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Saturday, March 22, 2014

It's my Dad's Birthday and I miss Him.

Today is my Dad's Birthday.
He would be 67 years old if he was still around.
It's hard to say what he'd be like these days, what he would think of things and what he would think of me.
He was born and raised in a very small coal mining town in Southeastern Ohio.
His love of home and the beauty that surrounded it was always something he seemed to long for.
As a kid, he would walk to the banks of the Ohio River from his house and swim across to West Virginia 'like a torpedo' or so he said.
When I was a little girl, he showed me how to skip pebbles across its surface and properly line my fishing pole to wait for blue gill.
I miss my Dad.
Growing up...he was my friend.
He was the one who put me to bed at night, rubbed my back and read me stories.
He was also the person who tried to braid and curl my hair the way that my Mom did while she was out of town to only accidentally burn my forehead with a curling iron.
As I remember, he felt pretty bad about it.
He ingrained a strong and somewhat obsessive work ethic which I inherited.
Like him, I can be very stubborn and strong-willed.

My Dad.
The man who put wheat germ, bee pollen and peanut butter on everything he ate, died when he was only 52 years old and I still think about him daily.
I am filled with memories of helping him match his socks, pants and shirts before he left for work because even though he was severely colorblind he wasn't going to let anyone else know about it.
In the 70's he had the much desired perm, sideburns and butterfly collar shirts.
In the 80's his hair was more Ronald Reagan than Reagan's...thick and black with the exception of when he shaved his head to show support for Oliver North ( a moment captured on the front page of The a Green Valley News, by the way).
That was my Dad.
He was hell bent on holding onto the ideals of what it meant to be a boy raised in the 50s: 
A love of baseball, apple pie, God and Conservative values.
He was a hard worker.
He was the Powhatan Point boy who pitched his team to a State Championship, got a scholarship to Ohio State University but lost it due to a football injury that wrecked his pitching arm.
He become the father of 2 young boys born 11 months apart at a young age.
He married his High School Sweetheart and began a new life on a military base in Michigan as a member of The Air National Guard.
He wanted to fight in Vietnam but was never sent and he was always dissatisfied that his service never took him into a war zone.
He moved to Arizona in the early 70's to start over and began a very long career in The United States Postal Service.

The story goes that my mother was on his mail route and his friend, Manny asked him to get her number for him. 
My dad got her number but he saved it for himself and asked her out.
She was a petite and big eyed girl from Southern California who like him had decided to start over in the beauty of the Sonaran Desert.
2 weeks after their first date they were married and 9 months later, I arrived in the world.
Before I can remember, my 2 older brothers became integrated into our small family and 4 years later we welcomed the last of The Volpe Boy Trio.
My dad had plans for them and spent much of his time encouraging them to adopt his appreciation for hard work, fast cars and sports.
I was Daddy's little girl but that also meant that much of that 'Dad Time' didn't include me because he didn't want to upset my Mother's intention of grooming me to be the prettiest and smartest dress up doll around.
Of course, all I wanted was to lead whatever team my brothers were on into victory.

My dad worked his way to Postmaster and was seen as our small town's unofficial Mayor as he managed to become President of almost every local fraternity in town.
He was a big deal, at least to me.
My Dad...
It's been almost 15 years since he passed away.
But, when I look in the mirror, I can see that I have the same deep set but bright eyes that he had.
I also know that like him, I can throw myself into work to avoid situations that I don't want to deal with.
My Dad wasn't around much.
He and my mother fell in love quickly but also fell out fairly quickly.
They kept up the facade of a happy family for 17 years but by the time I entered High School it was obvious how unmatched they really were.
Aside from their love of all things Republican...there seemed very little for them to talk about.
So when I was a Sophomore in High School my parents split up.
Despite all of his success, he was never satisfied with where he was in his life so he projected the need for the rest of us to go above and beyond our perceived potential.
I'm grateful for it.
I've never been one to shy away from a challenge...there has always been a belief that no matter how many times I fail at something, at some point I will get it right and I know I got that from him.

There are times that I question if he would be proud of me.
I tested him early on in my youth but his ability to have incredibly open discussions with me without rising (too often) into heated arguments leads me to think that in the end my dad just wanted me to be happy and true to myself.

When I was 12, I told my parents I would not be attending church, as I did not believe in God.
When I was 14, I became a vegetarian.
I joined Greenpeace, helped distribute condoms downtown and lectured my peers on AIDS Prevention, despite being told by my parents that AIDS was a punishment for sin.
My dad believed that poverty was a choice, that people were smart enough to regulate themselves and that The EPA was the root of all evil.
During The Gulf War my Dad volunteered to go to Iraq and I was part of a school walkout to protest the war.
Our differences were strong but he never put me down for them.
After his 3rd Marriage and a Terminal Cancer diagnosis my Dad became a Born-Again Christian.
He was open about his disappointment in my beliefs, he prayed for me but I knew he loved me.
The day he walked in on me smoking a cigarette is still one of my lowest.
Remembering the look of sadness on his face still causes me to tear up.

I don't want to talk much about his last days, as this weekend is meant to celebrate his life.
We were always able to have honest talks and I miss them, terribly.
I may not have gotten much of his attention growing up but when ever I needed a rational parental voice to depend on, I knew I could call him.

The last months of his life were chaotic.
His house became overfilled with family:
Visiting relatives, my younger brother, my oldest brother, my elderly grandmother, my Dad's 1st wife (it's a long story to explain why she was there) and myself all crammed in a modest house.
It was my responsibility to take care of my Dad, medicate him, drive him to appointments, help my Parkinson's inflicted grandma feel in control and then also keep an eye on my oldest brother who was reacclimating to a life not on the streets and without drugs.
It was crazy.
Unbelievable, really.
That time of his life was heartbreaking but it was also inspiring.
We watched the sunrise and sunset from his backyard almost everyday.
We made smoothies and we managed to visit EVERY cowboy themed steakhouse in Southern Arizona as my Dad loved the romantic notions of being a cowboy.
He played golf for as long as he could and often told me that he wasn't that different from golf WAS his meditation and he was right.
I miss his Midwest drawl and the way he would always check to make sure his car was scratch free when he parked in a public lot.
He was a little neurotic.
So am I.
It's funny, as you get older you see your parents more as people.
When your a child, they are your idols, your oppressors but human? 

His final days were painful to watch as cancer ate his body away and I will never forget the look of disbelief in his eyes as he saw his body waste away from the strong form it had always been.
But...I also remember his hands holding mine as we would sit in his bed, the joy he had as he watched my 2 year old niece run and squeal around his house, his nervousness as he held my newborn nephew or the smiles and applause he shared when my teenage cousin wanted to show my Dad her new dance routine in the middle of the living room.
His last Birthday came just a little over a month before he died.
I made him a cake and we took him to Pinnacle Peak for dinner.
He loved his steak and he loved the novelty of having servers decked out in cowboy boots and greeting us with "Howdy, Partner."
So the other night...I took the grandson he never met to Pinnacle Peak and we walked around Trail Dust Town dressed as cowboyish as possible.
I don't believe in Heaven but I do believe that my father lives in my heart and I shared his influence with my son to celebrate him.
Happy Birthday, Jim Volpe.
Atticus may never get to meet you but he knows you and I'm glad about it.

1 comment:

  1. That was beautiful sweetie! Brought tears to my eyes :-) He was the best Uncle!