“As for man, his days are as grass…”

15 As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. (Psalm 103, KJV)

As any regular reader of my blog knows, I spent 6 years of my childhood two miles away from the #2 Cold War target in the US, Offutt AFB, home of the Strategic Air Command. Most people from my generation have experienced school bomb drills and air raid sirens. Many people built bomb shelters to protect themselves and their family from The Bomb.

Mad Magazine was big in our house (never underestimate an irreverent Irishman with a dark sense of humor and the highest government security clearance) and among the song parodies that filled that magazine was this:

“Mine eyes have seen the horror of the coming of the Reds
They are tearing up Old Glory into 50 million shreds
They are hiding in our closets they are underneath our beds …
They are peeking through my window late at night when I watch (Jack)Paar
I have seen them in the glove compartment of the family car
They are hiding in the treetops they control the DAR
Let’s fight until they’re gone” (
“Battle Hymn of the John Birch Society” Mad Magazine)

And, of course, Tom Lehrer’s great song, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.”

Dad had a poster that said, “In case of nuclear attack, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.” Putting our heads down between our knees WAS one of THE bomb raid protocols.

None of this was very serious to me until I saw the film, On the Beach. It terrified me. I was 11.

For years I’d been lulled to sleep by the sounds of the B-52 jets down the street either cleaning out their engines or preparing to take off for the nightly flights to protect American air space. But the night after watching that movie, I couldn’t go to sleep. My dad came in to talk to me, and I explained that I was afraid of the bomb. I didn’t want to end up like Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck on a beach in New Zealand waiting for the fallout to get me.

My dad was very understanding and he explained that because we lived on a primary target we wouldn’t have to worry about fallout because we would be vaporized. Maybe not every kid would find that comforting, but I went to sleep knowing that a death like that was better than a long, drawn-out, painful, scary, debilitating death. At 11 I was concerned about the quality of life and death.

So that was my dad when he was alive, pretty young and pretty frisky.

Less than a decade later, he was dead, and not at the hands of the Russians in a moment of bright vapor, but after 20 years fighting a progressive, debilitating illness. It was my yellow cat under the bed, anyway, not the Red Army. He died of one of the many complications of Multiple Sclerosis, specifically, pneumonia. He was 46.

The last time I saw him alive was around February 18, 1972. I went to the nursing home to visit and do my homework as I did almost every weekend when I took the Greyhound home from college. He had been in a coma for a month or more. We knew what was happening. One of the tasks I often performed for him during that time was suctioning the mucus from his throat so he could breathe. A lot of things like that are deep down in my memory, like once (my brother told me) I’d done mouth-to-mouth on my dad because he stopped breathing. I think living through things like that, our memory just says, in the fullness of time, “Dude, I can’t handle ALL of this so some of it’s going into the vault, ‘K?” Anyhoo…

That afternoon I sat beside my dad, reading some poetry from some anthology assigned for school. I held his hand as I read. It was warm and alive, but not responsive to my hand, normally. But suddenly that afternoon, I felt him grasp my hand in return. That could be something awful — or not. I looked at him, and his snow-shadow blue eyes were open. In them was all the love in the world. We looked at each other for a long time, and I got the message that what was ahead of him was all right with him. Then I realized his sudden movement had pulled the IV out of his arm, and I had to call a nurse. That cascaded into having to phone my mom and my moment with my dad was over.

The next weekend I was up in Winter Park with my friend Susie and her family. Sunday morning, I wanted out of there worse than anything. They were hemming and hawing about driving down Berthoud Pass in the snow, and I was just, “We have to GO!” I was a real asshole, determined to get out of there. Their car was stuck in front of our cabin. I unstuck that mofo using cardboard. I wanted to leave Winter Park (instead of staying to ski?) and there was no real reason other than school the next day. Finally, we left. The pass was clear, the dorm was the dorm, and Monday morning came. I went to class. While the professor was lecturing, someone came to the door and the prof gestured to me to come up. “Your Aunt Martha is waiting for you in your dorm,” he said.

I didn’t need to be told, but she told me anyway. We went to my room, and I packed what I would need for a couple weeks. After that, all the bullshit of funerals and words began, and with all that, the important part; the inescapable personal lesson that death is irrevocable, permanent, non-negotiable, finito.

That was fifty years ago and the calendar this year — except for 2022 not being a leap year — is the same. Monday is February 28 just as it was in 1972. And, for some bizarre reason, I’m missing my dad more than I have since the year he died.

He wasn’t always my dad, and he wasn’t always sick. For a while he was a teenager attending high school in Livingston, MT and living with his aunt and uncle. He was — I know mostly from having found some of his high school homework — a pretty deep-thinking kid. As I wrote here a few days ago, he wanted badly to be a poet. His favorite book was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam translated in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald. Here’s a poem my dad wrote when he was 17, clearly trying very hard to imitate the poetry in his favorite book.

