This is not a eulogy. This is catharsis. I need to work through these emotions. I need to make this into something good.
We are born alone, and we die alone. Yet we are all one. This paradox creates a desire to share. That is what journalism is truly about – vicarious experience and shared information. We want to know what exists beyond our own experience.
It is twofold in my case. The journalism I write is subjective. I let people in while sharing my perceptions. If I do this right, we all benefit.
In the following moments, I will give myself completely. There is a lesson to be learned; if only we can find it.
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I am an exposed nerve. The electricity of the city pulses through my body. When I walk down the street, I am overwhelmed by the intensity of being alive.
The people I come into contact with affect me greatly. I am more connected, more open, and more vulnerable than before.
My awareness is magnified as if I just woke from a dream.
In the dream, I think all is eternal, and then death comes along and rips me out of eternity, reminding me that all things end.
Awake, I struggle to understand the significance of losing a father who was never really there.
It’s not that I am bitter; it’s just hard to wrap my head around it. My father may have been absent for most of my life, but he still had a strong influence on me. My identity is entangled with his and I feel the void.
The man who gave me life is no longer living.
When I received the call last week, I was getting ready for work. A representative of a morgue in San Diego told me that my father’s remains had been found in a makeshift shelter.
She said he had been living a “transient” lifestyle. I was aware of that much. My father had always been a wanderer. I liken him to the train-hopping Hobos of the recent past. He always worked, as a carpenter, but he just couldn’t stay in one place.
I too have wanderlust, and I often wonder if it is genetic or psychological. My dad chose to travel around the United States instead of raise me. Because of this I have put more attention to “life on the road.”
I have traveled from coast to coast several times, perhaps trying to find what my father was looking for. Was he lost or just curious?
I “met” my father when I was twelve, on a short trip to Seattle, but most of our relationship took place during the summer my grandfather died.
At sixteen years old, this first experience with death destroyed my perception of reality. The world that remained was no longer innocent. In this new world, the cycle of birth and death reigned supreme.
My father came back to Illinois for my grandfather’s funeral and decided to stay for the summer. Eager to get to know one another, we started spending most of our days together.
We drank beer together. We listened to music together. We played chess together. We had some pretty good times, but I noticed darkness behind his eyes.
A continual storm consumed him. I watched him try to keep it at bay. Sometimes he succeeded. Other times, he released the anger in fits of fury aimed at nothing, at something, at anything, at everything.
I tried not to judge him, for I recognized in him the same anger that consumed me. I saw how hard it was for him to simply exist. His rebellion was metaphysical.
He was angry at life, and so was I.
After a manic episode, my dad would open up. He would start by apologizing, and then go on to explain why he was angry. I did the same thing. Often I didn’t know why I was angry, but I would still try to explain it.
During one of these open moments, my dad told me that he had Hepatitis C. This, coupled with chronic alcoholism, often causes liver failure. My father had started drinking when he was eight years old, with his father.
Alcohol was killing him.
We started to work together. My grandparents owned the house that I was raised in, and they were selling it. My dad and I agreed to fix it up, thinking it would be a good bonding experience.
At first, we got along fine, but eventually the drinking caught up with us. Bitterness and resentment, fueled by alcohol, tore open scars and reawakened old wounds.
We regularly argued and even tried to fist fight one day. Our mutual anger and darkness outgrew our empathy. When we looked at one another, we saw the worst parts of each other.
Hate beckoned us, and we abided.
My father grew up in the same small town I did. Before he hit the road, he built quite a reputation. His strangeness stuck in people’s minds.
I heard he could walk on his hands. I heard, even though he was small and wiry, that he would fight anyone, and win. I heard he was a genius troublemaker. I heard he even saved a guy’s life.
Growing up without a father, I was comforted by these stories. They painted the image of a rogue, living on his own terms, free of restraints.
The mythology of my father was shattered by the truth. That summer, in the emerald palace of my adolescence, I peeked behind the curtain.
The wizard was just a man.
One day, I pulled into my old driveway. My father was cutting wood in front of the house. The same house I grew up in without him. I walked up to him and said hello. He looked up at me and started to explain something.
My father told me we did not have enough in common to sustain a relationship, and it would be better if we did not see each other anymore. After he had reassured me that he wasn’t kidding, I walked away.
That was more than ten years ago. That was the last time I spoke with my father.
There was a small window of time for me to communicate with him before he left again, disappearing into the ether. I chose to let him slip away, letting our relationship die.
He was a troubled man. He once told me the reason he left my family was because he thought he would destroy us. He did not feel mentally capable of raising children and caring for a wife.
In that case, he did the right thing.
Recently, just before my father passed, my wife and I were looking at old photographs at my mother’s house. When we came across a picture of my dad, my wife asked if I wanted to keep it. I shrugged, but I put it in my pocket.
My wife comes from a secure, loving family. She has never experienced death or any major loss. Contrarily, I have lived what most consider a “hard life.” This experience gap helps us support one another. She keeps me lighthearted, and I keep her grounded.
Later, she asked me how I felt about my father and if I would like to see him again. I told her I had no resentment, and that I understood who he was. I told her his struggle was my struggle, and that we just handled it differently.
I told her I wanted to see him before he died.
I wanted to tell him that I forgave him. I wanted him to know I respected his decisions, saw his confusion, felt his anguish, and that ultimately, I loved him.
I never got the chance to say those things.
If there is a lesson in my experience, it is to forgive.
I spent years angry, wrecking havoc on those around me. Eventually, I found peace by letting go.
My father’s choices did not make my life easier, but life is not about easy. I am stronger because I have built myself with little guidance.
Every experience teaches me what my father did not.
The morgue has yet to release the cause of death. Based on the information I have, it was most likely liver failure.
As I try to make sense of this, I am concerned with my father’s legacy.
He was talented, good looking, charismatic and intelligent. He had all the qualities for success, and yet, he drank himself to death.
His father was an alcoholic, and I have struggled with sobriety myself. I don’t want my children to fight that battle.
In honor of my father, Robert Joseph Boone, I will refrain from drinking alcohol for one year. I will do my best to take this loss and make it a catalyst for a better life.
If I succeed in escaping the darkness that has plagued our family, it will be because my father gave me the strength to stand alone, the will to change, and the power to forgive and let go.
I am my father’s legacy incarnate. I will live the life he never could, and revere the life he chose to live.