••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: A Farewell to a Father
+ Readers Comments
The Day My Father Died
I will always remember. It was sunny. A Saturday. Crisp autumn temperatures. Three days after his eighty-first birthday. My brother called from North Carolina. The things we discussed when I was down there in and out of the ICU for a week had come to pass. It was time.
We had to prepare to say goodbye. So, I excused myself from my immediate and extended family, who came to stay for the weekend, put on headphones to listen to songs from my childhood and took a walk. Had a cry. When that was done my bother called back. He kept me on the line as they took my dad off the heavy sedatives he’d been on for nearly two weeks. I took that opportunity to tell him that I would carry his name with as much dignity as can be expected from…well, you know…me, that my daughter and wife loved him as much as I did, and that I appreciated everything he did to make me the man I would become under his tutelage. They then removed all the stuff that was keeping him alive. Within the hour, as I listened to my brother describe the scene with my mom by his side, my father’s breath became shallow, his heart slowed down, and then he died. We both said we’d look to the sky and say one last so long.
My father is dead.
It is hard to explain how many times I had rolled that sentence around in my head. I had feared it for as long as I can remember. Not really sure why. Got worse when I got older and he got older and then endured a double-bleeding ulcer in the early nineties, survived prostate cancer later that decade, then had a series of small health scares that culminated during the last five years with the failing of his kidneys, followed by time on dialysis, a quadruple bypass surgery, a broken hip, femur and wrist last winter, and hip replacement surgery a month or so ago. He was languishing in a rehab center for the second time in less than a year when he contracted an infection that he fought for way longer than any doctor or nurse could fathom. He was helped by modern medicine, but man was my dad tough.
Yet, for me, there was a rare fragility to my dad. He was quiet, self-assured but never, and I mean, never a braggart. If anything, it was hard to understand his immense abilities until way after he’d accomplished the feat. He was never macho or confrontational. If anything, there was a cold, almost detached demeanor about him – all that Anglo-Saxon, Irish DNA. It always vexed me that he never talked about his childhood, his friends, crazy or brave shit he may have done in the Air Force. When he was stationed in Japan he coached a bunch of kids to a Little League baseball title; Japanese or American kids? Don’t know. And I only know this happened at all because there was a trophy sitting on a shelf. I had zero idea who the man’s parents were, when and how they died, what they did or what they meant to him. Tried to press, nothing. Tried my mom, who sent me back to my dad, and then more nothing. I thought when I had a kid of my own this would force him to say one of them was a serial killer or contracted some rare disease, so I would know what kind of lunacy may be coursing through my daughter’s veins. Nope.
So, I think, there was this sense that the mystery of my father would somehow unravel at some point, as long as we could keep him going. His life was like a precious historical artifact that I was, I guess, the result of.
I think maybe, without getting too dime-store psychological here, for most of my childhood my dad was kind of in absentia. Not the usual, “Cat’s in the Cradle” stuff, although there is always that in the old-fashioned nuclear family, of which my parents definitely were. Dad worked, and mom took care of us. Nah, if anything having a father who’d gone to college at night at Pace University in NYC while working at a Bronx department store called Newberry’s and later the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in uptown Manhattan where I would be born, so he could get a better gig to help the family was cool. If it meant having an absent father who was exhausted on the weekends, that was okay. He took care of us. I truly understood this dynamic as a kid. Subconsciously, though, I did miss him and felt time with him was fleeting, and so I longed later in life for time I would not get back.
The time I did have with my father as a kid and even as late as a few weeks ago was monumental. He said very few things, but they all stuck out. He imparted wisdom incrementally, but I still have not forgotten any of it. For a public service I shall share some of it with you.
I was maybe four years-old. We were climbing some giant city park rock and I insisted on doing it the hard way and pressed my father to do the same. He told me to use my brain and not my emotions to complete a task, find the most efficient way, that is the challenge, not killing yourself for some hollow man victory.
A little later, still pretty young, my pal, Stephen Ryan ditched me for some other kid. My dad hung out with me all day, referring to Ryan as a “flat-leaver”, a term I assume was all the rage when he was a kid, because I had never heard it uttered since. During the rest of the day he told me that I shouldn’t make someone else’s decision ruin my good time.
All I wanted when I was a kid was to play pro football. I was and am extremely small. I played pop warner and some pee wee football and even tried out for my Freshman High School team. After being beaten rather severely in one practice wearing a helmet a size too big for my head spun around so I was looking out its ear hole, my dad sat me down and said something to me that I have paraphrased in many cocktail parties and press events over my professional life: “Son, you need size, speed and strength to play football and you have none of those. You have to know your limitations in life and where your true talents lie. These things will reveal themselves to you and the opposite of this is true as well.”
