My beloved father, Arthur H. Cash, died peacefully over the winter holidays this year after a long and well-lived life. These are the remarks I prepared for his memorial service this past Saturday. They differ slightly from what I read at the service because I skipped a bit by accident. In order to preserve this blog’s PG rating while honoring my father’s most cherished values, I will once again be making use of the french word for seal.
Everyone who gets a good dad loves their dad, and I’m no exception. But I also really liked my dad. His company was always a pleasure, from my childhood, through my not-unturbulent adolescence, to my adulthood. He parented me through all these shifts, allowing our relationship to change and me to set the pace. I always knew I could call him, for advice, or a chance to vent, some cheering up, or because I had been rear-ended and was facing the wrong way on the shoulder of the freeway. He was, in short, there for me. His demands in return were few, and never more than I could bear. Nothing worse than help with his computer and occasionally removing blackheads from the part of his back he couldn’t reach. He made mistakes—bad ones—as all parents do. But unlike most parents, or most people for that matter, he apologized for them, and learned from them, thus laying the groundwork for our adult friendship.
He was a great teacher. Disciple that he was of the Enlightenment, he taught me how to evaluate evidence, how to reason empirically, and how to express my understanding. He used to say, “Thinking without writing is as bad as writing without thinking.” The root cause of my somewhat impulsive decision to get a degree in biostatistics is that my dad played math games with me as a little girl, ensuring that numbers would always be fun. He planted the seeds of my interest in medicine every time I got a paper cut or a splinter, talking me through the pain by explaining the science. And of course he told me his stories of serving with the 108th General Hospital. I’ve agreed to remember the names Myron Fertig and Teddy Gomalek, because they belonged to patients that were particularly important to Dad before they died.
He was also, as you know, highly eccentric. He had strong likes and dislikes. He liked Willie Nelson, Judge Judy, and every cop movie ever filmed. He abominated chapstick, polar bears, and Mickey Rooney. He believed the most handsome man in the world was Harry Belafonte. Left to his own devices he could subsist indefinitely on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, sardines, stoned wheat thins, hot dogs, and bananas. He would hide a banana every time a bunch came home because he didn’t trust us to leave him his breakfast, so one might open a drawer looking for needle-nose pliers and happen upon a banana instead. He owned a navy blue undershirt that he believed made him look Puerto Rican. He would corner people at parties and demand that they explain to him what the Internet was. Equally dissatisfied with explanations and with metaphors, he would listen, shake his head and triumphantly declare, “You see? No one really knows.”
He and my mom both could behave quite scandalously, leaving me no choice but to rebel by becoming a square. He felt we should be fluent in profanity, and made sure it was spoken in the home. When bantering with my brother as a teenager, I once said, “Oh you, David,” and Dad corrected me, “Mind your manners. It’s off.” Once at a gathering I teased him for behaving sluttishly with the ladies, and Dad demurred, “No, no. I’m not a slut. I just have catholic tastes, and a universal sympathy.”
He was capable of some shocking lies, and would shamelessly play the adorable grandad card. Back in the days of Blockbuster, Mom once left town for work, forgetting to return her VHS tapes. When she realized she owed three weeks in overdue fees, Dad called Blockbuster and wove a most pathetic tale of his wife having to leave town suddenly to care for a sick and nonexistent aunt. The clerk was utterly charmed by him, and when Dad returned the tapes—for which he was not charged—the clerk said, “I hope your wife’s aunt is feeling better.” Dad looked at the young man solemnly and said, “She isn’t. She died.”
I had 36 years with him; that’s 24 more years than we were expecting to have together after he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, the first of several times he survived a grim prognosis. But, what can I say? I’m greedy. It wasn’t enough. My dad was irreplaceable, and I’ll miss him every day that I have left.
The person I’ve been thinking about most these past few days in my grandmother Dess. She gave birth to my dad at home, and family legend has it that the doctor that was supposed to deliver him was out at a poker game and couldn’t be located in time. So I believe she was alone with him when he came into the world. Maybe it’s because of the frightening times we live in, but I find myself going back to a scene Dad described of the last family dinner they had before he left for Basic Training. His oldest brother, Mitch, was already in the Navy. The middle brother, Web, was kept from serving by his disability, his health a constant worry to his mother. So they sat around the table, this family of people who are all gone now: the mother, the father who had been in love with her since they were seven years old, and the three beloved sons, all believing this might be the last time they were together, and no one sure that they world they knew would endure. I want to go back to my grandmother on that night and tell her, “It will all be ok. We win the war. They make it home. They survive with bodies and minds intact. All three of your children live past 85, and so do you. You meet eight of your nine grandchildren, and your great grandchildren run to double digits. You are all of you blessed.”
And so are we.