When my dad, George Andersen, passed away in July of 1999 I had no idea that the previous Father's day would be his last. If I had I am sure I would have given him more than just a card. My wife was right around three months pregnant with our son when dad passed away.
My dad and I had a rocky relationship. The rocky part of our relationship started when he lost his job due to his union being busted and me becoming a teenager. My dad had just lost his job of 35 years and being from a generation where sharing feelings was a sign of weakness he turned to alcohol. During this same time I was dealing with being bullied in school. He lost his job, I had nowhere to turn. So I took my aggression out on him and he took his anger out on me.
One memory of this time sticks out - my mom sent me down to the neighborhood bar to bring my dad home. When I got there he was bombed. He had to lean on me to walk home. That was the longest two block walk of my life - and then just a half block from home I see her walking towards us. The girl I had a crush on - in my teenage mind this was the worst moment of my young life. Me hauling my drunk father home from a bar and the girl I had almost worked up the courage to ask out. She looked at us, put her head down and walked past. My heart sunk and I wanted to crawl into a pothole and pull the world over the top of me.
Now, I was no saint during this time. I stayed out late. I would argue with both my mom and dad at the drop of a hat. I would demand things like I was some sort of privileged brat...like my class ring. To this day I feel guilty over this - I desperately wanted a class ring. My dad was unemployed, my mom was earning what little money we had by making wedding cakes and working part-time at a baking supply store. At the time I did not know how poor my family was or just how much trouble my parents were in financially. I wanted a class ring and dammit, I was going to get one. Needless to say I was a little tyrannical asshole about it. Somehow, my parents scrapped together enough money for me to get a class ring. I do not know how they did it or where the money came from. If I could go back in time and change one thing - that would be the one thing I would change.
By the summer just before my Junior year in high school dad had stopped drinking - but the rift between us was growing wider and wider. At this point my dad had received a settlement from his employer and was working part-time. Things were getting better. That summer my dad was re-roofing the house. I came home drunk for the first and last time. When my friend dropped me off at home at two in the morning I saw the living room light on. I hoped that my parents just left a light on for me. I opened the front door and there was my dad - sitting in his recliner. I thought I was a dead man. All he said was, "Go to bed."
The next morning, or three hours later...I was awoken to very loud pounding on my bedroom door with my dad yelling for me to get out of bed. I went back to sleep...I then found myself on the bedroom floor and being told to get up and get dressed. There was work to do. He took me to a greasy spoon over on Northport Drive for breakfast, he said nothing except that I had better eat everything on my plate because I would need the energy. Next stop was a Fish Building Supply where he picked up five square of shingles, two rolls of tar paper and a fifty pound box of 1 1/4" roofing nails. He would not let anyone in the lumberyard put any of this in the car, I had to load it. From there we went home where I found out I would be putting a new roof on the garage with dad that day...hungover, in August in Wisconsin. It was 95 and humid that day. I never came home drunk again, even when I was in the Army and home on leave I would not come home drunk.
After high school I went into the Army. While I went in because I there were no jobs and really no future for me in Madison that could see, I also felt like it was a chance to escape, to get away from home. While waiting for the Greyhound to pick me up across from the recruiting station my dad said, "You'll never make it through basic training." Just to prove him wrong I did make it through basic training, AIT, and then for good measure, when assigned to the 101st Airborne, The Air Assault School just to prove him wrong.
While I was in the Army dad and I started to mend fences. The distance helped, I was in Germany and he was in Wisconsin. It was harder to argue when you knew that a five minute phone call was going to cost close to fifty bucks. After I came home from Germany and was leaving home for Fort Campbell I remember looking in the rear view mirror of my car and watching my dad standing in the middle of the road waving as a drove away.
Over the years my dad and I had our ups and downs. He had his health issues, two strokes, which at times took us further apart and brought us closer together. There was a lot of bad blood between us that was hard to set aside.
Looking back through the sands of time I realize that my dad was a pretty good guy caught up in some very bad circumstances. He was a WWII vet, worked pretty much his entire working life for one employer. Only to have everything taken away from him by a greedy union busting bastard. I loved my dad and he loved me I just wish we would have had some better times to show it.
The day we went to my parents house to tell them that we were having a baby my dad somehow knew. As we opened the door to the house he blurted out, "Diane is pregnant!" A month later we would find ourselves in Meriter Hospital's intermediate care unit, my dad struggling to breathe due to congestive heart failure. I was not even planning on going to go to the hospital that day, but on my way to work something told me to turn around and go to see him. I spent the day in the hospital with my dad - watching him sleep, not realizing that his life was slipping away. That evening my wife and I had to go sign some papers so that she could get a new car. As we left the hospital room my dad spoke the last words I would ever hear him speak, "Mark, I am sorry I can't go with you to help you buy a new car." I said, "Dad, it's okay, you need to rest."
At three in the morning on July 16th, 1999 I received the call that my dad, George Andersen, was gone.
On January 19th, 2000 Everett George Andersen was born. He never got to meet his grandfather.