Thursday, February 18, 2016
Today is my daughter's 11th birthday. I should be writing about happy things and memories of her over the years, but as my time for personal introspection and documentation (blogging) is so limited, I feel the need to get my thoughts down about one of the saddest moments of my life: losing my dad. I was going to address the events of the missing past 2 years chronologically, but this is the one even that has - and likely will always - keep coming back to me the most.
My dad and I have always had a good relationship. Not always close, but good. When my dad came out as transgender and my parents split, I was 12. I was already the fat, picked on, bully target of the neighborhood, and heading into adolescence with this additional bullseye on my back was not something I looked forward to. My mother decided to move back in with her parents in Michigan, and I saw this as an opportunity to reboot my life and social standing in a new town. Besides which, as my mother was totally blind, I figured she could use the help. I moved to Michigan with her while my sister elected to stay behind in Jersey with my dad.
Being a teenager, I had no thought of how, or even IF, this would affect my dad. I know she understood, and if she didn't, I even explained it to her later on, but to this day, I still don't know what went through her mind when I moved away. At the time, she was just beginning her transition to living as a woman full-time. She had a lot on her plate legally, professionally, socially, and emotionally, so I don't know if parenting a teenage boy as well would have helped or hindered. I do know that having most of your family abandon you while you dealt with beginning your life from square one with the majority of society against you, for me, would be devastating.
But I digress....
Despite the miles and infrequent visits, my dad and I stayed in touch through weekly (more or less) phone calls. Over the years, as we both grew into the people we wanted to be, we grew closer. When I joined a barbershop chorus, we suddenly had a LOT more to bond over, as she (as Bill) had sung in barbershop choruses in the 60's and loved the artform.
She was able to see me get married, have children, join a chorus, join my first Society quartet, start my own quartet, take lead rolls in chapter shows, direct my own chorus, get divorced, and I know she was proud of the man her son had become.
The day after my birthday last year, I hopped on Facebook and saw a post from her saying she wasn't feeling quite right. I knew my sister was there in Topeka visiting her for the first time, so I didn't worry much. I called my dad just to check in, and after talking to her, I suggested she go to urgent care to get checked out. She refused. I called my sister on her cell and asked her to take dad to the urgent care. Dad still refused. When my dad's partner, Mary, came home from church, they ganged up on her and took her in. The next several hours were a whirlwind of phone calls. My dad had pneumonia, and her condition was rapidly declining.
And here I was in Michigan...unemployed.
Danielle and I were on the way back from dropping off her daughters with their dad, when I got a call from my sister: Dad is getting worse and the doctors aren't being encouraging. I sat there in the passenger's seat of Danielle's car, stunned. Danielle immediately insists she buy my a ticket to Topeka, as she had some frequent flyer miles. I arrived early Monday morning, my sister drives me from the airport to the hospital, and there's my dad. No glasses. No wig. No makeup. No jewelry. Hooked up to machines and looking ashen and pale. I could barely recognize her.
She wasn't breathing on her own. Her blood toxicity had resulted in multiple organ failure. Extensive brain damage was likely. We had a decision to make. Was this really happening? I had just talked to her yesterday! We all had a great visit not 2 months ago! She had quit smoking 2 years ago! There was no seeing this coming. No preventative measures. No warning signs.
It was simultaneously the easiest and hardest decision I have ever made. We knew exactly what she would want, but none of us wanted to let go. Thankfully, we all were in the same mindset, and able to strengthen each other for what we knew my dad would want us to do.
The doctor turned off the machines. I remember whispering in my dad's ear, "It's okay. We'll be fine. We love you. You can go," and kissing her forehead. I played a recording of "Let There Be Peace On Earth" - one of her favorite barbershop arrangements. Danielle flew out a few hours behind me, and was able to join us for the last 1/2 hour of my father's life. Within that half hour, she was gone. My dad passed away surrounded by her closest family, her beloved partner, and the church pastor she loved and respected, all telling her how much they loved her. There was no long term suffering, no loneliness. Just love.