In my second year of college, I was hired for the night shift of a radio station in Washington Crossing, NJ in this little raised hut of a building that overlooked where colonist troops crossed the Delaware with good ole George in the winter of 1776. The staff had gotten word that management was on the verge of selling the station and turning it into some other format and that everyone would be summarily sacked within the week. So, I invited friends up one evening to put on a Howard Stern type fun-loving campy show instead of running a feed for the NJ Nets basketball game, hoping to get a demo tape to pitch to other employers. Halfway through this “performance” the station manager showed up in his pajamas and fired me on the air. When I got home I regaled this story to my dad, who didn’t get mad or look disappointed. He just took a moment and said, “You know, they hired you to do a job and you did something else. Try and remember no matter what job you take, whether it’s digging a ditch or painting the Sistine Chapel, do it to the best of your ability.”
I wonder what he might have told me as he stopped being a part of this surreal thing we call life at 1:24 in the post meridian on the 26th day of October 2019. It dawned on me in his final minutes, as my brother described him as looking peaceful, no longer in distress and succumbing to the beyond, that James Vincent Campion’s heart had been beating ceaselessly since 1938. I mean, I understand this intellectually, but it is hard to even fathom such an achievement. It is even harder to realize how his body, our body, has worked and does work throughout our lifetimes, when you watch all the machines, medicines, tubes and monitors it takes to do what we take for granted every minute of every day.
I could use one of dad’s wisdoms to explain that better. But I’ll finish this by writing: Life is weird. Death is way weirder. James is gone, but the dad part I still carry. You can’t take that. But for the purposes of wrapping this up…
Good-bye, Pop. I’ll miss you…again.
Wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you again to all the people who reached out to send condolences and kind words about my late father, James Vincent Campion, who died last October. When I began writing “The Day My Father Died” I wasn’t sure how it would come out of me. As an essayist and columnist who pens plenty of tributes and eulogies of writers, artists, politicians, musicians, etc. you always worry what you could possibly say if someone close to you passes. This was my best effort under really tough circumstances. I can’t begin to even hope to sufficiently honor the legacy and memories of my hero. My mom dug it, so I was relieved about that. So, needless to say, to hear back as I did from so many of The Check Group and beyond was comforting and quite frankly overwhelming. Here are just some of the responses to the piece. I wish I could add all the phone calls, texts, messages and Twitter, Instagram and Facebook comments, but there’s only so much space and I wanted to make sure you knew what it meant to me and my family.
So poignant, James. My dad once asked me what I feared most in life, and I responded “Your death.” Something special about a dad. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. As with Mary, I feel like a part of the compound has gone…
Joe “Commander” Vengen
Lovely reflection. My dad has been gone 23 years, and it is still hard to write about. You put it down into words. Amazing. A nice tribute.
Loved your dad, one of the best.... a gentle, caring soul- from his North Zealand Mates
So sorry for your loss, what a nice tribute to a life well lived.
That was some of your finest work. Very relatable and written in a way that makes you not read the words but yet feel them. I offer you kudos on a fine piece of work and I also offer you prayers and condolences for your loss.
Ahhh, James. So sorry, friend. I’m glad I got to see you this week.
Beautiful tribute to your dad, he was a very special man, and our family will miss him. We had the opportunity to share very special moments with him. He will be missed.
Oh, so sorry to hear this, Jim. Healing thoughts and prayers to you and the family.
Beautiful, jc. Hope you got my message and you and the girls are well, Thinking of everyone now.
Daniel Mastrangelo Sariyan
A lovely tribute to your dad! My deepest condolences on your loss. I can relate to your story on so many levels. Sending prayers for strength.
So sorry for your loss, my friend.
So sorry for your loss, James.
Joanne Burnett Drew Vinales
Beautiful piece Jim. So sorry for your loss.
We all love you and your family, James
Wonderful. R.I.P. Mr. Campion.
My condolences, James. Sending love and strength your way.
So sorry for your loss, James
Ohhhhh! So sorry for your loss, James…sending hugs and keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.
Thinking of you, so sorry for your loss, big hugs and love to the entire family.
May sweet memories of your dad bring you unexpected smiles during this sad time.
James, this is a beautiful tribute to your dad and your relationship with him.
Elizabeth Vengen Esq.
© James Campion November 2nd 2019 (Updated March 1st 2020)
Do yourself no favors and “like” this idiot at www.facebook.com/jc.author or, if you dare, follow on Twitter (@FearNoArt) and Instagram (@jamescampion)
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. +, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon” + “Accidently Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon”
GOP, The Rule or Law & The Wrong Side of History
Trump’s Guilt is Absolute, So Who Will (or Won’t) Do Something About It?
What indeed happens to a nation where there are those who see the crime, casually ignore it, play politics with it, and then systemically allow it?