“And should it be, with yourself you are not ‘friends,’
How expect you more than the bitterest of ends?
Where will you find life-long, true, companions?”

Nowhere. This is a lesson I have learned, dad, and you were right. ❤

My dad, at age 17, was pretty wise. When I was 40 or so I realized I was embarking on the part of life my dad didn’t get to live. I hope I did all-right with the gift I’ve been given. I loved my dad — and I liked him. I know that even though I only “had” him for a short time, I was fortunate in the man who was my father. ❤

33 thoughts on ““As for man, his days are as grass…”

  1. Martha thank you for sharing. My dad was a heavy smoker, he died suddenly at home aged 50.We had just started talking to each other as adults. When I got to fifty I thought I was going to die too. That feeing of getting past his age ewhen he died was very strange.

    • It is very strange when you realize that. I didn’t really get to talk to my dad as adults. He lost his ability to speak when I was 15 or 16. BUT he never talked to me as if I were a little kid. I think he felt a real sense of urgency to communicate with me while he could.

    • I lost my father when he was 54 while I was 17; heavy smoking and drinking had hastened and worsened the cancer and I remember how angry I used to be with my father for the lack of a normal family when he would go through his drinking bouts. I never really had a conversation with him and there were moments after I lost him when I would wish he were there, triggered by little things around me-when seeing my friends’ fathers calling him in hostel or seeing so many people talk about investments or anything with their fathers. Strange that I never realized I would miss him and miss his presence.
      Truly words fail when trying to tell someone grieving that I feel for you, but I do. Wishes and love 🙂

      • My brother had habits like those you describe your father having had. It’s a very hard thing to go through — impossible to understand and very painful to watch and to experience. My dad’s father, too, though at some point he realized what he was doing, I think after he spent some time in jail for manslaughter after killing a man. My grandfather had been driving his Model T Ford while drunk. We need our fathers and an absent father is a serious thing. I cannot speak for you, but I think one of the things we miss in this situation isn’t only the physical being (your dad, my brother) but the hope we carried that somehow the person would get it and we would have them — father, brother. ❤

        • I think you express exactly what and how I feel, “the hope we carried that somehow the person would get it and we would have them”.
          Sometimes I wish I could understand what led my father to go through those bouts, was it something in his life that bothered him, something that he felt was not right and these were his outlets? Thankfully these days people have a better opportunity to express better but it is a long way before we are finally there. May be they hide so much in their bosoms, something I ponder about.

          • My brother went through major rehab 3 times. After the first time he said, “You don’t understand. I like to drink.” I didn’t take that seriously but he was telling me the truth. After a while, I just accepted that alcohol was his “career choice” or something.

            I’m sure he had demons but ultimately the biggest demon was his addiction to alcohol. It’s extremely complicated and I don’t believe people who don’t make that choice (initially it’s a choice) can understand the “why” of it. I certainly can’t and never will. I couldn’t fix it and ultimately I wasn’t even a person to him; I was just a place where he could get money, his bills paid, etc. The whole world disappeared into the black hole of his addiction, and it had nothing to do with me, his past, our parents, anything. It became who he was. It’s just sad and inexplicable. ❤

            • I was thinking the same thing. To begin with it there is a trigger, a choice and then it the initial motive just melts away. Like you said it becomes a way of life; but what is disheartening is the trail of destruction that it leaves behind. As much as we may try to help them, to provide them an opportunity to see otherwise, in a good number of cases the message never goes through.
              Hugs and wishes to you Martha 🙂

  2. A big, warm hug to you, Martha, as you remember your father on this sad anniversary.

    He sounds like an extraordinary man. Every time you write about him, about your relationship with him, the love, warmth and respect shine through. I’m glad you had him as long as you did.

  3. What a beautiful loving tribute to your dad – and your relationship and special connection with him. No wonder you miss him so much all these years later. Thank you for sharing. ❤️
    I remember the Cold War but not from such a close perspective. Hiding under desks at school was supposed to keep us safe. Sigh.

  4. Martha this is an amazing post especially in that you have a poem he wrote at 17! Too many don’t have a father (or father figure) in their lives as they grow up. He certainly did a good job being a positive influence in your life. Hugs as you wade through the emotions of this anniversary.

    • It’s incredible that I have that poem and that it feels as if it were written for me by a man who never reached old age. Thank you for the hugs. I need them. ❤ Here are some from Bear, Teddy and me as you continue to tread through this moment in your life. ❤

  5. This is such a moving tribute to your Dad, MAK. I’ve read it twice and with tears streaming down my face. You understood one another. I knew he was brilliant from all I’ve read about him. I see that my deep respect for you would’ve began with your Dad, too. 🤍💚❤🙏 Losses, long ago or recently, seem to impact me more today than any other time in my life. I believe it’s the way of the world today.

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