How do you say goodbye to vapor?

How do you say goodbye to vapor . . . to a nothingness of spirit . . . to the closure of a mind? The years have passed since my father’s death and still I feel a longing for the real man, dead so many years before that. It wasn’t that he was in a coma, although that might have been preferable to him at times. For us, we would take whatever scant moments we had that held any meaning and rejoice in them. For in the everyday scattering of minutes and moments, he was as lost to us as the extinct dodo bird.

Dad was truly a great man, or such is still my recall. And mine is not the only voice in accord. For the years in which he was fully there, Dad was larger than life to my sisters and me. Gentle, loving, soft-spoken, he provided stability in an increasingly volatile household. We would go to him for succor, for strength, for guidance . . .for peace. . . and always found it there until his disease took hostage of his life.

As we grew, Dad was the voice of reason in an increasingly chaotic household. My Mother was powerful, dynamic, a person of whirlwinds and fevers. She was never someone I would categorize as calm. In fact, such times were so rare as to be non-existent. These days I find myself relating to her as if she were the person of old when she has been mellowing. Her days of fire and brimstone are only there some of the time. So my dealings with her are skewed, never in sync. She is in FM, I am trapped in AM mode. Yet I can still be 3,000 miles away, walking down a street, and hear, clear as a bell, her voice sharply speaking my name. I never, ever heard my Dad’s voice, because it was not raised in such a manner.

That is not to say he wasn’t frustrated and angered by us – he surely was. They used to call us the “Wild Eid Tribe” – Eid being our last name, and it suited us. I was the mellower of the five of us – the book worm, the one with responsibilities. Even still, I was a partier come high school and there were plenty of nights my father saw me stagger to bed. Of course, he may have decided he was ill advised to counsel me when he was smashed most nights himself by then. But drunk or sober, he was a good man.

In younger days, my Dad cut a wild figure himself. Accepted into Princeton, he proceeded to flunk out within the year due to drink and dolls. He was a model with the Ford agency in New York. I was forever damned in comparisons of the looks of men I was interested in to those of my Dad’s. They had to be equally beautiful in my eyes. Damned if I didn’t think, the first time I kissed my ex-husband, long before I had fallen in love, we would make gorgeous children together. Looks held large sway.

He was also a singer. I don’t mean just any old minstrel, but one who had a voice that could knock the socks off you. He cut a record or two in those years. My aunt, his sister, had a record of his for sixty years. When I’d ask about it she would say she didn’t know where it was. But her children told a different story . . . every so often she would listen to his record and cry. It wasn’t until she died his record finally reverted to our hands.

As a write this, I realize I must seem hopelessly mired in Father love. Freud would have had a field day. The thing of it is, everyone who knew him, well most of them anyway, held him in equal regard. He had a gentle presence, but one that lingered long after the man had left.

He met my mother one night when she was playing basketball with some guys while in high heels. He fell for her when she fell on her butt and laughed until her sides ached. Neither of them had money. Turns out they had grown up four blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, moved to Lynbrook, and then met there. My mother had this larger than life personality. At a party, she was the one with the “lampshade on her head”. My Dad could sit back and enjoy the constantly changing whirlwind she stirred about her. Of course the flip side to that was the “dark side” but that didn’t surface until later.

When he proposed to her, he didn’t know she was also engaged to another man, keeping her options open until she knew which one was truly right for her. I think of this, as I have since I was in high school when I would beg my Dad to divorce her. There was so much drama. She has always been the reigning queen. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Mother very much, but I have no illusions about the ruckus she can cause. They were at the far ends of the spectrum – he the calm one, she the outrageous. Its funny – years later, when I married my ex-husband, we had our chasm between us although ours was one more of light versus dark. I had learned the flavor of drama and couldn’t do without it for quite a few years.

Three days before their marriage, Dad told Mom he was going to become a minister and they were going to move to Kentucky where he would be attending college. Now you have to understand something, being a minister’s wife or child is no picnic. Parishioners have high expectations and are often excessively nosy. And ministers do not get rich, especially those in the Methodist church. You are transferred every few years to a new parish, living in parsonages which may or may not be fit for human habitation. So I give my Mom credit for moving forward with the marriage. Their first few years were spent in a blur, with my Mother, a nurse, working double shifts at the hospital and my Father attending to five country churches while driving a school bus during the week while going to school. He took me to class while I was still an infant until I grew too big to big quietly content in the back of the class.