The next week was spent trying to finalize her affairs and cleaning up her house for Mary, who, understandable, found it all a bit overwhelming. She allowed my sister and I to take any personal affects, family photos, and documents we wanted. We took my dad's multiple jars of quarters and all celebrated her life with a trip to the casino. We laughed, cried, drank, and celebrated all the things that were Paula Elizabeth Keiser and William Meyer Keiser Jr..
The death of my father changed me forever. Even Danielle has commented that I'm a bit more sullen, more prone to moody episodes, and more aware of my own mortality. I know she's right, but as the past two-and-a-half years have progressed, and life has gone on, the moodiness has slowly been replaced with fond reminiscence - the sullen demeanor with...well, the same demeanor, when that mood strikes me, but those moods are fewer.
These days, rather than missing my dad and wishing I could just call her up to ask random question or chat, I can remember her clearly and know what I'd hear. Her laugh, smile, bad jokes, sarcastic jibes (both at my and her own expense), are all a part of me. I'm lucky, because I knew her well enough to know what the answer would most likely be when I ask, "What would dad do?", whether I'd like that answer or not.
In many ways, I've become a carbon-copy of my dad (gender preference aside, of course). My "dad jokes", social perspective, insecurities, interests, passions, some bad habits, even facial expressions, are all the result of my love and respect for her. When I look in the mirror, I see my dad, and I know she's not really gone. She lives on in me, so I don't think I really have to say "goodbye," per cest.
More like, "I gotta remember to tell you this story, someday..."
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the prospect of meeting new people and exploring romantic possibilities, it's just the uncertainty of it all that drives me nuts.
Being that my primary social outlet is barbershop these days, the options are pretty well nil. When your primary social group is comprised of 45-90 year old men, aside from the occasional daughter or granddaughter who may tag along (pun not intended, for those of you that saw it), there's not much chance to meet women.
Still, not one to let life just pass by (anymore), I'm trying. I have a date tomorrow. She's smart, funny, talented, and pretty, and even indirectly connected to my circle of friends, despite how we connected. That helps...a lot! I'm hopeful.
I just hope I don't come off as a babbling fool.
Wish me luck!
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Anyway, I'd love to get into the details of "International Convention: Part Deux" as well as recounting my current quartet & chorus's first foray into Pioneer District competition, but right now, it's difficult to recall the details with so many other things on my mind. After a couple years of gathering paperwork, faxing and FedEx-ing, and much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, I've finally decided to let my home of 13 years go.
It wasn't an easy decision to come to. It was my first house, I raised 2 kids there, my daughter was born IN that house, not to mention the simple matter of personal pride and responsibility I have regarding my mortgage obligations and being a homeowner. Ever since I set foot in that house for the first time, I started planning home improvements, floor plan changes, future additions, etc., to make that my home for as long as I could. I love the neighborhood, the location, the town - everything about WHERE it is.
Recently, however, the realities of this house began to dawn on me. It was built in 1954 and still had original...everything. Asbestos shingle siding, steel kitchen cabinets with enamel-coated iron sink, same 750 sq. ft. floor plan, rotting wood windows, and gutters. About the only things ever replaced in that house were the furnace (almost 30 years ago - we'll get to that) and the water heater (about 4 years ago). To make this house a GOOD house, even with the current floor plan, it would require a good $20k in renovations and upgrades.
Nonetheless, it was currently inhabitable and I figured once I got the mortgage back on track and my credit straightened out, I could start some of these renovations, one-by-one, with the help of county home improvement grants and energy efficiency rebates. Then came the final straw...
Since I started up the furnace this year about a month ago, I noticed that the burner had trouble staying lit. It would run for about 30 seconds, peter out, then relight with a BIG WHOOSH. This, I determined, did not seem normal operation, or safe at all. I called in a tech to look at it, hoping it was mostly a matter of cleaning off something. No such luck. He gave an estimate of about $1,3000 to replace the pilot assembly and to clean the furnace completely (being enclosed so much and needing to basically be disassembled it to do so). This ON TOP OF the other $20k+ in renovations I would need to do at some point to the house. In a place I STILL wasn't sure I'd be able to keep, in a market where the value of the house as it is would be something equivalent to a cardboard box behind a McDonald's, I wasn't about to commit to that kind of investment.
