Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Dad

My Dad as a teenager in the
early/mid  '50s.

A couple days ago, I shared a rabbit trail I'd stumbled upon which led into the life of Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover, a man, who though he was widely admired, was also a controversial figure toward the end of his long career -- in the 1960s and '70s.  While I was reading through the factoids on his biography sites, I wondered what the average Navy man thought of his admiral at that time.  Was he respected by his men?  Did they bristle at the allegations of misconduct aimed at him in his later years?  Or was he considered a relic and a dawdling old man who'd lost his edge?  I know someone who would know the answers to these questions, and I'd give anything if I could ask him.  But my Dad, a twenty-year veteran of the Navy has been waylaid by Alzheimer's and this topic, that five years ago would have lit the old Navy-day fires, wouldn't even spark an ember now.  It's a heaviness knowing this. 

You see, there was never anyone in this world smarter than my Dad.  He knew everything, knew how to do anything, could solve any problem.  He could drive over winding roads through mountainous terrain, pointing things out to us through the side windows, the whole time never looking at the road, and yet stay safely in his lane, always aware of exactly where he was.  Now my Dad can't remember the word for "glass" and drinks coffee creamer if someone doesn't stop him.  If he's in his own home and my mom is in sight, he's ok; otherwise, he gets confused and disoriented. 

My Dad on the far right.  Get a load of that mug.
I'm thinking he didn't want his picture taken...

He's still my Dad and I'm so grateful we still have him with us, but it's hard to go home and see how far the man is from the man that was. It's especially hard for my mother, who depended on him her whole adult life. A caregiver for him now in much the same way she was for us kids when we were little, she must now supervise his every move.  She lays out his clothes for him on Sunday mornings and goes in a few times to make sure he puts them on.  He can no longer make the morning coffee and feeds the dog so many times a day, that the dog is seriously overweight (she looks like an overstuffed couch).  In the same way, my Mom has to keep a close eye on my Dad to be sure he doesn't take his medications twice.  She never used to give bills a second thought and now she's going through the reality of putting his affairs in order in the event that he should need to go to a care facility.  All of her grown children and her son-in-law stand ready for the wiggle of her finger to help, but the safe and sheltered haven of my Dad's capable, responsible self is gone forever.  It breaks all of our hearts, but it burdens my mom in a practical daily way. 

My Dad with me and my brother, Steve,
in about 1966.
But the man I grew up with is still in there.  And, thankfully, it's the soft, sweet version of my sometimes gruff, authoritarian Navy Officer Dad that has survived.    Though he gets cranky and upset at times, most of the time he's smiling and looking for a joke.  Well, at least when I see him; it may be his "company" face rising to the top.  Regardless of his condition, my Dad still does love to have his family around him.  Even though he may not remember who the grandchildren are individually,  he knows they belong to him, and, though he may or may not remember my name, he still knows I'm his daughter. How could he forget? We used to be sparring partners, recreational debate opponent,s in my teen years -- and he was usually the winner, though I wouldn't admit it to him then.  My mother used to get so upset: "Will you two stop arguing?!"  

"We're not arguing!!" We'd yell in unison.  And we weren't. We were just exercising each other's barometers and measuring brain power and tolerance.  Dad had the brain power and I had no tolerance for it.  But my Dad respected that I didn't back down from him if I had at least some semblance of a reasonable argument.  And I respected him because he was my father - but even more so, because he was the man he was -- and still is: a good man, an honorable man,  a faithful son of the Church, the man who made me what I am.

God willing, if I play my cards right, I'll get to heaven someday where I'll get another chance to have a good non-argument with that man -- my Dad.  And I expect he'll still be the winner. He'll still be right.   And that'll be OK.

My Dad and his shipmates in an audience with Pope Pius XII in the late '50s I think.
He's on the pope's right side, about 6 sailors over in the first row standing.
Mom and Dad, with Steve, me and Greg in the front row, Nina in Mom's arms.
Late '60s


MightyMom said...

I'll see if I can get hubby to give you insight on Admiral Rickover, Hubby was in service from 1970-1993 and heard a zillion and two stories!!

But it's always sad to watch our loved one's shining star flicker.....

Subvet said...

I'm sorry to read about your father's illness. He and you will be in my prayers.

I never personally met Adm. Rickover, although he came aboard both nuke subs I commissioned and one that I was assigned to temporarily for it's intial sea trials out of EB Shipyard. He was a fireball, a short little elderly man who would zip thru the mess hall on his way aft with a retinue of commissioned officers and civilian potentates huffing and puffing to keep up. Those of us sitting on the mess decks would laugh as this circus passed through.

The most notable event that I personally witnessed came when he rode the USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) on it's inital sea trial out of the yard. Seems a minor steam leak had developed back on the propulsion plant. The brass of EB and the Philly were in a dilemma, with the admiral coming aboard should they shut the plant down and repair this minor problem or should they just "live with it"?

A "damned if ya do and damned if ya don't" situation, as the admiral was known to be just slightly mercurial.

They elected to live with the leak, tagging out and rendering inoperative that small part of the propulsion system affected by this.

Peace and contentment descended upon the wardroom and associated areas, for those involved were certain they'd done real good, George.

Then the admiral arrived.

I stand 6'3" and have a talent for echoing in a room when mad but I'm an amatuer compared to the Father of Naval Nuclear Power. His voice could be heard booming from the Commanding Officer's stateroom as he rhetorically asked, "Just what in **** do you ******** think you're doing? I come here to see how my propulsion plant is working and you ******** have it rendered inoperative? What the **** is going on here?"

That was just the warmup. After that he really hit his stride.

For a more detailed and balanced account of Adm. Rickover, his "quirks" and career, I recommend "THE SUBMARINE a history" by Thomas Parrish. It covers the history of submarine development from the very beginning on up to the present day but there is a lot of information about the Navy's Father of Nuclear Power.

If you're interested in the role of submarines and their espionage related activities during the Cold War, read "Blind Man's Bluff" by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew.

Linda Higgins said...

Lisa, that is such a sweet post. It brought tears to my eyes and tugged at my heart. I too long for the day when I can be reunited with my sweet dad and we can once again dance together, (which he so loved to do)because I was "his girl". I will sit on his knee and squeeze him tightly with my arms wrapped around his neck. I will get what I want cause I always did. It will be a glorious day. Thanks for the sweet post and reminder of our dads. I pray and wish you and your dad all the best.

GrandmaK said...

What a tender memoir of your father! It is clear in this post how much he means to your entire family! God has truly blessed you abundantly with wonderful memories!!! Wishing you well! Cathy

Kim said...

that was really beautiful Lisa. It is such a blessing your father is still able to be at home. Had to laugh at the "exercising each other's barometer's" comment. I am an only child. We have some serious volume in our house now.

Anne said...

Lisa, it's so hard to see our fathers not themselves..I's just rough...

E said...

How lucky for him to have such a beloved daughter loving him during these years just as you did during the earlier ones. These memories will also be sweet when he his gone. You are both lucky to have loved each other so well.
God bless you and your family