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I Am My Brother’s (Lighthouse) Keeper – Number 3

October 18, 2012

“I think I’ll just sit and read today.  You go on without me.”

My dad said this in response to my suggestion we go and do some tourist stuff today.  You know, like, oh sightseeing.  Or maybe eat at a restaurant or something.  In other words, things regular folk might do on vacation.

To me this whole week has been a vacation.  Not quite like they were when I was a kid.  But close to it.  I’ve done stuff I’ve always liked to.  Or wanted to do.  Best of all, I got to do them with my dad.

That’s really what’s been the best part of this oddball sojourn to a remote lighthouse sticking out into Lake Michigan at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula here.  For the most part, all activities that I’ve undertaken for the past 7 days have been with my dad.  I haven’t spent this much time with him uninterrupted by the rest of our lives in basically forever.  No kidding.  With a family of 4 kids, wife and a business to keep running, my dad was stretched like a piece of Saran wrap among all of us.  But there was just enough to keep us all covered.

I almost feel selfish.  But with the demands of my life and the stress much of it has caused, this break is turning out to be exactly what I need.  My dad makes it an absolute pleasure because I like so much about him.

The way he sings the Nat King Cole song Unforgettable  by repeating the song title over and over again because it’s the only line of the damn song he knows.  Or how he cheerfully greets me each morning after determining he knows where the heck he is as I tiptoe downstairs into the living room and wake him up (he sleeps poorly at best anywhere he tries).  Or how he always offers to buy us doughnuts (in the morning) or ice cream (in the evening) as his little “treatee-treatee” to placate his ever-present sweet tooth.

He considers me an adult.  He never talks down to me and rarely pulls out the “father knows best” tone of voice.  Of course I’m well into my 40’s now so I guess I’ve earned this.  But my dad can still sway my thought process if he has something salient to add.  And I’ll listen.  Sometimes he’s full of crap, and I can call him on that.  But he’s always good-natured about that, too.  He will readily admit if he is incorrect about something.  I’ve definitely learned this important act of self-effacement from him.

And today, after gently mocking him for wanting to stay back in the lighthouse (today was our one “day off” here), we set off to get breakfast and check out Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshore, about 35 miles south of the lighthouse.  A perfect mid autumn day, too—clear skies, warm winds from the south pushing up the mercury to 70˚.

Sleeping Bear was impressive.  Huge hills of sand and grass heaped 500 feet tall undulating from the Lake Michigan shore.  Created as remnants of the last ice age for us slobbering, overweight tourists to climb 10,000+ years later.  But what panoramas waited for us at the top.  I knew nothing about the place until just a few months ago when I was doing research on what was around here.

I figured we’d get a little time to see some of the area after our chores at the lighthouse were finished so I didn’t want to waste it.  When my dad looked out at the lake from the wooden platform atop one of the dunes he said “Good thing you decided to come with me, Dave!”  Yeah, right dad.  I retorted in a mocking, joking tone “Oh, I just want to stay here at the lighthouse…I’ve got some important work to do around the sofa.”  But inside I was thrilled to share this “new” place with my dad.  None of the rest of our families have been here before.

Tonight, I broke out my video camera and propped it up against the tv.  I muted the one of two channels we could reliably receive to eliminate the noise.  I aimed the camera at where my dad was sitting.  Then I pressed the ‘Record’ button.

I’ve always wanted to capture my dad’s voice, ask him some questions about his life (many of which I know the answers but this act really isn’t for me) and burn the whole thing onto a DVD, the product of which I would tuck into my fire safe.  I would simply have a decent summation of his life.  He’s 79 and remarkably fit.  But he won’t always be.

So I asked him about where he was born (I obviously know when), why he was Mario Anthony just like his older brother who died 3 years prior to his birth.  I asked what his life was like growing up.  Who his friends were in 8th grade.  Why he felt the need to support his mom instead of going off to college when he was 18.

One answer surprised me.  Back in 1954 at the age of 20, my dad was complaining about not “feeling good”.  So he went to a doctor.  The doctor detected a cancerous lump in his neck that was to be removed “immediately”.  My Pops went under the knife where the tumor was removed.  Just after the surgery, my dad awoke and was told by his half sister Marie that if the operation was not successful my dad would have just 6 months to live.

I never knew this.  Imagine being told you have just 6 months to live.

We know how the story plays out, though.  It’s 59+ years later.  But I asked him how hearing those words affected him.  He said that the proclamation of his pending mortality caused him to be more practical and tenacious—to get the job done.  The 6-month period came and went and my dad just kept on doing that.

This interview will continue on our last evening here at the lighthouse.  We have chores to do around here.  And I with my father will get the job done.

From → Family Stuff

  1. You’re such a great writer, David! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. Enjoyed every word. So jealous of you getting to do this with your dad.

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