and nowhere...and the missing him continue
I miss him. Today is my father’s birthday. Born on August 2, 1930, my father would have turned 93 today. I can actually imagine him as a hearty and spirited 93-year-old Greek man (with the best hair!) as, well, I always imagined he might live forever. Fuck cancer.
In life, my dad had an expansive presence. If you didn’t know him, you wanted to meet him. If you knew him, you loved him. He connected humans, he built community, and he loved storytelling - oh, how he loved to tell a good story. He self-published a memoir to make sure his children and grandchildren would know his stories, his narrative, and his life.
He passed from cancer in 2016 though his story, well, I hope it never ends. The story, his story, his writing of my sister George’s (Laura’s) birth was shared during her 50th birthday in January. My father was with us as my sisters and I traveled to Crete - the birthplace of the Karaiskakis family, in late April. This is where my imagination can actually see him joining the other elderly though vibrant Greek men who congregate near tavernas and city squares kneading their komboloi (worry beads). His spirit and his stories also joined us when we traveled to Athens to bond with our many cousins. Oh, the food, the connection and the conversation was epic!
I’ve been trying to write more all day to honor him and, well, I reread a few pieces that I wrote in the days before he died and right after he passed. Today, I am going to release all my pressure to write more and, instead, share some reflections I wrote on December 16, 2016, three days before I heard the silence of his next breath not taken.
On my way to Ohio, on December 16, 2016
My father will transition soon to another chapter in his existence. The cancer he has struggled with for decades is ultimately battering his entire body. As I wait for my hastily organized flight from Seattle to Columbus, Ohio that departs tomorrow morning, I am alone in my reflection of him and his life. He is at a juncture now where the ultimate possibility of liberation and enlightenment is not only heightened but a definitive moment. My father and I have fought, we've disappointed each other, and we've disagreed. We have also laughed a lot, we've journeyed together, we've learned to respect each other, we’ve celebrated much and, through everything, he's been a constant force of love and adoration - even if I could not accept it or acknowledge it at times.
As all families this time of year; mine will gather. Our gathering will have a different tone and, at the same time, it will reflect yours. Our focus will be on one man and the joy as well as unconditional love he shared. Our focus will be the life and the impending death of a man who told silly corny jokes (yes, that’s where I get that) and LONG stories (oh, that’s from him too), a man who sacrificed much for his family, a man who doggedly pursued his dreams and a man, at many times in my life, was my savior. Our focus may be on the end of a life as yours might celebrate the birth of a child in Bethlehem but we will, just like you, be honoring, rejoicing, and, with the rawest of emotions, celebrating this thing called life. My father’s life – my father’s life as a pilot, writer, teacher, history buff, veteran, father, son, uncle, brother and papou.
I hate that there are times when I didn’t say it or even didn’t feel it but I am proud of him as my father and as a man. He taught me over and over in life, but even more as cancer has pummeled his entire body over the last six months, to make rich use of our lives. He may have regrets that he isn’t sharing but he was so powerful in spirit the last time I saw him that he didn’t share a single one. He has lived fully, he hasn't shared a sense of remorse, he hasn't shared a sense of recrimination and he hasn't shared a sense that a moment of life was wasted. He may have all of those but, in his spiritual practice, he has found peace. He has lived.
At Thanksgiving, already very weak but with a internal oomph to spend as much time as he could with his grandchildren, his wife and his children; he sat to play the board game called aggravation. It was a typical Karaiskos moment – chaotic and loud and fun. His five grandchildren surrounded him - each enthusiastically transferring their little colored balls to the right spot, dice crashing across the game board or the floor and the competition was, well, healthy and fierce. My father had difficulty hearing some of the conversations and his grandchildren would assist him with moving his pieces but he was in his element as Papou – grandfather. When I would glance at my father I would, in one moment, see the little boy in him gleefully aggravated as his ball was kicked back home. Other times, I would witness Papou, with a glint of pride in his eye, watching his grandchildren. There were more than a few moments when I saw a smile and a tear on my father’s face at the same time. If I remember correctly, my nephew Coe won the board game that night (because, well, Coe always seems to win!). In that other game, the game of life, damn it all, in life, well, my dad has won!
I have no idea what the next few weeks hold for our family or for my father but I’d ask you to consider us in your prayers and your thoughts. Most importantly, pray for my father as he prepares to leave the physical embrace of our family and is accepted into the eternal embrace of the universe.
My father is now everywhere and nowhere. I miss him