Monday, February 18, 2013

My Dad

My Daddy passed away last week. It was a shock, as he wasn't sick Per Ce, just generally not in good health. He was 74, so no one really expected for him to die.
I was working on location at the far outskirts of New Zealand, where there is no cellphone coverage, so I didn't get a voicemail from my Mom telling me about it until 24 hours later, when I landed in Auckland...

Dad lived a life full of ups and downs, from great hardships to great comfort. There is no way to describe him in a just a few words-he was immensely complex person, full of contradictions and he also evolved throughout his life and became completely different person towards the end, one no one recognised anymore.

I loved my Daddy very much.
He was the one to take care of me in my very first days,weeks and months after I was born: Mom's professional athlete career took off before my Dad's did, so she had me and went straight back to training/competitions/travelling three weeks later.
It was up to Dad to give me the nurture, and he did it with never ending patience and love.
Even in those first 3 weeks my Mom couldn't bring herself to wake up to feed me, so it was my Dad who got up when I started crying and held me to my Mom's breast (and held her up, so she won't suffocate me, as she kept falling back asleep).
It was Dad who went into the local clinic to get the natural breast milk for me when it was discovered (about 4 days after my birth) that my Mom's was too thin to keep me nurtured (back in those days there were no Formula available in Russia-women with excess breast milk collected it in bottles and delivered to local clinic, where it was given away for free to those who needed it).

I vaguely remember some of the long walks my Dad took me on when I was a toddler-this probably how my love of walking started.

As I gotten a bit older, my Dad's career took off as well-he became a member of Soviet National Team in Yachting (he competed successfully for over a decade and then was appointed a Chief Coach of that same National Team in class "Soling").

My parents were on the road most of the time, and even when they were in town, they had training sessions all day and late into the night, so I was brought up by my grandparents.
I would visit my parents from Sat afternoon until Sun afternoon (Russian schools and Unis had 6-day week back then) when they were in town.

Still, Dad spent as much time as he could with me. I think it was him who gave a "travel bug"-he used to take me with him to different cities where he was training every school holiday-from about age 8:).
Those trips taught me how to be self-sufficient and responsible: I was left to my own devices in a hotel room at about 9am until about 6pm or so.
I was given the keys and Dad asked the hotel stuff to keep an eye on me and paid for my meals, so I learned how to order in a restaurant very early.
I had a blast on those trips: I took walks around town and on the beach (I was given very strict instructions as to how far I was to venture and taught about strangers).
I was given a little pocket money as well, so I discovered shopping (and looking for bargains :).

When I got older yet, it became clear to me that school subjects like physics, algebra and geometry just weren't my cup of tea.
I excelled at history,literature and composition (and did so effortlessly), but those other "scientific" things just drove me crazy.
My Mom was always extremely strict-she was a disciplinarian-and she demanded nothing but perfect grades in EVERYTHING from me. It wasn't a request or suggestion (probably stemmed from the fact that she barely made it through school herself and wanted to see me succeed).

I am one of those people who needs to picture things in their mind to understand them. Well, in physics, for example, I was fine until 5th grade, when we started on electricity and magnetic waves.
I just couldn't wrap my head around it-I couldn't picture the process.
Dad helped me ever so patiently. He drew things, he even was creating little waves in a bathtub with a spatula to help me visualise it.

Dad always tried to soften the edges for me when my Mom went OTT with discipline,demands and restrictions.

We became very close, Dad and I by the time I reached my teens and confided some serious secrets to each other (like him having another daughter in a different city from a woman he had a long-running affair with).

By then Mom's career was long over and Dad's was running full-speed ahead.
He coached and brought to victory a few Olympic and World Champions. He was making seriously good money.

I left for the States when I graduated from the Uni and my parents would visit me once a year for about a month there.
They helped me significantly with the down payment for my house (it was Dad's money) and I am still very grateful, as that was truly a foundation for my financial security at present point.

Dad was there for my wedding with a horrible husband number three. I remember sitting in the apartment with him, waiting for the limo, NOT feeling like marrying...
Dad could always tell. He said quietly "You don't have to go through with this. Don't worry about the money or anything else. I'll handle everything-just tell me"... Sadly and regrettably, I did go through with the wedding.

Dad was there for me when Bob (that same horrible husband) went after me with a fireplace poker and a gun. He flew from Russia straight away (after I've told him on the phone what's happened) and had a sit-down with Bob.
Dad's English wasn't great, but he made himself very clear. He told Bob "If you EVER lay a finger on my daughter again, I will cut your nuts off, shove them down your throat and watch you choke slowly until you die". Bob got the message. He never attempted violence with me again.

Some years later, dad came to live with me in Las Vegas. The plan was for him to settle and for my Mom to join later- it didn't work out like that, but dad did live with me for 4 years.

Dad was fine for the first year or so and then the decline started. First, he had a somewhat serious problem with his eyesight, then he had a massive heart attack.

