MISS YOU, DAD… And sorry for those fights over Nixon

My father died five years ago today, on Oct. 30, 2011.

Here’s the column I wrote for Boomer magazine.


MISS YOU, DAD… And sorry for those fights over Nixon

Everyone liked my father.

They did. It’s not an exaggeration. They all liked him.

You would meet Bob and instantly he was an old friend. He would smile, greet you warmly, make a joke. Maybe the joke was at his expense. If he really liked you, though, the joke was aimed at you.

No one else in the family seems to have quite gotten that trait. Not my mother, my brother Craig nor I.

Robert Ray McAllister died too soon, of course. Conversely, it was time. He went into the hospital with severe breathing problems in August. Mother and I spent much of nine days with him in a hospital in Wilmington, N.C., including two as Hurricane Irene came through. The hospital was on lockdown and it was a frightening night on the seventh floor. My mother would be nowhere else, though.

Then Dad was moved to a health care facility for the final two months. He was dying of lung cancer, wearing breathing tubes 24/7 and slowly wasting away.

The nurses all adored him.

Funny thing, he never smoked until he went in the service late in World War II. The Red Cross gave servicemen free cigarettes and Dad was hooked. My mother blamed the Red Cross. I told the story to a pastor, who noted the Red Cross was passing along cigarettes for the tobacco companies. I told the story to a doctor, who said the military liked servicemen to smoke because it calmed them in battle. You could blame anyone.

My father never did. He had enjoyed smoking, he said, and realized he shortened his life. It was a good life, and now it was time to move on.

Dad never saw himself as a victim, not even when he was laid off as an insurance company vice president. This was back when a company would keep an employee forever. Turned our forever was 25 years. He caught on as a senior v.p. with another company and, a decade later, was laid off again.

Dad died Oct. 30, less than a month before his 84th birthday. He left a deep hole with my mother, especially. After 61 years of marriage, she can scarcely remember a time without him.

He left me his golf clubs, the watch my mother gave him on their 25th anniversary, and one of the silver-with-turquoise bolo ties he wore into the office we we lived in Phoenix. (That was entirely normal out there; you’ll have to trust me.) He also left me a mostly easygoing nature and — many have cursed him for this — a sense of “humor” designed primarily to confuse. Or to agitate. Or to annoy.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is comedy.

In recent years, he occasionally walked int a full elevator, faced the assembled and deadpanned: “I suppose you wonder why I’ve called this meeting.” Half the people would laugh.

The other half were probably looking for an exit.

We got along well, better, I suspect, than many fathers and sons. I’d almost forgotten we argued. But we did and often. We had truly ferocious battles at the dinner table over Richard Nixon during Watergate.

He did always want me to go into business, too. Eventually, he was OK with my writing newspaper columns and books. At least he said so.

I’m sure I was more of a disappointment because I didn’t play more golf. Dad was a 7-handicapper and hit a legitimate 300-yard drive in the days before equipment allowed everyone to do that. One of his favorite moments came after he marshaled the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club, the one in which Trevino beat Nicklaus in a playoff. The marshals would play the next day and Dad birdied the brutal 18th hole. Few of the pros had.

Oh, and he hated when golfers gave themselves mulligans or improved their lies or didn’t count all their strokes. Hated it.

He joined the Army Air Forces at the tail end of World War II and, while stationed on Guam, played basketball on the Far East Air Force championship team. Dad demeaned his own military experience. He said his brother (now 90 and living in California), who had flown bombing raids over Germany, was the hero. [Update: Bud died in 2015 at 94.]

Dad attended the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. In retirement, he was a voracious reader, knocking off two or three books from the local library each week.

Our visits at the end were good. We always could kid each other and we didn’t back off now that he was dying. It was sad, though, that he lost interest in reading. He merely waited for Mother’s daily visits or the occasional ones from us or his golfing buddies, “the Divots.” And watch TV.

At his service, neighbors and the Divots filed in, the latter somberly as a group. When they started telling stories about Bob, the laughs started. I missed his voice there. Afterward, Craig and I — with our wives along to keep an eye out for law enforcement — sprinkled his ashes on the golf course. That’s what he wanted.

Don’t know how to end this, except …

You know what I’d been intending to get Dad for Christmas? An e-reader. Loaded up with books.

I think he would have liked that.

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