Sunday, July 03, 2016

Yesterday was the worst day of my life

Note: Kind of weird posting it on here, but I needed some long form medium to spill my guts on.

My father died. I can't believe I just wrote that. I can't believe it is true.

He suffered a heart attack early Saturday morning. He was attempting to play some golf, an activity he never had time for all the years he worked. He was trying to enjoy a newfound freedom of semi-retirement: actual weekends off.

He soon felt ill and was taken to a hospital. By the time I arrived they were rushing him to another hospital to try emergency surgery. They told me it was a seriously blocked artery.  I followed with my mom. He never woke up.

I originally had plans on visiting him that day: catch up, run some errands together, grill some BBQ. I now found myself planning his funeral.

I get it, life isn’t supposed to be fair. But did it have to drive that point home with such brutal emphasis?

To lose him on a random Saturday morning like is about as jarring and as nonsensical as if he was shot by a stray sniper bullet.

My father had no history of heart trouble or cancer or anything else. He rarely got sick. And when he did get sick he would apparently will himself to get better if only because so many people relied on him. He was the youngest sibling in a family of the hardiest, sturdiest, dogged group of workhorses imaginable (unfortunately I take more from my mother’s more mortal side of the family) and they have all now outlived him.

What’s so cruel and unjust about this whole thing was the timing of it all. He had worked himself ragged his whole life: growing up in post war Korea into punishing poverty without a father since age 9, coming to America and working nearly every day to run his own business, taking what little free time he had to make sure his kids had everything they needed to have a better life.

Few had ever deserved a break like my father. He was finally going to take it easy. He finally had time to properly work on the lawn. He finally had time to remodel the house. He finally had time to travel with my mom. He was finally going to take a leisurely well-earned victory lap enjoying the fruits of his labor with the company of the family he dedicated his whole life supporting.

He was our foundation, he was our core, he was our rock. And now he is gone and it is devastating.

It's unrealistic for me to tell you that you should always let their parents know how much they love them. That will devalue it. But just try to get one moment where you tell them how much they mean to you so it is confirmed and in the books.

That’s all I really wanted say, the rest is just a random, rambling list of observations and memories I wrote out last night because I couldn’t sleep. I’m sure the language and grammar and disjointedness reflect that:

