My Father: A Rememberance

December 20 will always be one of those uncomfortable anniversaries for me: it’s the anniversary of the day that my father passed away. No matter how many years have passed, I’ll always wish that I could talk to my Dad just one more time today, but even with his absence, every year is an opportunity to take stock of my life and think about whether I’ve become the kind of person he’d want me to be.

When my dad got sick, he left our home in Shelby to get treatment at the VA Hospital in Helena. He came back in November, just in time for the first bumps of chicken pox to appear on my arms. That week he was home, he was my caretaker, putting lotion on my skin, telling me stories, and tying an old pair of boxing gloves on my hands when I wouldn’t stop scratching. The whole time he was dying, consumed by a cancer that gave him unimaginable pain. His last night home we watched football together–just the guys–and he read to me as a I fell asleep. My last memory of him is waking to see him crying quietly in his chair, either from the pain, or from knowing that he wouldn’t be coming back.

The next morning he was gone, back to the hospital, and six weeks later, he was gone forever.

My dad wasn’t a perfect man. He drank too much, and sometimes his ego was more than a match for his ambition, but I always felt that my sister and I were the center of his life. His heart might have been bigger than his head on occasion, but even his mistakes were made out of love. He taught me how to fish, to read, to score a baseball game, and to defend what I believe; he taught me everything I’ve needed to survive. More than anything, he taught me about loving with your whole heart, fiercely. For my dad, it wasn’t worth it to love any other way.

Everything I’ve become and everything I will do is because of my father.

Thanks, Dad.

While I won’t torment anyone with what passes for my fiction writing, below the fold I’ve included a short passage from the short story I wrote about our last few days together.

He didn’t have a powerful, commanding voice or bring any of the characters to life with vivid accents, but my father was an excellent storyteller. A life spent in bars—on both sides of the counter—had given him both a rich, tobacco stained voice and unmatched ability to make a story out of anything. I can still hear his patient, soft voice in my ear when I read aloud now.

For most of my life, I’ve wished I could remember what he read that night. I’d like for it to have been a richly symbolic farewell from a father to a beloved son or a lesson that he hoped to impart of me before he left. The English teacher I became because of him wants to believe that it was words from a father to a son or Falstaff advising young Hal, but life is rarely that full of symbolic import. Most of all, I wish I could remember it, so I’d know the last words he said to me. I wish that absence hadn’t haunted me for so many years.

But I fell asleep while he was reading.

When I woke up, my father was still sitting beside me, no longer holding a book, but his head in his hands. I was about to ask him to start reading again, apologize for sleeping through his story, but paused, listening. My father was crying. I wanted to reach out to him, to say anything to make that terrible sound stop.

I wanted to turn my eyes away, but couldn’t help looking at him. He finally saw my eyes, but instead of turning away, he just held me in his gaze, as if trying to store every detail. I’m sure he just saw a sick little boy, wrapped in blankets and the remnants of a fever, but I saw something I had never seen before. In that moment, and perhaps just for that instant, my father, with his comical build, thinning hair, and halo of broken dreams—certainly not all his own, the father that I would never see again,was beautiful.

The next morning he was gone, back to the hospital in Helena. A month later, we buried him, on the morning after Christmas.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Great story. Tears in my eyes.

    MTpatriot, you need help. You hurt your cause by coming off as an incompassionate, cultish wacko.

  • What a beautiful post! My own Dad died on December 22nd; this season is harder because of hit. I wish you peace, and a troll-free new year.

  • If it makes you feel better, Mr. Pogreba, my great-gram died when I was twelve. I still get sad when I think about her.

  • Don,

    I am rarely on Facebook anymore, but happened to check it today and saw your post. My dad’s birthday was 12/19 and I have been contemplating his abbreviated impact on my life, wishing he could have met Merideth and our two sons. I appreciate your courage in sharing and admire your ability to put in words what this less polished writer maybe could not.

    I have a feeling your dad would be extraordinarily proud.

  • Two things: it’s a pity that MTPatriot has a heart of stone. His articulations say everything about him and nothing about you.

    “Everything I’ve become and everything I will do is because of my father.”

    An admirably modest statement. I would suggest his contributions were immense, but you are probably a reflection of other people who cared for and adored you, some of whom, I’d warrant, still do.

    On behalf of all of us who are now walking around fatherless, thank you for sharing. Peace.

  • Pogreba,

    I’ll always remember the way you taught Annie Dillard in our AP Lang Class. In fact, the quote is still on my desktop: “to locate that most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.” By the way you describe your dad, it seems that he lived with those same values of passion and dedication, and taught you to do the same. If I could, I would thank him for all of the values that he passed along to you, because you have so beautifully passed them along to your students. Instead, I’ll thank you. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for teaching your students how to care about things, the world, each other, “with your whole heart, fiercely.”

    Happy Holidays.

    PS: MTPatriot, I hope that somebody gives you a hug soon. You should know what it feels like to be loved.

  • MT Patriot, you are not a patriot. You are an asshole. Go back to the hole you crawled out of. Or have the courage to put your name on this blog, I’ll do the same and I’ll find you.

    Don, your story is amazing. I’ll never forget it. I have a son who adores spending time with me. I think of all the great things I will teach him as he grows up. The thought of his having to go through all of life without me there to help guide him is heart-breaking. I hope he never has to live the pain that you have.

    When I was 13 years old, my siblings and I gathered at my grandmother’s house as she lay dying of cancer. She had always been the old-fashioned type, not very affectionate, and very strict. In those last two days, she was mostly asleep, but she woke up in the afternoon and asked to see us. We all came into her bedroom, and I could see she knew she was dying. The strict propriety was gone. She just kept looking at each of us and saying, “I love you,” and kissing us. We could barely hear her, her throat was so raw from the tubes down it. But she wouldn’t stop, she just told us again and again, until she was exhausted and fell asleep.

    I’ve often thought about that, and about the urgency of her voice and manner. She knew she was leaving; she wanted so much to see us grow up, but she knew she could not. Her last message was repeated with fervor and intensity. She wanted us to always remember, and I always have.

    You may be a crazy liberal, but you are a good man. Your father would be proud of you. He would be glad you remembered. And he would be happy that you know how much he loved you.

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