Saturday, May 23, 2009

Toys and Recollections

I like toys, you know, guy toys. Expensive stuff usually. In the past it has mainly been bikes, but also it has been things like stereo equipment, cars and video games. I tend to get pretty deep into whatever it is that fascinates me. With bikes, it means that I read all sort of techno babble about weights, performance, geometry, etc. I think I get this from my father.

My dad, as long as I can remember, has always had his toys. His toys have been for the most part much different than mine. He has many, many, many guns. Lots of collectible pieces. He made his own cartridges to get performance variations out of his guns. Hot loads, slow loads, lots of variations for the same gun. He did this for quite some time. I remember the sounds of the tumbler machine than cleaned and polished the brass before he reused it, turning for hours at a time in my parents bedroom. I remember my father working his forearms in order to be better able to hold his handguns and control the recoil, which if I were to shoot one of them would probably recoil back right into my forehead.

My father was also an audiophile. He spent around $8K or 10K on custom speakers. That was back in the late 1970's. Crazy. Silly in my mind, but my dad really enjoyed the clarity that those speakers could bring to some of the master recordings that he purchased on vinyl back then. I remember that he played one such master recording of Handel's Messiah through that system and that it brought tears to my grandmother's (my mom's mom) eyes because of the beauty that she heard. They were incredible.

My dad loves cars and motorcycles too. Not long ago he bought a Ford Cobra convertible (and if I wanted to irritate him, all I had to do was call it a Mustang, instead of a Cobra). He proceeded to add about 150 additional horsepower to it so that it was over 500 hp in total. Crazy. It is very fast.

He wanted my mom to have a piano. We had an old upright piano, but that wasn't good enough, so they bought a Baldwin Grand Piano. I think that cost around $40K. That was about 25 years ago. My mom loves that piano. It is really too big for the house, and with 4 kids in the household it took up some significant space. The house is not that large either. We were not allowed to touch the piano, lest our greasy, oily hands corrupt the finish....

The list could continue on for a while.

Sometimes I felt like stuff mattered more than it should. I am often the same way.

I try to manage my passion for stuff, but it is difficult. I love bikes. I love it when they run smooth and you just fly on the road or the trail. I love the feel of a good shift right before I stand up to hammer up a hill out of the saddle.

I hate, Hate, HATE it when a bike is not working and I can't figure out why. Currently the Fuji had a creak that has eluded me. Either I will figure out what the creak is or the offending parts will one by one be swapped until I figure it must be the frame and if so, one way or another, it will be gone too. I am a stickler for perfection. Luckily I don't think it will come to that.

But anyway...I, like my dad, seem to need to always have something to tinker with. Something physical. Reading about stuff is not enough. It has to be something that seems to allow me to get deeper and deeper into the subject while being able to hold it in my hands. I really know a lot about bikes generally and have lots of opinions on bikes that may or may not be valid. There are some areas that I have deliberately closed off because I don't want to get involved in them right now--such as track. I just don't have time and I really don't need to be tempted to buy another bike.

But there is a dark side to toys. Sometimes they distract us from what really matters. I am not sure if my dad's toys ever really did that in a major way. I think that other things like work were a big issue in his involvement in our lives growing up. He was always working. And he worked most of the time in the hot California sun. He was gone before we were up and home around dinner time. And he was cranky when he got home. I tried to stay out of his way a lot of the time.

I am sometimes cranky too when I get home. When I get frustrated at my boys I raise me voice and there is a part of me that is sad after I do this. But, like my dad often said, "What else can I do to get you to do (fill in the blank with whatever it was that I should have been doing but wasn't)?" He yelled. I jumped. My teen years were not fun for the most part. I had anxiety whenever I returned home to see my family, even after I was married. It was a Pavlovian response. There has to be another way though. I don't want my boys to feel the same way. Bridget is pretty good about letting me know if I am being stupid. I try to listen. I think I do OK for the most part.

Bridget is gone this weekend to Black Butte Ranch for a weekend wither some of her girl friends. I have the boys to myself, with some substantial help from their grandma. They are work. The six year old is usually great, but then occasionally he goes ape for no reason and messes with the boy who will be 4 this summer. If that happens it can get ugly fast between those two. The 8 month old is crawling all over the place and likes to fall down head first just to freak me out. All in all, I am stressed, but less so now that they are all asleep right now. I can't wait until Bridget gets back....


My father is in California, we are in Oregon. He doesn't travel much. He just doesn't like to go outside his little area where he is at. He came up a couple of summers ago when I graduated law school. He was here for about 2 months. It was at times awkward, because my dad is socially uncomfortable in other's domiciles for some reason. At least at times, depending upon who's domicile it is. He and Bridget don't really see eye to eye on things and that is probably part of it. Nevertheless, he really liked hang out with my boys and watching them play. He would try and figure out what made them tick. What sorts of things they were good at and where they could use some direction. He really wants his grand kids to do well in life. He worries about them. Whenever I talk to him he asks if they are eating well, what they are doing, what they are learning.

My boys will never learn much more about my dad, at least not in the first person. He is dying. He has what I guess is a terminal type of cancer. He had some other health issues recently regarding diabetes and the cancer was overlooked. Either that or it is a very aggressive type that has moved in fast. I am not sure if it was preventable or curable at one point. It isn't now though. They told him he has 3 or 4 months to live. If he does chemo, them it could extend his life anywhere from an additional 2 months to maybe a year or so. He is not sure it is worth that if he is miserable the whole time.

He says he is not afraid of death. He said that he is ready. He also said that he wasn't sure if the finality of it has set in yet when I talked to him a couple of days ago.

During that conversation we talked about his stuff. His toys. His guitars. Lots of guitars. His guns. Lots of guns. His cars, not lots, but he has a couple and a very nice Harley Davidson. He has lots of other things too, like a 2 year old Dura Ace Specialized and a full XTR carbon Stumpjumper. Where was this stuff going to go. How to dispose of it. How to get things in order so that he was not a burden to us. Talking about the toys and stuff was easier that talking about him leaving us. Bridget doesn't understand why all we talk about is this ridiculous stuff. I think it is because it is so much easier than not talking about it. Without the stuff the conversations would be so much tougher.

I am sad, because, well I don't know why exactly--other than the obvious.

When I watch Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, I always tear up at the end. Heck I am tearing up now just thinking about it. The part where he just plays catch with his dad on the field at the end of the movie. It always gets me.

Talking about our various toys was often a way for my dad and I to talk when we really couldn't talk about much else. Even if my toys weren't his toys and vise-versa, we could appreciate the others passion for them. It was a way for us to remain in contact and gloss over the underlying issues that at least I, for one, did not want to confront between he and I. If only it were as easy as just going and playing catch....relationships between parents and children can often be hard.

As guys we often don't verbalize things well. At least I don't. Even now I have issues. After I talked to my dad the other night about the cancer, Bridget wanted to know how things were going. I told her I didn't want to talk about it. It is easier to shut the door than to sort though all that stuff. Much less painful too. Bridget likes to do just the opposite.

My dad is still around, but I am not looking forward to the next few months. I am looking forward to seeing him, but I expect it to be very bittersweet. I am sure the toys will again allow us to converse and joke during otherwise painful times. He will tell me about what he did to one of his guitars in order to tune it, or a story behind a gun in his collection. We may talk about bikes even. But, talking about losing him is going to be really really hard. I don't know what to do about that.

If you have made it this far, sorry for blabbing. But it helps me at least. I debated posting this, but I think I will leave it up for now.


Fish said...

Sorry to hear that. Hang tough.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your father now while you have him and as hard as it will be, try not to focus on the unavoidable.