“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” ~ Richard Bach, Illusions.
My father was born in Brooklyn April 1, 1925, son of a devout Irish-Catholic mother and an English dad who was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Ronald Coleman Greene was a good boy; he was honorable, happy and respectful. His military family moved a lot, including a stint in Southern California, which he loved. So he returned to San Diego when he was mustered out of the army after the war, and that’s where I was born.
Ron was a little guy, but he took up boxing in college and his amazingly-quick reactions earned him the prestigious Golden Glove. His trainer wanted him to go pro, but he declined. Fast forward a few years and you’ll find him managing a car wash, and every night when he comes home his three munchkin kids grab his legs and shout, “Daddy, how many cars did you wash today?”
The car wash gig put food on his family’s table and him through school and into his own business. He became a commercial artist and opened a sign shop, back in the day when signs were hand-lettered. He was good, and his accounts included the fledgling real estate company Coldwell Banker. He craved the autonomy of that vocation because he never did cotton to having a boss … um, something I inherited from him.
My father had patience beyond measure. He was a man’s man who could tease my mother’s friends while their husbands all held him in high esteem. He was the best dancer ever, a fact that made my mom fall in love with him first, I think, along with his sense of humor.
He retired early and took up a new hobby; building remote-controlled model planes. A million years ago my nephew and I told him that when he died we’d load his ashes on his favorite plane and fly it out over the ocean at Point Loma – where his parents were laid to rest – and blow up the plane over the deep blue sea he loved.
“All right,” he said. “I guess somebody better learn to fly the plane.”
But when he passed late in 2012 we didn’t follow through, of course; we barely had strength to deal with our grief.
For months before that my Dad’s body was declining, but his mind was sharp and intact. His kidneys began to fail and he grew more fragile week by week. He was testing the veil between this world and the next. I imagined him shedding his body at night and flying around the bedroom, trying out wings that would soon enough carry him away. He was evolving into an angel before my eyes. That vision made it easier for me and happy for him.
Together, my parents moved through the inevitable final process with grace and dignity. They still had the ability to laugh. They showed no fear, no anxiety or drama. I’m deeply grateful for this lesson: While my father was dying, he taught me how to live.
Most days I practice acceptance that’s he gone and relief that he will find his heavenly body strong again. My heart tells me he crossed over to find a waiting crowd. I imagine my childhood dogs and cats there to meet him, standing beside his own mom and dad, long gone now and probably more than eager to see his face again. I see him laughing with a host of good friends who passed before.
Bea is there; I bet she was thrilled to see you. Judy and Ken. Mr Goertz and Michael Holderer. Hug them for me.
Thanks Daddy, for your infinite patience. Thank you for the days and years of toiling without complaint on all the horrid distressed properties I’ve bought and repaired and sold. But most of all, thank you for holding me while I cried. So many plans have not worked out the way I’d hoped, but the challenges helped form the woman I am, and I hope you’re as proud of me as I am of you. You were a good son, a good husband, a good friend and a good father.
All I could do is let go, and wonder: Who will I be without my father in my life?
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