I know the title is odd, but stick with me, there’s a happy ending. Gerald Knowles Hochwender, born August 14, 1928, he took his last breath in this world on November 8, 2016. He grew up during the great depression, the son of gruff working man, one of three brothers. He wasn’t an educated man yet he was very intelligent. He served his country, drafted into the Army during the Koren Conflict. He was also an entrepreneur, starting a number of businesses. Now you have the backdrop of the world that shaped my father.
He was in his 40’s by the time I came along. My older siblings told me stories of his drinking days. They recalled passing the neighborhood bar and saying to our mom “that’s where dad lives”! I also heard their stories about his temper, he was especially abusive to my two older brothers. By the time I was at an age where I started retaining memories, the drinking and abuse were largely gone. I have no personal memories of these less than pleasant attributes. What I do remember, wasn’t violent, it was well, nothing. Let me explain what I mean by that.
By the time my brother and I came along, my Dad was older and more subdued. Along with his age came a lack of desire to do traditional dad stuff. He never showed me how to throw a baseball or football. He never took me camping or fishing. I could go on for pages about the things he didn’t do. Frankly, this impacted me and I was very resentful of his lack of engagement…but that eventually changed. This is the “nothing” I speak of.
When my Mom passed away and my Dad was all alone, I felt obligated to visit and help take care of him. Yes, I said obligated, like paying taxes or serving jury duty. I had to force myself to visit, I dreaded that drive from Omaha to Sioux City. What seemed like overnight, Alzheimer’s began to methodically erase the existence of my father. The reality, this disease started it’s battle against my Father years before, I simply didn’t recognize it.
As this disease stole my father’s memory, his ability to walk and even talk, it also revealed something to me. As it stripped away the gruff, unengaged father, it left something beautiful behind. Towards the end, my Dad would hold my hand and even though he struggled to find words he would say “I love you”. It was the most genuine display of love and caring I’d ever received from him. At that moment, it all became clear. I realized that when I was growing up, my dad was simply working with what he had learned and been shown growing up. He grew up in an era of practicality, hell, kids worked when he was little. It was NEVER the fact that he didn’t love me. He showed his love by providing for me and my siblings. When Alzheimer’s had erased the gruff, rough exterior, it revealed to me the love that was always there. Just because we’re not receiving love as we feel it should be given, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
This is my first Father’s day without you Dad and it hurts. I still cry when I think of not having you here. You missed your Grandson joining the Navy. You’ll miss his wedding. You missed you Granddaughter graduating high school. The truth, I am missing sharing the joy of my life with you and Mom. I’m writing this today as I don’t think I could handle writing it on Father’s day. I’ll always love you Dad, just how I know you always loved me.