“Your laughter is interfering with my degrading shame”

If I had a thousand years and spoke as many languages I couldn’t begin to express my gratefulness for the messages of condolences so many of you sent me after learning that my father died. I feel my father read and was moved by them all. Each and every one of those messages also somehow served to narrow the space for me between this realm where we are all yet, and that other, brighter realm where he now dwells.

So thank you for that. To say the least.

Now I’m parentless! About two years ago I found out my mom had already been dead for five years. (I hadn’t talked to her since I was maybe twenty.) And now my dad’s gone.

I’m fifty-five, though. That’s about the age stuff like this starts happening. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve honestly been waiting for my dad to die since I was ten, the age I was when he had his first massive heart attack. It knocked him to the ground like he’d been smacked by a wrecking ball. I remember the first time I saw him in the hospital after they’d done the surgery on him where they replaced a valve in his heart with a valve from (wait for it … ) a pig’s heart. It was shocking how frail and thin he looked. I had only ever known him as a giant who dominated every room he was in. He was six-foot-four, extremely athletic, too good-looking for his own good, had a voice like buttered thunder, was startlingly articulate, and had that weird charisma thing that made people so instantly like him that … well, that he made a fortune as a salesman, for one.

And then there he was, sunk down amongst the sheets of his bed like a scarecrow someone forgot to finish stuffing.

Anyway. That happened. And that was some five heart attacks ago. None of them ever even slowed the man down.

Intense couple of weeks for your truly! As you may know via the last post I put up before the one about my dad passing (Big book business beckons), I just spent three months cracking my You Know Whats to meet a book deadline of January 22. My father died on January 13.

The book on which I’m collaborating is the memoir of a person who has led a life I wouldn’t wish on anyone. We’re writing the book as “narrative non-fiction,” meaning in the style of a novel. For three weeks before the deadline I slept in two three-hour intervals for every twenty-four hours. And that was fine. My wife Catherine is home now, and she took care of everything else, leaving me free to dive into and live this book, which knit itself together in a most satisfying way.

Weird time to have my dad die. But, you know. God. Whattaya gonna do?

I made the deadline (50,000 words, a comprehensive proposal, and a full outline summarizing each of the book’s 21 chapters, thangyaverymuch). Then I shut down.

For the past week all I’ve done, writing-wise, is diddle around a bit on my Facebook page, where I made and published four of those FB poster things. (If you go over there to see those posters, please “Like” my page if you haven’t already. This would be an ideal time to fool publishers into thinking I’m popular. Thanks!)

The second half of the book–another 50,000 or so words–is due March 15.

Right now I’m playing host to a sore throat that feels like I swallowed a hot branding iron.

Speaking of which, I went with Pastor Bob to see Tarantino’s Django. DeCaprio is amazing. Otherwise not so much with the worth seeing. Unless you love violence. Then definitely go.

My dad used to take me to movies all the time. And he took me to good movies, too—stuff a 60’s-era boy wanted to see. James Bond. In Life Flint. All three of Eastwood’s “spaghetti Westerns.One Million Years B.C. Cat Ballou. The Dirty DozenPretty much anything with Angie Dickinson in it.

One time he and I were sitting in the movies when a lady in the film started unbuttoning her shirt. Without taking his eyes off the screen my dad really slowly moved his hand up and over until it came to hover in the air about one inch from my face, completely blacking out everything in the universe. I thought it one of the funniest things that had ever happened. Keeping his hand right where it was, he leaned over and whispered, “Stop laughing. It’s interfering with my degrading shame.”

I laughed so hard I honestly thought I might die.

"to show how out of touch with reality nicky is....that 'baby' is an adult. Which ..."

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  • Delightful story. I know he’s enjoying his everafter! You may not feel so parentless after the healing begins. I feel a peaceful presence from mine every so often. 🙂

  • Amos Jessup via Facebook

    What a mensch he was, your old man, to make such a funny, deep comment. I see where you get it from!

