Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Jesus Christ, Carpenter" and Elton John

The other night I was driving with our son, Ethan. Out of the blue my eight-year-old boy said, "Daddy are you ever going back to work again?"

Startled, I said, "I just don't know. The stroke really did a number on me. I just do not know if I can work anymore. And that is sad for me." 

He said, "Strokes really suck don't they, Dad?" 

Then he said, "If you don't go back to work, what do you think you'll do every day?"

When my dad retired at 53, it was very hard for him. His identity was wrapped in the fact that he worked at Buttrey Foods and before that the B&B in Kalispell, Montana.

When Buttrey Foods "big wigs" told my dad that he would be "retired" (Actually it was a cost saving measure because his pension was getting too expensive for the company so they actually fired him), it was a major shock for him and our family.

Dad started work delivering newspapers when he was about 10, and he never stopped working.

So for 43 years he worked hard. Then, at 53 years old, suddenly he had no job, prospects, and no hobbies. He was devastated. 

My dad's identity was "Stanford A. Dunham, Merchandising Manager for Buttrey Foods." 

Something like "Jesus Christ, Carpenter."

Now he was just "Stan Dunham." 

I suspect that my dad listed his “occupation” before "father." That was common in his era.

When dad was dying, he told me that one of his biggest regrets that he worked so hard to provide for his family he nearly lost his sons. He lost his wife, Dad told me.

I thought a lot about my dad lately. I started to work when I was 10 years old. I worked at my stepdad's furniture store, and I moved on to be a carpet layer and a carpenter with my brothers.

I went to college, and I got a great job: CEO of the Idaho Association of REALTOR'S.  Through the years, actually I had several other professional high-profile jobs: Boise State University lobbyist and Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement for Boise State. I opened a real estate school, and then the Vice President of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Finally I was the Executive Director of the Associated General Contractors of Idaho. I was also elected to be one of the Trustees for the College Western Idaho.

My point about this, my identity was about my jobs. I was "Mark P Dunham, CEO and college trustee." I am a father but I didn't think about that as part of my identity really. “This is my job.”

But my stroke messed up my future and my identity.

Just like my dad, 43 years his job was his identity. Ironically, I worked for 42 years and then suddenly my job identity -- my job -- was gone.

It reminds me of a beautiful and heart wrenching  song from Elton John "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore:"

"I used to be the main express
All steam and whistles heading west
Picking up my pain from door to door
Riding on the storyline
Furnace burning overtime
But this train don't stop,
This train don't stop,
This train don't stop there anymore."

I feel like I worked so hard for years, and in one instant, it was gone.

I wish that I had talked to my dad about his retirement. 
I am now "period" rather than "comma."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Damn" memories anyway!

On a recent trip to Placerville, Idaho, we passed Lucky Peak Dam. The bottom of the dam there is a park called Sandy Point.

Some of my best childhood memories are in this park. During the summer when my dad was working, my beloved friend Carolyn and her son Doug would go to the park on Wednesdays and Saturday.

We didn't have a lot of money and this park was a cheap alternative. She would drive her old Cutlass or Buick station wagon, pack a lunch for us, and we would play in the water for hours and hours.

Carolyn insisted that Doug and I would place her blanket near an overweight lady. In that way Carolyn would laugh and say “I will look good by comparison!”

She would read magazines or books, play her portable radio, and watch as Doug and I would try to catch minnows and crawdads.

Those are vivid memories for me, but we were driving to Heather's cabin, I told her that sometimes the memories are too sad for me.

I said that it is ironic that my stroke did not cause any memory losses at all. I meant that sometimes if I had to have a stroke maybe it would've been better if I could excise some memories that are too painful for me.

Carolyn was like my second mom. So for me it seems like I lost four parents: my mom, my step dad, my dad and Carolyn.

When I hear an Ella Fitzgerald song I instantly think about my stepfather Karl. I love Ella but that music reminds me and my stepdad is gone. Whenever I barbecue a steak, I think about my dad. Whenever I hear a Patsy Cline song I think about my mom because she was a wonderful singer and she would often sing along to the radio with Patsy Cline's music.

When we passed the dam, I told my wife that some of these memories are too painful for me. Time has not lessened the pain in some respects.

So feeling sorry for myself because of my stroke, I said that it's ironic that I have no memory loss even though I would like to have selective memory loss. I have thought about that a lot lately. A stroke can cause anyone to be so despondent and sad. You can dwell on your stroke and all of the things that have gone wrong in your life. 

Part of this is you get mad about the losses of people that you love. A stroke is a blow, and the loss of loved ones who love YOU really compounds the agony of my loss.

As my wife often does, she said change your perspective. Embrace those memories. Don't think about the people that I have lost, rather think about the fun memories in those moments that were both fun and so very real. I can hear Carolyn humming “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash.  I can hear Karl telling me about his favorite album “Thirty by Ella.” I can think about my dad going to Buttrey Foods and ordering thick tenderloin steaks. I can think about Mom laughing and singing when she did housework.

I thought about this a lot over the weekend.  She is right. I should celebrate my memories rather than try to forget them. But, it is hard. I will work on it.