died this Monday morning. Mom just called to tell me.
Dad and Dennis used to go out for lunch once a week. Before Dad became all parkinsonian and disabled, they would go play golf. Sometimes when i was home visiting, i would have coffee with Dad and Dennis. We would sit in the dining room of the condo complex where Mom and Dad lived, and Dennis and Dad would trade monosyllables, but mostly just sit quiet for about an hour. Seemed longer. Then Dennis would pick up his cell phone and call someone. “yea” he’d say, “You gonna be there?” and he’d grunt and say, “see ya in half an hour”. Then he would get up and say “Okay John, I’ll see you later”.
Dad would respond, “Yep, Dennis. We’ll see you”.
Dennis took Dad to his store in Stettler. Dad loved to drive, then when he could no longer drive, he loved to go for drives. Dennis took Dad out for lunch long after it was easy to get Dad out and about.
Dad died in June, 2005. Dennis didn’t go to his funeral. Dennis doesn’t do funerals. He’s not even gonna go to his own. But the next day, he came to the door of Mom and Dad’s apartment, and when Mom opened the door, Dennis just opened his arms to her. When they separated from that uncharacteristic embrace, Mom asked Dennis if he’d like coffee and we all sat at the table together.
“Goddammit!” said Dennis, crying, “I miss him so much. I could talk to John about anything!”
I thought, “how?” I guess men are like that. Men of a certain age, perhaps. And class. They stare at each other, and smile and sip coffee, and tug on the brims of their ball caps. As they get older, they become tender with one another. Like Dennis, helping Dad up into his truck, fastening the seatbelt and closing the door for him. Small intimacies.
When Dennis died on Monday, his daughter said, “he loved John” and Mom said, “oh, yes. I know. John loved your dad, too.” Neither man would EVER, in a MILLION YEARS say to his old, tender friend, “I love you.” But we knew. We knew because that love between you spilled over to us.And of course the women in their lives are always willing to find the scraps of caring between men, and translate for them. That act of witnessing that women do, that translation service we provide, is part of the emotional work we are always doing for men.
It’s beautiful and frustrating, watching men like that, who love each other. That kind of love, it’s not grudging, it’s more than respect, it’s not competitive and it’s not spoken, (cause it’s a bit scary for them, poor little muffins). That kind of love frightens them because it’s powerful, in a way they are not used to having power. So they develop a callus of masculinity over it. As they aged, my father and his friend, they gradually relaxed and showed their friendship a little easier. They didn’t have to explain their time together as ‘business meetings’, or ‘a Kiwanis function’. They just were together. and the space between them cluttered with all that unspoken intimacy, care, fear, curiosity, love. Somehow, I guess, they ‘talked about anything’ as Dennis said.
Once, when I was in Junior High School, I was in a speech contest. I had to write a five-minute speech and learn it, and then say it to an audience of teachers and students and judges. My dad asked his Kiwanis group if I could practice on them, and they agreed. Tough crowd. Dennis was the only one who had a comment, a suggestion for me. He loved my dad, so he listened to me.
He was a tough guy, smiled rarely, held himself tall and square. I liked Dennis. I liked his face. Clean-shaven, a firm chin, deep-set eyes, something kind about him. He had a warm way, even if he was kind of growly. He suffered. Men do, I think, because they have too much power and not the social skills to re-distribute it, or awareness at least, of how to carry it. years ago, he and his wife broke up, and one of his daughters stopped talking to him. She was by his side nearly every day as he was dying, though. Trying to know him again, trying to … make it right.
I guess he talked to Dad about that. his marriage, his worrisome grandson, (Dad had a worrisome grandson, too), his sorrow and regret. Some of that was silent, that communication. Most of it, i think. and a lot of it was on the way to Stettler in Dennis’ truck.
Anyway. Both of them are gone now. I think my brother has friends like Dennis. Men who will always know one another, and grow into old tender friends, but never say “i love you”. It’s complicated, that tenderness between old men.
Goodbye, Dennis. We miss you. If I believed in a life after this, I would ask you to give Dad a hug and a kiss for me, and tell him I love and miss him, too. But I don’t. so I won’t. Anyway, you might have trouble with the kiss part.