  • Beth Glover via Facebook

    condolences on the loss of your dad. His memory will stay with you always, and you’ll see, sometimes you’ll feel like he’s right there with you. Blessings.

  • James

    It’s good that you have such wonderful, loving memories of your dad. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, John.

  • Anne

    It’s good to see you back at it, John. I’ve been praying for you and thinking of you a LOT.

    I have a similar story. When I was 9 years old, my mom took me to a Dr. appt and decided to make a day of it. We went shopping where I picked out a pair of red, patent leather MaryJane-type shoes (back in the day when kids had only one pair), went to lunch and then to the movie. We saw “The Way We Were”. When the skin-baring part of the movie started, mom made me look down at my shoes. I can still transport myself to that place and feel myself looking at my new shoes while the lights of the movie flickered around me, the smell of movie popcorn in the air.

    Thanks for the memory.

  • Valerie

    What a wonderful memory to have of your dad. Mine will always be a camping trip in CO where I couldn’t sleep and went out of the tent with a lantern and a book so I wouldn’t disturb anyone when my dad said. “If you see any bears, run the other way.” Then he proceeded to laugh for the next 30 to 45 minutes. He thought it was outrageously funny. The rest of us were laughing at him for laughing so hard at himself. He is still with us but still one of my favorite memories! I will probably tell it at his funeral along with the 23rd Psalm that he made me memorize when I was 12 for just that purpose. That is another of my favorite memories LOL he was sick, not dying but sick, and laid in bed for a week telling my mom he was dying and making me memorize the 23rd Psalm and mom telling me to just humor him. 🙂

    Peace be with you and Blessings for the future.

  • I remember my parents taking me to the drive in to see Grease and making me lay down in the back seat so I would go to sleep and I peeked through the front seats to watch! LOL

  • Lorie McGraw via Facebook

    A wonderful tribute to your dad. Please keep thinking great thoughts about him.

  • Shannon Bass via Facebook

    Much love John!

  • How funny! Have you given consideration to compiling amusing stories about your father into a book? So many people stand to benefit from amusing wisdom such as that. How to raise an amazing child, less yelling and more witty loving humor.

  • Donald Rappe

    Welcome back! I’m glad I no longer have to feel sorry for Cat needing to support you. Your Dad would be proud, if, unable to admit it.

  • Rebecca Johnson Lucas via Facebook

    Still making the world smile as we go ’round. Love to you John

  • OH! OH! OH!

    i have a funny dead dad story:

    short back story: when i had my 2ed son i almost died. for reals. i was in the ICU for 3 days. got 7 units of blood. it sucked.

    anyway, 5 years later i got preggers. it was so unexpected that i did not know till i was nearly 8 and half weeks along. the hub one night said out of the blue “damn gurl, didja get a boob job and not tell me?” so off i went to the 99c store, got like 6 pee sticks and all of them were pink. Holy Mother of Santa.

    the next day i went to my doc who said “Holy Mother Santa”, i want you to have an ultra sound RIGHT NOW.. i was fine….little baby sack right where it should be.

    we only told my BFF and my Sister.

    the next week we got another test to make sure the baby was healthy (i was 43) and she was. and it was a she!

    that was when we got the courage to tell my mom who, for the recorded was a bat shit crazy narcissistic bitch. to whit: when i was in ICU after Colin was born she came into the ICU and YELLED yes YELLED in all caps. “DO NOT EVER DO THIS TO ME AGAIN!” i have eye wittiness. yup that was Bonnie in a nutshell. good times.

    knowing that bonnie would most likely shit a brick, a kitten and maybe even a unicorn. i was understandably freaking the fuck out. the night i called my dad answered the phone. he had cancer and was on hospice, but still feeling ok and getting around and stuff though, we did take a way his car keys ( another story not a funny one).

    this is how the conversion went:

    me: “hi daddy. i am pregnant. i am fine. the baby is fine i am 10 weeks along and its a girl.”

    daddy (with out missing a beat) “want me to tell your mother? she cant hit a dying man”.

    he was a fucking hero.

    and yes she was pissed off.

    daddy never got to meet Salem Ysabell. he died 3 months before she was born. one day i was feeling so so sad about that. he and my mom both were shit parents. but loved LOVED being grandparents and were good at it!

    one of my very good friends said to me that daddy held and knew her long before any of us did.

    that gave me such peace and still does.

    the end

  • Jill

    You are just such a wonderful blessing to my life. That’s all I’ve got to say.