During the sixties, Dad had a parish in Bridgehampton, New York. It was the Hamptons before they were the Hamptons, a time when potato fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Civil rights were emerging. He traveled to Washington to see Martin Luther King give his famous speech. Dad saw the migrant workers on the potato farms struggling under extremely poor conditions and his spirit rankled. They had terrible living quarters and horrible pay. He fought for, and won, significant rights for them. As a result, there were potato farmers who closed up shop, which ultimately came back to bite him.

My parents were politically involved when they lived in Connecticut, in my later elementary years. They were key players in Edward Muskey’s campaign in the state. They fervently believed in what they were doing but in a town where five families controlled everything, and these people were all members of the opposite political party and of his church. It didn’t bode well for my father’s career as a pastor. We moved after three years, good for me as those were the absolute worst years of my childhood.

Ministers are, first and foremost, shepherds of their flocks. A good pastor is a skilled counselor, discreet, persuasive, kind, a listener. He makes himself available to parishioners at all times, under all conditions. Dad was there for whomever needed him. I can remember many times I saw people entering his home office looking stressed and leaving with a calmer or happier visage. There was one night when I watched as he talked a woman through throwing up the overdose she had taken and then got her help, unable to leave home as we were too small and Mom was working. Another night a teenager banged on our door shortly after her best friend was killed in a car accident on prom night. Dad took another young adult into New York City when she needed an abortion and couldn’t go to her parents, then helped her get into a college he knew would provide safe passage through the remaining years of growing up. Parishioners even traveled to him when he was transferred to another church. He was that good.

I told him everything – and I do mean everything. Well, perhaps not. One time we were driving to our summer house, Dad and I, and he started telling me all the places I got high, some of the wilder things I had done, things I couldn’t imagine telling him. However, the ever faithful parish members would fill him in. To his credit, he never let on, and never punished me. He knew this was privileged information other parents weren’t likely to know yet he did because it was expected that I conform to the standard. I was conforming – everyone knows minister’s kids are screwy.

To his credit, he never pushed religion down our throats – our mother did but not him.
I was Daddy’s little girl. I guess this much is obvious from the writing. When I was little I wanted to be a minister just like him. At thirteen I leaned more toward being a missionary. Fourteen hit with boys and booze and religious ambitions went out the window. I’ve always been strongly spiritual by nature, but the direction it was focused changed again and again in adulthood. My family just shook their heads. I was the weird one. It was okay. I was comfortable being the black sheep.

My father’s chief failing as a minister was that he was not business minded. In today’s church, it is imperative. Bringing in enough capital falls heavily on the minister, he needs to fill those coffers one way or the other. Luckily, my mother was savvy in this realm. She would start thrift shops, coordinate fund raisers, etc. She was good at it. The thrift shops she started in some churches thirty years ago are still going. One generates 30% of the church’s income.

Over the years, the demands of the church and its members started having its toll on my dad. The stress started leaking out. My mother and father were having frequent arguments, great rushes of rage following by a passion of renewal. My mother, who had trouble channeling her anger, sometimes used her fists. One time she broke his nose. Another time they had a huge fight up at our summer cabin which went on and on. Finally I yelled at them to stop, took the dogs, and headed up the mountain for the next few hours. It made them get it together then. For years I became the referee. Even when I left home, they would call and get on each extension and argue their positions. While some piece of me felt powerful, but mostly I felt overwhelmed and burdened.

When I was fourteen, my father’s father died. My Dad never forgave himself for not being at his side the very moment of his death, even though he had been there just a few minutes previous. That night, my Dad started daily drinking. All at once he became an alcoholic, much like I did years later. A parishioner came to the door and Dad greeted her with only his underwear on. Luckily she understood but it was the beginning of the end. Every night Dad would sit in his chair, often in his briefs, in the darkness, watching T.V. Most nights I would go down and talk to him for hours. My mother didn’t take kindly to it – sometimes it seemed like jealousy. It could well have been. Dad and I were of one mind, she of another. We could no more understand or walk in each other’s shoes, than we could climb Mount Rushmore. My way of appeasing my mother was to occasionally massage her feet after she came home from work. I hated doing it but it was all I had.

My mother had her fill of being a minister’s wife as I was graduating high school. They gave me the constancy of one high school but two weeks after graduation, hit the road. She opened a home for the elderly in upstate New York while my father took a parish an hour away. He commuted between the two.

