My father, David Killingsworth passed away at 4:15pm Saturday, February 20th, 2016.
He had been battling several infections for the last year, and had been in hospital care since mid-November. I was visiting then, and when I assisted him to get to dialysis that day. Some part of me knew that would be the last day he would see his own home. 3 months later, after making the decision to cease dialysis and all medicines to start hospice care, we spent his last week with him. Later, on Saturday, he was unresponsive most of the day and finally passed in his sleep in the afternoon.
But this post isn’t about his death, so much as it is a post about his life and the things I have learned over the years from him.
My father was a baker and bakery manager most of his career. He did some other things like driving a truck and being a mechanic in a shop, but mostly he was in a bakery. This meant that most of my life he got up very early in the morning, around 3-4am. I remember waking briefly to a light or the sound of his electric razor in the mornings, then drifting back to sleep. He cared a lot about providing for his family and was the sole source of income for us until my sister and I reached school age, when my mother went into nursing school and after she graduated.
Outside of work, he was usually working on the house, cars, or outside–and dragging me along with him. He always said I was a pretty good helper after I got off “top dead center”. From my earliest memories, I can recall searching for tools with their cryptic symbols on them trying to find the right one to hand him while he was under a car. Working on cars for us developed into something more than a task or chore, it was social time, too. Time for us to be guys and talk–or not talk. Most of the time we’d be joking around, but we had some really good talks while turning a few wrenches.
“You’re not going to learn any younger!” was frequently what I would hear, whenever I protested that I didn’t know how to do something. I’ve turned to using this phrase with my own kids sometimes, as well as the kids on the robotics team I coach. What this phrase lacks in correct grammar, it gains in gritty, no-nonsense truth.
By the time I reached high school, the two of us acted more like friends than a father and son, I felt. For the most part, I kept my stuff in order, but I knew if I didn’t he became “dad” again very quickly. Otherwise, we’d joke around, horse around, even after I got big enough to give it back to him! I remember flopping down opposite him on the couch, placing my legs lazily up on his knees. He’d say nothing, but start pinching and plucking the hairs on my calves until I had enough and pulled my legs back. We would tease and goad each other frequently, calling each other “weenie boy” or “pud”. This comfort level translated in to when we would work together. Others would be surprised at how we would talk to each other as we worked on, but the two of us never minded or took it negatively. Those words were signs of approval to each other more than any superfluous words could be.
“The difference between the apprentice and the master is that the master knows how to fix his mistakes.”
This is probably the best advice I had ever gotten from my father. He kept hammering this into me many times throughout my life and I needed that. This is what fancy educational studies nowadays call a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset”. But my dad had it all along. He always told me there’s no problem ever with making a mistake, as long as you don’t keep making the same mistake again. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Even after I had grown and moved out, my father and I were still close and he was always there whenever I needed him. After my first marriage, when I found myself being a single father, he came and stayed with me many days to take care of my daughter. We spent a lot of time together then, and had lots of talks. Sometimes we’d play a video game together (okay, I would play and he would watch, lending advice occasionally.) And with my second marriage, he even taught his favorite recipes to my wife and would frequently sit with us in the kitchen as one of us cooked, just to visit.
For a while, he and my mother had a place on Pomme de Terre Lake. It was small, no-frills accommodations, but the scenery was wonderful and it had a dock on the lake as well. We would take the family out and he would pull us on tubes with their boat. He took great joy in skipping us across the water, while we clung to the tube with white knuckles. Lots of great memories there.
My dad and I have been through a lot over the years, from lying in the back of his old truck, watching fireworks, to his lectures at me for not turning in my homework, helping him on work on cars, houses, trimming trees, mowing lawns, going fishing and just driving around and talking. And I think that’s what I’ll miss the most. Nothing will ever replace those talks and his advice–whether I wanted it at the time or not. But I’m glad I got it now.