  • Ken Danielson via Facebook

    John, you are an amazing guy. Thanks for sharing and letting us feel your spirit.

  • Cat Rennolds

    My dad in the hospital the last time, telling the poor little respiratory therapist, “Go away! Can’t you see I’m trying to die here?” In our family it’s traditional to tell bad jokes at wakes in between visitors we have to be sad in front of.

  • Christy

    I love this. So very much.

  • Christy

    Not the dying and the sore throat part.

  • That is so true about each and every message of condolence narrowing the space between the love one and you… at least it was true for me too…. Peace..

  • Keep up the good work! God Bless!

  • Dennis Dawson

    My father died last Saturday. Hale and hearty last time I saw him about 5 years ago. He had trouble breathing Thursday night, had a heart attack in the ambulance, took him off life support Saturday morning, he died 10 minutes later.

    About a decade ago we had “the talk,” where we said we loved each other, we were proud of each other, etc., so there was no baggage, nothing left unsaid.

    The sad thing is that I’m not sadder. But death is part of life, and a good death is reward for having lived a good life. I might change my mind when it’s my turn.


  • Mindy

    Sorry about the sore throat, but the rest of it – yay. Such a classically wonderful memory, and sounds like the book is cooking along beautifully. We’re so damned lucky to have you . . .

  • Richard Lubbers

    He loved you, John. That is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.

  • Matt

    You and I must have very similar dads. My dad had lots of heart attacks too. Eight, to be exact. Starting from before I was born to when I was about 15. Aortic aneurysm too, blood clots in his legs, quintuple coronary bypass, countless complications. Eventually, I would get pretty tired of waiting for him to die, although he is (thankfully) still alive.

    But damn do I love that brilliant, funny, kind, intense guy! Also drop-dead gorgeous. Seriously, I am almost disturbed by how good-looking my dad still is at 64. A good omen for me, of course, but still!

    I’m so glad you got to say a proper goodbye to your dad. You’ve done so much for others, and I have a feeling he did the same in his life. Write some more, and take care of yourself.

  • Jill


  • n.

    was kind of speechless in awe how you could nil-nisi-bonum and all that since all i knew of your dad was the “always trying to kill you” sort of blog posts previously. or maybe i missed something. but i guess over all it makes sense, because nobody is only one thing…

    my mum was always some combination of amazing, fascinating, and difficult… but was completely psychologically abusive towards the end of her life and i had to non contact her basically to be able to breathe inside my mind. and so when she died this past summer there was no chance to make a closure and it might not even have happened if we had tried and so i don’t know i guess your actual peace about your father is kind of enviable. really glad that it was able to work out that way for you.

  • Allie

    Love “buttered thunder.”

    Congrats on meeting your deadline. I don’t know how you work, but for me, finishing a book always feels like emerging from a jungle…

    Your dad had great taste in movies!

  • Thanks, Allie. But we’ve only finished half the book; the rest is due on March 15.

  • K.E.

    Congrats on meeting your deadline, even with everything that has happened with your father’s passing. I read this blog a lot but don’t comment as often as I did before, the past several months after the death of my little sister have left me with less energy for involvement with life in general. I’m healing, though, and things are getting slowly better with time. The memory about your father is so funny – hold onto things like that. Those memories of my sister are some of the only things that keep me afloat sometimes.

  • D

    My condolences on your loss.

  • patty Smith

    sorry, just readying this months after your deadline….I have to know if you made the deadline!!! let me know, ok? I will be waiting…