Opinion Columns & Blogs

Cheaters sometimes prosper, and other lessons Dad taught

Spring began outside hospital walls this year, and once my dad was released to hospice, it blossomed out the window of my childhood home. Dad and I sat in the living room and watched it together, like junkyard dogs with nothing better to do.

Occasionally we took turns with the remote, or ate bowls of ice cream that years of his diabetes had previously denied, and we did a lot, I mean a lot, of crossword puzzles.

“What’s a six-letter word for ‘unknowable’?”

Both of us gave it a few halfhearted stabs – he so much smarter than I, and then inevitably one of us would answer with the absurd: “Cat only has three letters, huh?”

We were shameless cheaters, too. While he looked for the answers at the back of the book, I whipped out my phone and paged Professor Google.

After the doctor told us there was no treatment for the tumors growing in his lungs and that he should anticipate getting sicker in the coming weeks, my dad did what he always did: He looked at the bright side of things.

“I’ve had 82 years,” he said. “Some people never get the chance to say good bye.”

Still, he did a lot of crossword puzzles to distract himself.

We were both so excited when I found a book that combined his two great loves: crossword puzzles and classic movie trivia.

Boy, did my dad love the movies. When I was 6, he read in the TV guide that the original “King Kong” was going to be shown on Saturday afternoon.

He took the whole week to prepare me: “Movies are just make-believe, Karen. Remember, what you’re going to see is not real.”

When I cried at the end of the film, at poor King Kong swiping away at all those pesky planes, my dad shook his head in agreement.

Not long after that, he sat me down in front of the original “Frankenstein.” We went through the same preparation. I remember my mom scolding him for scaring me with old movies, and that was my cue: “Movies aren’t real. They’re just make-believe.”

Those were the only two movies he insisted I see: “King Kong” and “Frankenstein.” Both were about people who feared what they didn’t understand and Dad told me if there was ever a problem in the world, fear was most likely its cause.

He taught me other stuff, too, the best of which was not to take any of it – and by “any of it,” I mean all the stuff other people got upset about – too seriously. That was his ethos even before he got cancer three times.

Recently I applied for my dream job, and I applied because I’d had his words echoing in my head for a lifetime. “Go ahead,” he’d always say. “The worst they can say is ‘no’.”

It was the kind of job that would have brought to bear all I had studied about rhetoric and writing, politics and parenting, and I think I would have been darn good at it. But alas, I did not get it.

My dad asked me about the job a few weeks back on a day when he wasn’t up for much talking.

“They chose someone else,” I told him, and I knew the look of pity he got on his face wasn’t meant for me; it was meant for them, and that made me smile.

This year Dad will not see spring turn into summer. He died last Friday in the middle of the afternoon, holding my hand and leaving me with a grief that now seems bottomless.

What’s a three-letter word for someone who will never be replaced? I know the answer too well.

Karen Irwin of Tacoma teaches writing at Clover Park Technical College. Email her at irwinkd@yahoo.com.