From left to right, that's my Dad, Thomas MacGuire, my son, William, my mom, Carolyn Bradley, and my Grandma, Holly Bradley.
Three of them are together again now on the other side, and I keep going back and forth between being happy they are together again, and being sad for us because while they are just a thought away, it feels like a very far distance since we can't be hugged by them, hear their voices except in memory.
On December 22nd, things looked like they were improving for dad. He was in the hospital, but he was clear, coherent, focused on getting better and he was feeling pretty good. He spent the whole day with the grandson who was the light of his life, and they said I love you to each other a whole bunch of times. We also went to visit for a few hours and also said I love you to each other a few times. Then after he went to sleep, his numbers crashed, and he was gone very quickly after that. We had time to call everyone in the family so we could be there to say good bye.
This is really, really hard to write. But it's not going to get any easier is it?
Once upon a time, a social worker was followed into a bathroom at a party by the woman who ran the local Equal Rights Commission. She wasn't the sort of person who did things like that, she was a hippie from comfortable family in California, and had two kids from a previous marriage. But lots of people had tried to fix these two up on a date in the past and she was curious about him. She came to Alaska as VISTA volunteer and fell in love with the state.
He was a slight man with a beard and mustache, and smart blue eyes that flashed with laughter about everything. He had come to Alaska with his mother in 1963, Driving a lot of the highway from California himself. He was a fighter from his birth 3 months premature in 1948. He was a survivor with college degrees in a couple fields dealing with human behavior and psychology.
First, let's get one thing straight, my dad? Was a straight up outlaw. He hated authority figures, and wouldn't eat his vegetables. When I was a kid, he left that straight job. He dealt drugs, his best friends were a pimp and another criminal whose crimes I've never been sure of, but did spend time in prison. They were raucous and loud, they lived for the moment and the moments were fun and chaotic and they loved each other so much. They were utterly loyal to each other, and they watched out for Mom, me and my brother. We were a family. Mom, Dad, Uncle Paul and Uncle Merrill.
Outlaw or not, my mom had notoriously wretched taste in men. My Grandfather's reaction to Mom dating Dad was to tell her, unequivocally, that he was the best relationship she had ever been in. Even then, Dad's guiding principles were honesty, honor, loyalty and love.
Dad said that living on the edges was like living in a foxhole, you had to know who your friends were, and how much you could trust them. He could have trusted them for anything, they could rely on him the same way. But my brother and I didn't know that. We knew our family was different than most. We knew most families didn't have incredibly expensive locks, or parents who were home most of the time and still had money, we knew that most parents didn't get mad when you opened the very heavy privacy drapes in the living room or warn you that the phone might be tapped, but we didn't know WHY our family was different.
We also knew we were wanted, we were LOVED. That's important. I never knew until adulthood how important that was. My closest friends grew up in more traditional families but never had that absolute certainty they were wanted and loved. My dad went proudly to my dance recitals with my mom and uncles. If they scared the other parents, they didn't care. They were there to see me, not to impress or make friends. They paid attention to the things I wanted, the things I needed.
When Dad decided to get out of that life, Paul had moved to take care of someone who was in trouble, and Uncle Merrill was out of state I think or in prison? I don't recall which exactly. But he and mom got on methadone, and kicked their habits. It was a pretty huge transition. We went from having money to spare to being very broke. We moved out of our home into a series of apartments. But my parents were there in a way they hadn't been before. Sure, we weren't riding snow machines for fun anymore, but my parents were very consistently there. They needed to be at that point. I was getting sick a lot. Somehow we all made it through.
So, you can see by my description, that my parents were flawed. Funny, wild, unpredictable, loving and they always tried their best in their own unique ways.
Then something happened.
William was born. My darling, beautiful first born child.
My parents fell in love, and settled into a team whose first priority was that baby boy. When he was 3, I made the decision to give up my son to my parents because they loved each other so much. It seemed like the best thing for all of them. It hurt of course, but it was the best choice.
It really, really was. My parents loved him so much. They changed for him, mellowing, they weren't as wild. Mom would take walks with William to wishing wells and let him spend rolls of pennies. Dad would do anything for his boy.
When Mom died, my grandmother (her mother), told me fiercely "I know you can take William back, don't you do it. You leave him with his grandfather. You have Emily and Michael. They (William and Dad) need each other."
Dad loved Grandma like she was his own mother, and she loved him like a son. She also told him never to cut his hair and he never did. Grandma followed mom after just couple months. Dad was devastated.
The single thing that pulled him through the other side was William. William nagging him to eat, William having things to show his Papa. William's need after losing the grandma he loved so much while he was also trying to take care of his Papa.
Dad and I got very close after Mom was gone. I made the point of talking to him daily. We got to know each other a lot better. We talked about all sorts of things.
Now, to be honest, my taste in men was pretty bad too. But Dad LIKED Michael from the first time he met him. That like turned into genuine love. Dad respected Michael and Michael felt the same way about him. Michael truly fit into my nutty family like he was always supposed to be there. Even though Michael was so straight and "normal".
Back to honesty, honor, love and loyalty. See, those were never just words to Dad. they were the guiding principles of his life his whole life. If you couldn't be honest, he couldn't be your friend. If you didn't stand for something, he had no respect for you, but if he loved you, he was absolutely loyal and expected the same in return. That's the common ground that Michael and Dad had, and it was the basis for a relationship that turned into one like Dad's and Grandma's. Dad was our Dad, he loved Michael like a son.
We had such fun, we made the point of doing it. Of doing things as a family, going to museum exhibits, trick or treating with the kids together, we did a lot in the following years as the children grew.
The last month since Dad's diagnosis with cancer, to Dad dying has been really, really hard. It's had some good moments, and we have a lifetime of memories and love.
I need for everyone to understand one thing, that crazy, flawed, wild, incredibly good, generous, kind man? He was the BEST dad I could have had. His relationship with William was something so special, so wonderful. The love he gave to all of us.... he gave us the best of him, and in the last few weeks has said over and over how lucky he was to have this family. Not just a family, but this family specifically. All of us. We will miss him so much.
But we won't forget how very lucky and blessed we were to have him.
See, family isn't about blood. It's about love and commitment. He never told people I was his step-daughter. We were just all his kids.
I love you Dad. Thank you.