My father, Crutch, would be ninety-one today. By the time he was approximately the same age I was when I graduated from college he had flown 35 missions over Germany as the pilot of a B-17 Bomber, which is to say there were a lot of differences between the two of us. The Greatest Generation? Hard call. I’m hoping that generation is yet to come.
My dad tried to teach me about relativity when I was nine, standing in front of our coal furnace removing “clinkers” from the fiery blaze. In response to my asking if that fire was hotter than Hell, he said he didn’t know about Hell, but that if I were to fly to the sun – and avoid being disintegrated in the flames – then fly back and jump into that furnace, it would feel cold. Freezing, in fact. At nine, I didn’t digest the entire scenario, went to school the next day telling my classmates that you could jump into our furnace and be cold. I came home armed with the information that the only person on the planet dumber than me was my dad, and a bloody nose.
But I learned relativity.
The Greatest Generation? Maybe not. I was thirty-five when I taught my dad to hug. Turned out he loved it.
The Greatest Generation? I don’t know. The same stoicism that kept them silent about their heroics in that war, often kept them from showing their loved ones warmth. Ask them how they felt, they told you what they did. When I walked back into my mother’s house after bidding friends and relatives goodbye following Crutch’s funeral, she sat on the couch staring out the window. “He didn’t leave me anything to miss.”
34 years together and he didn’t leave her anything to miss.
The Greatest Generation? I think not. It was all about men.
Yet, from him I learned the science of being human. He was a genius at finding, and showing, cause and effect. As a therapist, when I wanted to “cut the crap” with a client, I channeled Crutch. But when I sought empathy, when I sought heart connection, I looked for my mom.
Our same-sex parent holds an interesting grip on us. I carpet-bombed my dad’s life-long enemy’s home and land with Crutch’s ashes from the open window of a single-engine Cessna the day after his funeral. It wasn’t a B-17 but his bombardier would have been proud. Straight down the chimney and right on out into the pasture. “My dad will be in your milk.”
When I was young and prone to ill-thought-out actions, Crutch affectionately called me Lever. The world’s simplest tool. The more sensitive members of my family – mother, grandmothers – scolded him for bruising my fragile psyche, until he told them, and me, what a person could do with a lever, given one long enough and a place to stand.
So happy Birthday, Crutch. I’m five years older than you ever got, and yet I’ll never be as old as you. I raise my glass: May I take the good seeds you gave me and plant them in fertile soil, and may no person I ever loved say about me, “He didn’t leave me anything to miss.”