He was refusing to go to the hospital for the first 12 hours of heart attack, so when I finally talked him into it, they took him straight into operating room: three out of four of his arteries were completely blocked.
Dad spoke very little English, so in un-orthodox move surgeon directed me to stand by operating table to translate (they don't put you "under" during that procedure: rather, they fill your body with die and then insert shunts through the artery in attempt to push the clot through. During this it is imperative that your reply to surgeon's questions, as many die on the table from this procedure).
I was given a lead apron and stood by. Die makes you very cold and Dad was shaking so badly, I thought he might fall off the table.
Dad kept saying "Tell them to stop, I can't take it anymore" and surgeon demanded translation. He then replied "Tell him I am saving his life".

Surgery was a success. I am forever grateful to doctors and nurses, who stayed to finish the procedure,as it lasted for over 2 hours and their shift was over-they could just as easily let another team take over, but they wanted to get the job done.
Special "Thank you" to the night nurse, who kept her cool and stayed calm, when she was changing the bandage and the blood starting literally pouring out of my Dad (he could bled to death in under 4 min).
She pressed her hands on the wound and put all her body weight on it and kept softly calling the other nurse (as to not alarm my Dad) until someone heard her and help arrived.

Dad recovered and shortly after that he went back to Russia permanently, as he received a job offer.
He told me he missed Russia and felt disenfranchised in America.

But his heart wasn't really into it. Years of harsh and stressful environment (when he was sailing and then coaching) took their toll.
My Dad had a stomach ulcer (perforated), liver problems, high blood pressure, 5 heart attacks (the last, massive one I was talking about above) and various other health issues.
He also smoked from the age 16 (during his tenure in Olympic Team as many as 2 packs a day) and drank (not heavily, but quite a bit in younger days).
Dad's Mom (my "good" grandma) died relatively young (aged 64) and I think Dad was becoming afraid of mortality.
He took a lot of various different medications for all of his health issues.
He was becoming hard to deal with, not friendly and exceedingly refusing to do any kind of work.
Few of his friends from older days adapted to the new economy and were successful and they tried to help Dad with a job, but one by one they gave up. All told my Mom that Dad is intolerable.

Dad had two strokes in rapid succession (inside 1 week) 5 years ago. He was away on business in a hotel when it happened and, effectively, it was the end of the person we all knew and loved.
I've talked to a few doctors about this and they all tell me the same thing: it is very common for personality to change drastically after a stroke. Very small percentage of people suddenly gain skills they've never had before (like ability to paint at master level or speak a foreign language), but mostly people deteriorate.
Dad became what I can only describe as a "mean fuck".
He used to be this kind, thoughtful, patient, loving, caring, generous,forgiving person... There was not a trace of it left.
He now was horrible to my Mom and my (now deceased) Grandpa. He hoarded his money and refused to give any of it to my Mom, while having her maintain the apartment, pay the bills, buy food and everything else and cook the meals.
He would spend his days laying in his bed, sleeping and watching TV and refused to do anything.
A couple of times my Mom tried to get him to work at least a little bit (day security in a building, for instance), but soon the manager (who was Mom's friend) begged her to take him away, as he constantly got into nasty verbal arguments with everyone...
He would pick fights with Mom and Grandpa and said some truly awful things to them.
He went after Mom with a knife on more than one occasion...
He made my Mom's life a miserable hell: she told me she dreaded coming home because of him.

Last Thursday night my Mom woke up because she heard my Dad calling her name (they slept in separate bedrooms).
She rushed over and found him clammy and sweaty, struggling to breath. He was clearly terrified.
He begged"I am sorry, I am sorry. Please forgive me! Just help me,please! Save me!"
Mom tried everything she could to comfort him while she waited for the ambulance to arrive.
The medic couldn't even get a vein to give Dad a shot. He softly told my Mom "He is dying".
Shortly after my Dad's eyes  glazed over and his mouth foamed. He was gone.

I am religious. I do believe in trying to live one's life as best as we can. Treat others as you want to be treated yourself.
No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, sometimes not meaning to.
I believe the punishment for our sins is meted out in THIS life in accordance with the deeds.
In my religion, we believe in kind and benevolent God. We believe that in the end we are all forgiven.

Dad was not a terrible person all his life. He became one in the last few years.
Some of it was not his fault, but, in saying that, he never lost  perception of reality. His mind was clear-he wasn't senile. He knew right from wrong. He could have at least try to rein himself in and make amends. He chose not to.

And so with his death he was spared another decade or so of misery (and so was my Mom), but he did suffer (if only for an hour or so).
He did not die peacefully, but in great fear.

In a way, I am glad I avoided going back to Russia to visit my parents in these last few years. If I did, things would have gotten ugly and God only knows what words would be exchanged, forever lingering in my memory as the last thing said...
As it stands, last time I spoke to my Dad a few month ago (on the phone), it was nice and pleasant: we discussed world economical situation, he gave me some advice regarding my properties in Las Vegas (and I chose to pacify him by accepting it rather than arguing), we said that we loved and missed each other. That's what will forever remain as my last memory of my Dad.

I am very grateful to my lovely and thoughtful friend Helen in Melbourne who kindly offered to order a service for my dad in the Russian Orthodox Church there.

I have arranged for the service here, in Auckland and another friend of the family is doing the same in Moscow.
My Dad had time to repent before he passed (however briefly), so with our joint prayer I know he will be forgiven and will finally find peace.

I love you,Daddy.