The parsonage was atrocious. In front of the toilet, there was a hole where you could see into the kitchen below. The whole house was like that. Mom wouldn’t go near it or let any of the kids go. This gave my father ample time to pursue his addiction and so he did. After the first service, Dad was saying goodbye and shaking hands with parishioners when a couple introduced themselves. She was the head of the parsonage committee; he was on the Board of Trustees. They were also refugee farmers from the civil rights years. Because of the work Dad had done, they had to give up their farm and start over elsewhere. They calmly told Dad he would be gone within the year and started their campaign. One year later they had succeeded in having him blackballed from the ministry because of his drinking. When they cleaned out the parsonage, they carried out bag after bag after bag of empty bottles. He hadn’t even bothered to hide it. I was eighteen. It would be the last real job he would ever have of any consequence or duration.

Dad’s drinking escalated. While Mom was an alcoholic too, she was a functional one. She supported the family, worked her butt off and made things work even when they seemed hopeless. Meanwhile Dad retreated more and more, becoming a permanent fixture in his chair. He would take whatever money he could get his hands on to support his habit. Mom would go crazy.

These were the rehab years. He must have gone to 5 or 6 of them. At first Mom would call me in California and ask me what to do (I had a few years of sobriety by that point). But she got the hang of it quick. As my Dad was a counselor and an extremely intelligent person, he helped everyone there except himself. He was good at faking it. There was no interest in attending Alcoholics Anonymous. My parents went once. They said that the garbage man went as if that explained everything. For them it did. I would drag Dad to A.A. when I would visit but it meant nothing to him. He just had no desire to stop drinking.

It is easy for me to laugh based on all I would hear from home. I was 3,000 miles away from home. One time Dad tripped and stabbed himself in the chest. Another time he tripped over a hassock and broke his neck. He had to wear a body halo for a few months. It wasn’t funny – but it was priceless.

Dad went blind when he turned 40. It was in part genetics, part drinking on antibuse, part vitamin B deficiency. Slowly but surely his vision blurred around the edges and closed in on itself. His body was going through similar changes. Things weren’t working the way they used to. Although this is true of everyone as they age, there was a steep drop-off for Dad. Mom controlled every aspect of his life. She forced him to eat when all he wanted to do was drown in the dregs of his despair. She was the quintessential care-giver and enabler. She moved them out of town and up on the hill, making it too hard to get to a package store. Damn him if he didn’t try to walk down, blind, with horribly shot knees, for that unquenchable thirst and need for more alcohol.

By the time Dad turned fifty, his mind started to go. I always thought he had pickled his body, he must have pickled his brain too. It should have stayed in stasis . . . not growing but not degrading either. It seemed too mean on such a keenly intelligent person. For the first years I would talk to him as I always had – he was the one family member I was myself, was honest with. And now it fell on uncomprehending ears. I read him my writings – he was the only member of the family who had ever encouraged me. In fact, he was the only one who would listen to me. I guess, in a different way, my words were falling on deaf ears as well.

Mom took wonderful care of Dad. She enlarged the house, making a bedroom/living room on the first floor so he would not have to use stairs. His movements were herky-jerky and tentative. He was terrified of the slate path out front as it was slippery when wet. Mom hired a live-in caregiver to help with him. They went to the senior center for lunch a couple of days a week until the center asked that he not come as his singing was a nuisance to others. He forgot her name or what she was to him. It had to hurt her. He forgot all our names. But he still said “I love you” to all of us for as long as he could.

See, as the words slipped from his mind, lyrics and musical notes remained. He still had a good voice but it was well used indeed. He would sing from the moment he woke until the close of night. His songs eventually faded too, but they were all we had left. It drove us crazy listening to him yet made us so sad we had lost him. And then the day came when the notes were silent too, when he silently listened to music all day long but said nothing. It was a yawning chasm of emptiness.

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. I think most people learn what they need to know to do their life’s work and then conduct that work throughout the course of their years. But some people do all the great things they are supposed to do, their destiny in this planet, in their early years, leaving nothing left for the remainder. Dad was such a one. He helped so many people – I can’t tell you how many have come to me and told me his effect on their lives. But mostly, in the last forty years of his life, his chief job was being there for his children, or more so, grandchildren. Reading this you would be left to wonder how, but he did, in the small ways, the taking the grandkids for a walk even though he was blind kind of ways.

His gentle presence soothed until those years when he wouldn’t stop singing. Sometimes, truth be told, it would rankle. I would miss the words, the nights when we talked for hours, when he sat at the top of the stairs making sure we didn’t get up at bedtime. I missed the lullabies, the crying over fifth grade modern math, I missed being heard, being understood – I missed him. He had become as mist – a vapor slowly drifting off into the night. And I was less because of it.

How do you say goodbye to vapor?


Joined February 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

A daughter shares the life of her father and how he impacted the family

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.