It was sudden and not-so-sudden. When I saw him four months ago, he was cheerful and pretty sprightly -- for a man who drank a gallon of sweet coffee every day, smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, drank at least 6 beers a day, and sometimes ate not one bit of actual food during a day's time.
Then, two weeks ago, his body surrendered, shutting almost completely down from the decades of torture. My brother and I had been haranguing him for quite some time to change his habits and aim for a lifespan of 90 years. He didn't. He was obstinate and stubborn, as many of you know. He died at 68 young years. He spent two weeks in and out of hospitals. Got care-flighted once. Was on machines and morphine. His body expelled things that no person would want to see, though my brother, Mike, cleaned it up in the middle of the night at his Texas home, off and on for those two weeks. My father planned and lived for retirement. He got one year of it.
In Georgia, I'd been getting the daily updates on the "black tar" that came from his body. I was stunned to hear that my once-mighty father was succumbing so mind-numbingly fast to the inevitable. The doctors said his liver was 92% gone. His gall bladder was gone. His heart was barely able to beat and occasionally stopped. He had two malignant tumors on his lungs. His intestines were a mangled clump of infestation.
Perhaps any other person of lesser willpower would've slowly succumbed. Not Jerry Franklin Elmore. My father. He was a rather small but imposing man in my early years. The "Fifties" father -- remote, authoritarian, occasionally loving, domineering, chauvinistic, hard-working, non-communicative. He softened over the years, as much as such a man could. He never wrote, hardly ever called until two years ago, when he began to call every other week to catch up. He told countless jokes, none of them funny. His delivery was awful, and that was funny.
He was a wilderness man, a 19th century Davy Crockett with an edge. He had a wry gleam in his eye and could be charismatic, gentle and teary when talking to Mike and I in these last few years. He kissed us on the cheek whenever we parted. I would sometimes cry a bit when he did so.
Like many such men, mortality made visits and was the only thing that could get his full attention. On those occasions, his vulnerability was stark, and my sympathy was strong. Mike and I kissed my dad on the cheek each night before bed until we were 10 years old. I don't know how that started, but we liked that one soft physical contact. He had a tenderness that only those very close to him saw, but he let nobody near his center. I don't know if he ever really knew where his center was. His dad was often a brute and physically punitive, as many fathers were back then. My dad never recovered from that treatment. Mike says that when my dad was in a dreamy stupor in the wee hours a few days before he died, my dad gazed at Mike and said, "Daddy, will you take me fishing? Why won't you go fishing with me, daddy?" Mike balled, as I did when he told me the story.
I was asleep in a hotel during a business trip in New York City when my dad died. I got Mike's message when I woke up. I knew what the message would be when I saw that he had called. I didn't cry then. I did when I called Mike to talk about our father and reminisce. I found that it was mainly the good things about him that came to mind during all those years of acquaintance: that broad smile, the shoulder-raising chuckle, the bad jokes, the cheek-kisses, the bawdy talk, the occasional vulnerability.
I will miss him. I wish I could miss him more. I wish he could've been like Mike and I are now. Open men who are easy with our children, loving, affectionate, empathetic, rightly confident. Mike and I are the elder statesmen now. We will be and are better examples for our children.
I will call my dad "daddy" for a moment, as I did when I was very young, so that I may remember that feeling of family and bond and extraordinary youth and vigor. I will let my mind sweep through the years and think of time's lapse and the blink of 40 years. Time moves on, and he has moved on. I will never feel his warm cheek again or see the glint in the eye. Our relationship has ended. He will never see Livy again, and I will soon tell her that her Grandpa Jericho is dead. She will ask why, and I will explain. And the memories will return, and the thought of my daddy dead and alone in a hospital morgue will revisit me.
I am sobbing now. And so, goodbye daddy.