In elementary and middle school, he spent days teaching, nights serving as the store manager at Rose’s and Saturdays at the flea market, all with the goal of earning enough money so our family could travel and his daughters could take dance, piano and baton lessons.
In high school my dad taught me how to drive, patiently sitting in the passenger’s seat as I jerked and plodded my way around Buncombe County learning the ins and outs of maneuvering a vehicle.
In college and graduate school, he moved me to and from countless dorms, apartments and houses as my young, restless spirit tried to decide where and with whom I wanted to live during those pivotal years.
In adulthood, he did the same. From one home to another, he drove U-hauls, hired movers or lugged furniture, whatever it took to make sure my new home was what I’d envisioned.
And now, at 75, my dad is tired and missing my mom something awful. Since her death three years ago, he’s aged significantly. He aches for his partner in life, his friend and advocate, the woman who took care of him for more than half a century.
I can’t bring my mom back, but I can offer my help and abilities, just like my dad did for me all those years. A couple weeks ago, I went over to his house on a Saturday. He wasn’t doing well. He seemed despondent and fatigued and had a bad cut on his elbow from a fall.
He’s still living in the home he and my mom shared. It’s not the house I grew up in, but it’s the house my boys grew up in. It’s hard enough for me to be there, even for a short period, so I can only imagine how my dad feels having to live with her absence day in and day out.
For a while now, his goal has been selling the house, but he’s taken his time cleaning out rooms, closets and cabinets. He’d been trying to get the house “just so” in order to put it on the market.
But, after seeing him that Saturday, I decided to take some action. I called a good friend of mine who is part of a top realtor team in Asheville. We met with them a few days later and made a plan. My boyfriend, Matthew, and I offered our strength, time and energy to clean out every room in the house and stage the home so it will show well on the MLS listing. Matthew pressure washed the outside and assured the curb appeal was spot on.
That was a little over a week ago. My dad’s been trying to clean out the house for three years and as a team, we completed the task in nine days. It’s time for my dad to get out of there and start a new season in his life.
It wasn’t easy to look through box upon box of my parents’ old photos, family videos and belongings, or to move around furniture, mirrors and paintings my mom had thoughtfully selected or that had been part of holiday gatherings and baby showers. It wasn’t easy to walk the floors and think about my little boys toddling around and spending many days and nights in those rooms.
But, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that life isn’t easy. As the adage goes, “the only way out is through.” Like a lot of men of his generation, my dad does not like asking for help. He wants to be the protector of and doer for those he loves. I know it was hard to watch us come in like a whirlwind and clean out the house. Yet, he let us do it because he even knows it’s time.
His plan is to live in his RV for a while. Once we get some new tires on it, he wants to load up and see the country. I want that for him more than anything. If he can’t have my mom to wake up to each morning, at least he can greet the open road, which for him has always been a source of strength and renewal.
It’s funny how life comes full circle. In what feels like a blink of an eye, roles reverse and children become like parents. I previously wrote about my dad’s bucket list in this column. Traveling around in his RV was one item on the list. Another was getting a tattoo on his bicep with my mom’s name in the middle of a heart. My hope and prayer is that this time next year he’ll be someplace out west, his RV set up in a campground, a cold beer in his hand, Willie on the radio and a smile in his heart as he looks at the ink on his arm and finally has time to let the sweet memories wander.