So, the next day, I started looking for an apartment. After crunching numbers for what seemed like days, I determined that I could afford something akin to what my old house payment was...barely. I looked in my beloved Hazel Park/Ferndale area and only found run-down flats in "iffy" neighborhoods, so I stared expanding my search. I decided to take a look at Amber Apartments, the parent company of which owns about half the apartment complexes in Royal Oak and neighboring communities. I was SHOCKED to find, than when I included what I'm used to paying for my gas & water bills (both of which are included in the rent) it was smack dab in my budget range for a similar-sized place!
I looked at a very nice 2-bedroom 2nd floor apartment in north Royal Oak, and fell in love with it. It was at the upper end of my budget, but I figured I could swing it. It was in familiar area, close to my favorite repair shop, and walking distance from the 14 Mile/John R shopping district. I started gathering my paperwork and applied, and to my slight surprise, I was approved!
I immediately started to pack, gathering up all but what I would need to survive for 2 weeks, assuming that when my paycheck was deposited, i would have the money to pay security deposit, cleaning deposit, & 1st month rent. My dad sent me enough for the deposits to hold it, just in case. That money cleared on Monday, but I go straight from work to chorus on Mondays, so I didn't have time to take care of it. By Tuesday, I figured since my paycheck would be in my account the next day, I would just wait ONE more day, and take care of everything at once. BIG MISTAKE!
I go into the rental office, pay stub copies and debit card in hand, and said with a huge grin, "I'm ready to sign!" The associate I had been dealing with gave me a sad, pitying look and said, "you see those guys at the table? They're signing the lease for that apartment right now."
I was devastated. I had my heart set on this place, most of my life already packed up, and even pointed out the amenities of the neighborhood to my kids (including the candy store across the street). She politely offed the rest of the list of available apartments, which I had already been through. She suggested one just up the road that, while not the 2-bedroon I was looking for, had more square footage, and might suit me well. I reluctantly took the building key and went to look.
I was...impressed. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it WAS bigger, better closet space, MUCH better kitchen, and it was a 1st floor, so moving in would be easy. Best of all - $25/mo cheaper and walking distance from work. As I walked the apartment, I started envisioning how the furniture would work, how I would work the kids in there for the weekends with only 1 bedroom, and thought to myself, "Y'know, this just might work!"
I went back to the rental office and signed the papers right then, without even looking at the other (slightly more expensive) apartments she suggested. I pick up the keys this Thursday, move boxes myself Thursday & Friday, and gather the troops to help me with furniture on Saturday.
I know, moving isn't necessarily such a huge deal to most, but (aside from a brief stint or 2 at my sister's place) I've lived in the same home for 13 years. This is more than just changing where I am. This is changing a lot of WHO I am. I have been a homeowner for 13 years. Now I'm a renter. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's taking some adjusting of my own self-worth and re-evaluation of my perspective on things.
I have almost half my lifetime of memories wrapped up in that broken-down house. It's tough to let some of them go.
...Others, however...good riddance! I'm moving up, moving on...MOVING OUT!
(pictures eventually, I hope)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Ever since I joined the Barbershop Harmony Society, I've wanted to make the trek to the city de l'année for an international convention. I have spent the past 8 years hearing tales of late-night tagging with gold-medalists, mind-blowing chorus performances, attributes of various hosting cities. Sadly, with 2-5 jobs at a time, wife, kids, and the idea impressed on me by aforementioned responsibilities (well, one in particular) that such a hiatus from same would be unforgivably selfish and highly irresponsible.
