very right handed, I swing a bat (and a golf club) from the left. They tried to make me a switch hitter in baseball but I was useless from the right side. Despite that neurological problem he would not hear of me playing golf. I can hear his voice to this day.
" Son," he said. "It's just not done. Left handed equipment is too hard to find. The courses are all set out for right handers. Golf is hard enough for right handers. I'm just not gonna let you do it."
Of course, he was completely wrong but neither did I have sufficient funds on my 14 year old self to go out and buy left handed clubs to test his hypothesis. Not that I had ever heard the word "hypothesis" at that age either.
And so when I took the damn game up in my forties, I wondered what he might have thought. I wondered what it might be like to play a round of golf with him? Guys talk a lot on the golf course. What would we have talked about? I can't imagine asking him for advice, because in the real world I did adulthood pretty much on my own and largely on my own dime, because that was the way it was. And so I can't even much fantasize about this. Still, I think it would have been nice to play a round of golf with my father. I don't know why I think that. But that's what I think. I just don't think about it very often.
My friend Hugh passed away unexpectedly about 4 years ago. Left two teenage girls. I remember holding the girls in my arms and telling them that I wasn't much older than they were when my own father died. I know that girls and their daddies are a different dynamic. Especially in these parts.
But I told them that, hard as it might be to believe it at the time, everything would be OK.
"Trust me," I said. "I know. It will be OK."
And if they are like me, 35 years from now it will just be a thing.
A thing that happened to them when they were young.