July 13 is my father’s birthday. He would have been 100 years old today. He wanted to live to 120, although I’m not sure how he arrived at that number. Maurice Meredith was a man of many talents, tremendous intellect and a good heaping portion of compassion. Add to that a keen sense of observation concerning the world and people in it, and you have the beginning of a description of a man who was complex and charming, sometimes irritating and never boring.
My dad passed on from this world in 1997 at the age of 88. Like so much of his life, he did it on his terms. Not a man to visit doctors or dwell on physical ailments (not that he had many of them), he seems to have known that this life was pushing him into the next as he got out of his bed that morning, as he went to his favorite chair to sit and go through the process of dying. It’s a hard word to use.
I was living in the same house with my parents at that time, and expected to find him up and sipping coffee or reading. Not this time, though. He was, literally, breathing his last breaths on this earth. Later on I recalled it, and the picture in my mind was that of an old car chugging the last mile before it completely broke down. Since dad spent a lot of years as a “home” mechanic, fixing all of the second hand cars that he loved to bring home, it was an appropriate image of his last grasp at life.
He knew what was happening, and so, being very consistent with his care of my mother and of me, he didn’t wake anyone up or provoke any action on his behalf. He knew what was at hand, and he handled it. He always did that. He took care of things.
My father taught me a lot of things through our time together. He was a child at heart who had a great sense of responsibility. It seems like an odd combination, but he never faltered in his duties nor did he flag in enthusiasm for all of the fun things in life. He preferred fantasy over reality, laughter over drama. In every aspect of my life he encouraged me to reach for something beyond the mundane. Although I can’t say he made me reach for great success in life (he being under accomplished in so many ways, considering his many abilities), he did help me to have a sense of contentment. At this juncture in life, I’m glad for that. Contentment is worth a great deal.
Dad valued debate and, to a degree, competition. At an early age I could hold my own in a political conversation, thanks to his free flowing commentary on practically everything. Dad was right, and I knew it. I gladly adopted most of his viewpoints on current issues, history and, to a lesser extent, popular music. That bond suffered greatly when the Beatles came on the scene. His music was that of Glenn Miller and the swing years. His guitar choices were Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Admittedly, my favorite Beatle was George because he could sort of play like those guys. I definitely wanted my father’s approval.
Baseball was his game, and I spent much of my youth sitting by his old radio and listening to Angels’ baseball games with him. My brother is eleven years older than I am, so for years I had a lot of undivided attention after he had left home. I was never a daddy’s girl, because he didn’t make me that. We were on a level playing field most of the time. He validated me as a thinking, creative individual before it was a trend to try and do so. He was, quite simply, ahead of his time while still a member of his own generation. He was liberated in his thinking because he never tried to think like anyone else. He was a libertarian in his thinking before they had a party and ruined it all.
Dad’s legacy is part of many people’s lives. My friends could sit at length and talk with him, trading insights and listening at great lengths. He would spontaneously sit down and play a tune on his guitar, sometimes singing or expecting others to join in. He liked to talk about infinity, and things that I now recognize as facets of quantum physics. He was intent on the idea of the “multiverse” years before I ever heard anyone else refer to them. It became an obsession of his that, in retrospect, I wish I had listened to with more care.
My father did the unexpected for most of his life. And, at the end, when my mother’s health was our concern and he was slowing down but not in ill health, he surprised us yet again. He left us.
I’m so glad that I had years and years with him. I still miss him. But, I have much of him in my life everyday. The cedar chest he made for me stands at the foot of my bed. His old Argus camera is on a shelf. There is a portrait he took of my mother and me when I was an infant, and it hangs in my bedroom.
Most of all, the spirit of the man lives on and his advice carries me through many days. The most important thing he said was a qualification for how to live my life: “As long as you know you’ve done the right thing”.
I’m working on it. Thanks Dad.