On John Glenn

Tagged as Personal

Written on 2009-06-16 22:35:52

I might as well go ahead and post this. I'm unlikely to objectify or improve the writing and I'm unlikely to ever be satisfied with it. I can't seem to toss it either. It does show some facet of the story. Please don't take what follows as sufficiently capturing my father.

In so many ways, I am not sure I will ever be able to explain John Glenn. And how could I? To some extent, it feels like he'll forever be the inside scoop that belongs only to my Mother and I. A sort of eternal "you had to be there". This is, of course, not entirely true. We are far from the only people to have gotten a glimpse of the man John Glenn was as the testaments of others indicate. But there is, I think, no substitute for being able to observe him up close and without pause for nearly 20 years. And it's quite tricky to explain just how blessed I am for being privy to the view. Blessed. That's a word I don't use a lot. I'm not a very religious man, certainly not as religious as my Mother. Or my Father. Yet in this case I'm not sure the word blessed covers it. So how would I explain it? The best I've been able to come up with so far is this: My Father was a man so good that my Mother and I were able to let him die. Had he been any less of a man, we would've been unable to bear his departure.

It sounds crazy, doesn't it? You would think that the more wonderful a man is the more terrible he is to lose. My Mother has suggested in conversation that she and I did well to not be selfish (as we usually are) and act supportive of him in his final days but that thinking seems erroneous to me. I disagree with the notion that such strength or fairness came from us. Indeed, my good qualities of that nature I have not acquired, I have inherited. In fact, it may be more accurate to say I came upon them by osmosis but I'm getting ahead of myself. In the days following his death, people had a great deal to say about my Father and the kind of man he was. It was very kind but mostly prosaic. I (and perhaps Mom too) kept our mouths shut not because we had few words but because we didn't want to upset people with the radicalness of our speech. The truth is, John Glenn must have been out of his mind because after a period of prolonged observation he decided to join himself at the hip with both my Mother and I. And that was over 15 years ago.

Due to social niceties, people hear that sort of talk and laugh and try to progress the conversation. Unfortunately, it's the truth. When Mom and Dad met, Mom and I were both a wreck. We both individually had some problems but the two of us together were so messed up that you'd have more optimism about fixing corruption in politics. Lost causes, I believe is the term. None of this, mind you, seemed to phase John Glenn. He placed himself right into the center of our world as though he noticed a chair with his name on it and simply knew it was where he was supposed to be. He became our rock. He kept Mom and I from smashing into each other like two great asteroids and spinning off into the void forever. The way he did it is in large part the thing I can't explain. One of his college friends described him at the reception after the funeral as "constant". Though such a simple description falls short it has the right flavor to it.

No matter how turbulent Mom and I got, no matter how serious our disputes or misbehavior, no matter our rage, John was calm, John was patient. But above and beyond that, he didn't join our yelling, he didn't engage in our hatefulness and he wasn't indifferent to our points of view. Mom has referred to him as a saint many times but I don't recall any stories of saints going through as many trials, or any so difficult. Again, social customs will tell you to take this last statement lightly. If I were you, I wouldn't. Dad was there through military school, through wrecked cars, through run-ins with the law, through run-ins with schools, through years of squandered opportunity and irresponsibility, through years of disrespect and animosity towards authority which simply did not befit a man of his character and warmth. I don't know if I'd call that patience, it's starting to sound like it borders on masochism. Maybe he was out of his mind. Of course, masochists endure punishment in pursuit of their own pleasure. John Glenn was never preoccupied with his own pleasure. He had higher ends.

Through it all, you couldn't help but observe that he was still loving, still calm and still supportive. He was constant. He was still there, not about to quit. He was still putting in more than good a faith effort, doing more than his part, giving it more than just the old "college try". And you had to get the sense watching that he had the right idea. He was a lot happier than I in my misery and angst or Mom as a worry wart. Victory through osmosis. If you can't beat em, join em. John Glenn kept being the kind of person we all ought to be, until those of us subject to repeated exposure finally just came around. I'm actually not a little snot anymore and Mom is half-way to being as loving and patient as he was. That would be a lot for anybody but coming from where she used to be it's crazy. Just ask her.

It wasn't just that though. John Glenn made time for us. He worked from home so he could set his own schedule, so he could see us more and so that he could stop whatever he was doing to help us whenever we needed to talk to him throughout his work day. I'm honored to say I was in a band with him. That was in High School, you know, when your parents are supposed to be really lame. He played lead guitar, my friend played bass, I played drums. He picked up a dumb collectible card game with me in Middle School. In High School, I was supposed to read The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter and Walden in a particular class so he got copies of all three and read them at night with me, highlighting interesting sections and discussing them with me later. Who does that? I mean, what kind of person voluntarily does that? He played video games with me and my friends. Not all of them mind you but he had a few. He'd try to know what I was interested in and even dabble or become passingly familiar with it to enrich discussion. And in later years we would go running at the park together. All that is above and beyond just putting up with me and my mother and keeping us from going crazy. That's the kind of man he was.

So when I say that if he had been any less of a man, Mom and I would've been unable to bear his departure, I'm not kidding. John Glenn didn't have an effect on our lives or treat us very well. John Glenn saved us. He taught us to love, to communicate, to wait for the right thing to come along, to have faith in ourselves, to have faith in living and just trying to do our best and make it. In the end, I think he benefitted from us to some degree but I can't call it parity. Of course, John Glenn was never watching the scales. I finally got my act together before the end and he got to see me thrive a little, thank goodness. Thanks to him, Mom and I are on excellent terms and won't tear each other to tatters. We can communicate. And as for Dad and I, well by the time the end was near in my mind there was no ground left to cover. No last minute questions or concerns. I didn't have to tell him how I felt the same way he didn't have to tell me. He had shown me.
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