Well, things have changed a LOT. Now that I have a job with vacation time, scheduled time with my kids every other weekend, and no wife to nag me about such a decision, the only obstacle was the cost. My dad had always said that she'd pay for my registration to my first International convention. Still, hotel, travel, food, and incidentals can pile up pretty damned quickly - especially the travel - and I wasn't about to ask my dad to foot the bill for those. Thankfully, the stars seemed to align this year. My good friend and former bass of my quartet works for Delta Airlines and got me a an UNBELIEVABLE deal on a plane ticket, a fellow barbershopper was offering an extra registration and AIC (Association of International Champions) Show ticket for a great deal, and best of all, my dad happens to live in Topeka, a mere hour's drive from KC. My out-of-pocket would be very minimal AND I could combine it with a visit to see my dad and her partner, Mary!
The amazing deal my friend, Dave, got me on my plane ticket had one caveat: I had to fly 'standby', which gave no garantee I'd get a seat for the early flights I wanted. Still, as I had taken a 5-day weekend for the purpose, I wasn't terribly concerned. I packed my carry-on with my laptop, MP3 player, a book, snacks, a couple magazines, everything I''d need for a day camped out in an airline terminal. Awesome Girlfriend drove me to the airport nice and early, and I easily got on my preferred flight. I took advantage of the in-flight wi-fi for $5, just for the novelty of updating my Facebook from 30k feet. I landed in KC, and my dad picked me up. We stopped at Arby's for lunch, got almost all the way home, when she realized she left her purse there. Minor annoyance (since it was still there when we returned for it), but it gave us more time to chat on the drive.
Once we got to her place, I realized my ticket for the AIC show said it was for THAT NIGHT, so she let me borrow her car and drive back to KC again. The show was great. Seeing the best of the best and a reunion of Rural Route 4 and the Suntones just blew my mind.
After the show, I headed back to the Headquarters Hotel to check out the scene there. I quickly bumped into my good friend, Chelsea, who, at the tender age of 22, is already a seasoned vet at these things and knows everybody. She introduced me too a couple big-big wigs in the Society, then took me up the the Rainbow Room (the hospitality room for the gay and gay friendly set in the Society). I met a bunch of great guys and ended up hanging out with Chelsea and a guy from California, named Craig, for much of the night. He offered to let me crash on his floor, so I wouldn't have to cut my evening short (and sober) to drive back to Topeka (and subsequently drive back to KC the next day). We all sang tags, mingled, drank, and finally finished with nachos at 2am at a downtown diner before hitting the hay.
Up next (hopefully soon) Part Deux: Friday Chorus Contest!
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Okay, it wouldn't have mattered, anyway. Even now, I'm too busy to write a blog worthy of my usual wit and verbosity. But I WILL give you the excuses why I HAVEN'T written lately:
Working at the pharmacy takes up the 9-5, Monday through Friday.
Monday nights I direct my chorus. With summertime gigs, a contest in October, and a chorus show to coordinate by early November, I can't afford to miss.
Since about July, my Tuesday & Thursday nights are occupied with rehearsals for Grosse Point Theater's production of The Music Man (yea, those of you I went to high school with are SOOO surprised). THIS time, however, I get to play the OTHER role I wanted. Instead of Harold Hill, I finally get to play Jacey Squires, the tenor in the barbershop quartet!
Wednesday nights, I drive the hour to Flint and back to have dinner with my kids, which gets me home about 9:30pm. The drive, I can do without, but worth every mile of it for them.
Every other weekend, often starting of Friday after work (if possible) I spend with my kids.
Sunday nights are quartet rehearsal. Again, contest in October, and we hope to make a dent in the top 6, but only if we work at it.
Take all that, add typical household chores, trying to save my house form becoming a foreclosure statistic, the occasional chorus and quartet gigs, my first Barbershop Harmony International Convention (more on that another time...hopefully), and trying DESPERATELY to have some time with Awesome Girlfriend, leaves no time for blogging, Dr. Jones!
On top of that, after most of those things clear out of my schedule about early November, that gives me maybe a week before holiday chorus gigs kick in and the usual Christmas melee starts!
