As we coast into our final day, the town of Palm Springs begins to change. Leading into Friday, the weekend travelers from L.A. and other coastal towns migrate to the desert for a couple of days away. Typically centered around R&R, this weekend will prove different with two major events happening simultaneously: The White Party, a gay dance festival, and Stagecoach, the country-western version of the Coachella Music Festival both have the local hotels booked solid and the sidewalk cafes bursting at the seams. The drink will flow and the music will play on into the night, and while great for them, my father and I will stay well away from the fray.
I learned some things about my dad on this trip. I learned that he and a handful of Marines rented a house together in Southern California where they threw wild parties every weekend. I learned that my mother went out with his roommate before she went on a date with him, which I find hilarious. I also learned that my father still dreams about my mother every night, and that he misses her terribly, and that that will never stop. I realized during this trip that my father will most certainly spend the rest of his days alone.
You never know with your folks or any spouse who loses a loved one. No matter the age, many find companionship quickly or even over time. Not that I had high hopes of my dad getting together with someone else, or trying to play matchmaker for him, now or at any time in the future. I just always assumed that situation could eventually arise, until this week with him in Palm Springs. This week, in both words and actions, I truly came to grips with the fact that my father will never attempt to seek out love in this world again.
I also learned how much my father and I are alike, with one pointed example in particular. First, traveling with a Marine you need to be ready to get up early. Reveille is held at 0630 and coffee immediately follows. Following this, dad would walk around the complex, touring the grounds and taking in the beautiful morning. Each morning he would walk around a couple of times while I would get some computer work done, and he would readily stop if any of his friends were outside enjoying the same time of day.
But he wouldn’t knock on their doors. I asked him “why don’t you just knock on Virgil’s door and ask him to come out, or to come inside?” “Nah, I don’t want to bother him” was the answer. I immediately flashed back to Lisa Jepperson, the girl who lived across the street when I was a painfully shy teenager graduating high school and starting at UT. My parents’ biggest concern with me at that age was that I had zero social life and no self-confidence. While I’ve gotten past that in my later years, it defined me as a teenager and worried my folks who had no real tact when it came to addressing it. Try to imagine your Marine Corps father asking you, “Michael, do you ever, um, well, you know, do you ever ask girls out?”
“Don’t worry about it, dad! Geez!” My thought process was that I got good grades and didn’t get into trouble, so doesn’t that mean they should just leave me alone? But I digress, let’s get back to Lisa Jepperson, who was the girl that lived across the street. Now in my defense I had never shown an interest in this girl, didn’t know her from Adam, but she was my age, pretty, and there was the proximity issue that equated, to my father at least, that I should pursue her.
“Why don’t you just march over there with some flowers, knock on the door, and say ‘Hi, I’m Mike from across the street, and I would like to ask you on a date.’” Exact words. And while there’s wisdom there, imagine hearing it from a Marine Colonel while you’re sitting there, all 120 pounds of you, with your long hair parted down the middle and Rush posters on the wall, struggling with calculus.
Granted, given the age, proximity, and the fact that I was entirely unencumbered with female interaction, it did stand to reason that I would make even a lame attempt to see if this person would ever have nothing better to do than go grab a burger. But much like my father, I wouldn’t knock on the door. That morning I learned something new – not about my father but about myself, and how much we were alike.
I also learned that, while he doesn’t have my mother around any longer, our time with him will come to a close at some point as well. It happens for all of us I know, but spending a few days alone with your dad will bring you face to face with the fact that he’s 83. I had high plans coming out here: we were going to hike and golf and go to museums, etc. Once here I realized that my father would prefer to get up early and leisurely walk around the community, all the while too shy to knock on a door. Naps were frequent and the best time was spent lounging at poolside, chatting with old friends and making some new ones. Dinner out was always a fun event, and once we got home an early bedtime was par for the course. I enjoyed every minute, quite frankly, as I got more sleep than I’ve had in years.
So one last night out to dinner with friends and tearful goodbyes are exchanged. They hadn’t seen him in about 10 years and are openly afraid that they won’t see him again. A visit the next morning with Jerry Nisker, who I had mentioned before is all business about having a good time, and he directly brings up the fact that dad won’t call or visit as they would like him to. He won’t knock on the door. Jerry implores my father to return and to return soon. While nodding his head and agreeing that he will, I can tell my dad has a hesitation there that must just be part of our DNA. He had a great time while here, and truly loves the place, but he’s still a bit lost without my mother at his side.
Perhaps this will be remedied with continued visits in the future, who knows. I, for one, know that I’ll stay on him to come back, and will fly back with him at the drop of a hat to make sure we get him out of the house and into the world. There’s only so many years left, and I know there’s life left to experience for him. Whether he likes it or not, I’m going to drag him by the ear and make him knock on the door, at least one more time.
I love you, dad. Thanks for this life, for never changing who you are, and for showing me the best example of honor a boy could hope for. Thanks for keeping me out in the sun too long last week and for letting me keep you up too late. For the horrible breakfast shakes you make, for the ridiculously short 70’s era running shorts, and for never once hesitating when I needed you. I promise to be there when you need me.