  • My dad never wore a nice pair of shoes, he bought the cheapest brands from Walmart or wherever and wore them into the ground.
  • My dad was decent. He was the most decent man I ever knew. He was almost decent to a fault.
  • He always gave a 100% at everything he was tasked with. Even something as simple as sweeping the floor. He would sweep with full dedication. When work had to be done, did it, no questions asked, no complaints, never a moment of slack effort.
  • He lived for his family. He had no time for hobbies or personal interests, he had to work hard so we could live a better life. He never wanted anything but to give back to his family. He was impossible to buy presents for.
  • It would have to be at gunpoint if he was ever going to accept money from his children.
  • I was really looking forward to seeing him slow down, to finally have the time to take up a hobby. He tried to hide it but I could see that he was fascinated with RC aircrafts and now RC drones; I was finally going to nail him down with a present. 
  • He yelled a lot and wasn't the most open with his feelings but you knew everything he did was from a place of love. He had a kind soul.
  • As someone who grew up without enough to eat, he would be overly preoccupied with his children eating enough. He would never finish his meal and would always give us his food.
  • Like his shoes he wore his clothes until they failed. Most of his daily wardrobe were either worn, had holes, or permanent stains from work. He lived through the charity of whatever my mother would buy for him.
  • If I had a quarter of his work ethic, I might be a millionaire.
  • His hands were rough and weathered. I once wrote a monologue for a college speech class about his coarse hands, worn down by work and how my hands were so pristine by comparison.
  • His feet smelled, because he was on them all day.
  • He was incapable of sleeping in late.
  • He helped me move into my new apartment; the last time he visited it he actually complimented me on how nice a job I did in setting it up and then threw in how it could have room for one more occupant (never missed an opportunity to push the marriage issue on me).
  • Whenever my sister caused trouble, he defended her more than anyone. I think he saw a lot of himself in her.
  • He fixed things: cars, the house, appliances, anything you gave him. His countless tools are littered throughout the house.
  • He was cynical and pessimistic about a lot of things in life. He was wary of my mother’s church friends and he believed anyone in NYC with an out of state license plate was cheating to get insurance discounts. But when it came to his kids he had boundless optimism. When I was worried about getting accepted into NYU, he literally offered to bet me money that I would get in.
  • He wore caps a lot, some still have his smell.
  • He was the greatest driver I ever knew. He learned to drive in the Korean Army. He drove everything from 18 wheelers to forklifts to the family minivan. He could parallel park on a dime; one shot no hesitation.
  • He drove me through a blizzard to Albany at 5 in the morning to get me sworn into the bar.
  • He helped me install my air conditioner every year.
  • To my friends he was always Mr. Lee. He intimidated all my friends.
  • And now I will never see him again.
  • He was supposed to pick me up from the light rail station after his golf game. Knowing him he was probably concerned about that even when he was headed to the hospital.
  • I was supposed to see him Friday night and I moved it to Saturday morning. I would have seen him like an extra few hours tops, but what I wouldn't give to have that time back. It’s best not to dwell on such thoughts.
  • I will miss:
    • Our trips to Costco which would always involve us window shopping the big screen TVs, the purchase of a rotisserie chicken on top of anything else, and hot dogs and soda afterwards.
    • Our trips to my apartment, driving down 1-9 talking about world events and complaining about traffic.
    • Our early morning Sunday trips to my grandmother’s grave. We were the only ones who visited it regularly. It was our joint ritual of grief. He was always so concerned about the state of the grass on it, tirelessly worked to have it better taken care of by the staff. We would say our peace and go home. He will be buried in the plot next to her. I now realize I’ll have to make that trip alone to visit both of them and it hurts.
  • I was the designated flashlight holder when he was fixing things, he would yell at me for not following his view.
  • He barely drank. The only time he ever drank at home was when I came over.
  • He would drink the worst coffee and at any temperature.
  • I can’t recall the last time I hugged him.
  • He taught himself to use the computer just so he could watch Korean TV on the Internet. When I got home I saw his computer was still on and queued to a video.
  • When I picked up his car from the golf course, he had managed to neatly place his bag inside the trunk and the seat was down to where he reclined to wait for the ambulance. It took me a second to get it together.
  • There was always a language barrier between us so I never got to have a deep conversation with him and vice versa. This is the curse of immigrant children.
  • He would get angry but would always feel bad about it.
  • The one thing in the world that consistently made me cry would be if I ever thought that I was letting him down. That's when the waterworks would start.
  • Didn't care for church, not sure if he believed it. He had lived a hard enough life to be skeptical.
  • Every time I prayed at night I would pray for my parents to be healthy and happy; I can't understand why this would be the response.
  • He was my dad and he was my hero. Really he was.
  • He hated filling out paperwork and was eternally grateful when I did the monthly bills.
  • He actually felt sorry for me that I was working so hard at my job. What a joke.
  • He would only brag about his children. He would show my game show clips to anyone who was (or not) interested.
  • Said singing and dancing were his greatest deficiencies.
  • Yelled at me for talking at the dinner table.
  • Was proud that I knew so many facts.
  • Always felt bad that he was never around enough growing up, thought he let us down a little. You never did Dad, you never did.
  • Always wondered if there was something more he could do.
  • Great worker but unlucky at times in business. At least twice in his life he had to close a store and start all over again. If there was ever evidence against the idea that hard work alone would lead to success it was him. 
  • Really pushed me to become a lawyer. I am willing to forgive him for that, his heart was in the right place, he just wanted me to make good money and have a secure job.
  • He once told me he would be a wonderful grandfather and how awesome he was with children; when I jokingly told him how I don't recall playing with him much growing up - He told me he was too busy but he always wanted to.
  • He was the guy who hooked up the video game systems.
  • Any bit of practical sense in me is from him.
  • He would have been a great engineer if he ever had the opportunity to go to college.
  • He loved his mama. I loved my grandma. We bonded over that.
  • Kept giving me tons of PBA cards even when I didn't drive anymore.
  • I will always associate Korean curse words from him.
  • His stockpile of Commerce and TD Bank pens will last the next generation and beyond.
  • I inherited his ability to sweat but not much of his ability to earn a sweat.
  • He once knocked down a house of cards I spent hours making when I was 10 and I got blindingly mad at him. The next morning I woke up and I found that he had reassembled it before he left for work at like 5 in the morning. I was still mad so I knocked it down.
  • He used to drive trucks at 3 in the morning.
  • I can't believe he is gone.
  • What the fuck happened?
  • He was relentless on getting me to marry. It was terrible, but in keeping with his character he only pushed it because the idea that such a catch like me would be single was due to me rejecting everyone I met.
  • He won't be there for my sister at her wedding.
  • He would fall asleep in the living room. He would snore if he was really tired.
  • He liked fishing. He always wanted to see Alaska.
  • We once had a long conversation about driving that big highway in Key West
  • There are only 2 people I know for sure in the world that love me without reservations and I just lost one.
  • Whenever I helped him with a computer problem or reading a document that he didn’t quite understand he would thank me and tell me “what will I do without you?” Now I ask myself what will I do without him?

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