Anyway. That's why I haven't blogged. The dog didn't eat my homework. I didn't forget the due date of the assignment. I'm not turning in a note from my parents with a badly forged signature (though my mom's was always easy to fake). I just haven't had time!
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
(pant, pant, pant - DEEEP breath!)
Now, to start the marathon sprint to the new year!
Sunday, March 20, 2011
(The following was written about 4 months ago and never finished. I promise I’ll try to get to a blog about what was a wonderfully mild-mannered and fun Christmas blog…as soon as I can recall the details again!)
Well, here it is. Christmastime again, and as usual, my holiday schedule is packed tighter than Santa’s bag. Also, again, I find myself sitting in a car repair shop waiting for my mobile Fortress of Solitude to be made right. Thankfully, this year, it’s preemptive maintenance rather than catastrophic recovery. Thanks to the new job keeping me from slowly sinking into financial quicksand (thought not quite emerging yet), I’ve been able, with the help of the generosity of friends and family, to keep my means of conveyance in quite workable shape.
It all began with Thanksgiving (sigh of sweet reminiscence). My dad and her partner, Mary, drove all the way up from Topeka to spend the holiday with my family. It was one of the best weeks of my year. Not just spending time with my dad, but sharing many of my proudest achievements with her while she was here. First and foremost, on her first full day here, I took her to my barbershop chorus rehearsal. This is the single proudest achievement I’ve made this year – becoming the director of not just a musical ensemble (my lifelong goal), but a barbershop chorus. It’s the kind of ensemble I know would my dad could relate to best. I was able to show off a bit of what I had done with them, and even better, I chose that night to try an experiment with the voicing. It worked out great and my dad and her partner, Mary, beamed with amazement and pride. I was on cloud 9! Not only did I manage to improve the sound of the chorus, but impress my dad and Mary, both seasoned barbershop aficionados!
The next day, my dad offered to get me a new set of tires for my car. I hadn’t realized that the worn ball joint had made the inner edge of my tires smooth as an android’s bottom. The plan was to do some car-trading to see that I got to work on time, but as I had apparently left the dome light on in my car the night prior (which I have NEVER done) and would have to jump it (which took quite a while), I took the day to deal with my car and spend some time with dad and Mary. I was so taken aback by my dad’s generosity, I insisted that the tires be the only repair she pay for. Any others, I could handle in due time (and with due finances). After a lovely lunch at the Olga’s across the street, my horse had a new set of shoes and all that was left (of immediate needs) was to fix the rear suspension, ball joint, and alignment. I figured I’d be able to afford one soon and one later. Given that the slightest bump in the road would lead to a miles worth of bouncing that nearly made me seasick, I chose the suspension.
Thanksgiving itself was wonderful, for the most part. I watched the parade with Awesome Girlfriend while waiting for the ex to let me know when and how to connect with my kids for Thanksgiving dinner at my grandfather’s. By noon, I had no word as to their whereabouts, so I called and found that they had not gone downtown to watch the parade, as planned, but chose to stay in Flint due to not feeling well. Reasonable enough, but it would have been nice to know this sooner than noon, as it was an hour up and back to get the kids, starting Thanksgiving at least an hour later than originally planned.
Still, we arrived at my grandfather’s about 2:30 to the glorious aroma of not only Thanksgiving dinner, but one cooked entirely by my dad. The smell of a Keiser home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner had memories flooding back to me of my sister and I watching the Macy’s Parade on TV on the living room floor while ripping apart loaves of bread for the chestnut & sausage stuffing. The food was AMAZING, right down to the vegetarian version of the stuffing made especially for the kids. The dinner was a bit bumpy, as I had to fight with the boy to try anything. If it’s not pizza, burritos, or macaroni & cheese, he gets dramatic. He had one of his usual moody uproars (which he seems to save for company when he’s with me), and once again embarrassed me in from of my dad.
Still, the evening was a lot of fun, enjoying the holiday with family, some of whom had not spent a Thanksgiving together in probably 30 years or more!