(For context, Jack Kevorkian, M.D. was a pathologist who was famous (or infamous) for assisting terminal patients’ death through physician-assisted suicide. He passed away in June of 2011. Okay, you knew all of that, but some people may not have. Give me a break, it’s Father’s Day.)
About 10 years ago, my wonderful, aging father fell off a ladder onto a concrete floor and shattered his hip. I still remember getting the phone call from my mother as he was being loaded into the ambulance. She was freaked; I was freaked. Immediately I jumped in my car and drove the three hours to the small community hospital on the coast of North Carolina where he had been taken.
I arrived just as my father was being wheeled out of surgery. He was surrounded by an entire medical team including the surgeon and a number of nurses. When I approached the group my father looked at me, and then turned to his surgeon and said: “Dr. Smith, I’d like you to meet my son, Dr. Kevorkian.” He was barely conscious, but still managed to infer that I was there to put him out of his misery. The entire group laughed and then he was taken off to recovery. That gives you a good feel for my father’s perverse sense of humor. (For more about my dad, I wrote a post last year on Father’s Day titled: My Dad, Johnny Appleseed & Father’s Day. That post includes some great photos from the early years of public television.)
My father has always done things for the anticipated impact on the audience. He loves to stir things up and shock people. Here’s a mild example: When I was a kid, each time my father would head off to the restroom he would pronounce to anyone within ear shot that he was going to “cast a vote for Nixon.” That’s my dad – a Republican no less. He is a character. When my parents would have parties at our house, there would inevitably come a point in the evening when my dad was ready for everyone to leave. That’s when he would go upstairs and put on his pajamas, and then return to the group with a very clear message that he was ready for bed!
Dad traveled a great deal when I was young. Meanwhile my mom was left to take care of five kids. It is funny when I look back at those days. I always loved the gifts dad would bring me – mementos from his travels. They weren’t like the gifts I bring my daughter today (T-shirts, snow globes, stuffed animals). My dad brought me swizzle sticks from his drinks of the airplane (Scotch), empty miniature liquor bottles (Dewar’s White Label) and empty cigar boxes! I loved all of it. I still have one of the cigar boxes and I consider it a treasure.
The best day I ever had with my dad was when I was 9 years old. We lived in the Virgin Islands at the time (St. Thomas). My dad was under contract with the Ford Foundation and the Government of the US Virgin Islands to establish a public television network that would serve that part of the Caribbean. On this particular day, dad took me out of school and we boarded a tug boat in the harbor of Charlotte Amalia. We then left the harbor and connected with the United States, a huge cruise ship, and guided it into port. It was an amazing day, not because of the tug boat or the cruise ship, but because my dad set aside the time for me.
My dad and mom now live in Pensacola, Florida, and are doing great as they explore life after 80. They are wonderful people and I am grateful to have them as my parents. Happy Father’s Day!