February 23, 1932 October 2, 2004
I held my father as he died.
spent most of the night stroking his arms and his unaccountably
soft hands. His hands had never been so soft in life, and now, as
he straddled the worlds, he seemed to have given up his toughness,
the hardness that made him so difficult to disagree with.
eyes closed, I whispered into his ear words I hoped he could hear.
I tried to show him the love I had never really shown him before,
but now I would never know whether he understood. We were not a
touchy-feely father-son team. We didn't agree on everything (after
all, who does?), but since he'd been diagnosed with cancer, I had
done my utmost to show him the love that before had only been implied.
But now it was too late to say it and see the results. Now it was
too late to undo those poor decisions, or unsay those occasional
harsh words. It was too late, and the knowledge bit deeply into
held my father as he died.
a brilliant Florida sun erased dark memories of the recent hurricanes,
three of which had knocked out their power as if part of some cruel
he took that last step from one world to the next, going peacefully,
with his wife of 46 years, and Janis and me at his side, at home
and so close to the restless ocean he loved.
was 72. He was too young.
in the seaport city of Genova, Italy, way up the Mediterranean coast
of the boot (on the Riviera, not far from Monaco and the French
border), he was a US immigrant whose life reflected the kind of
adventure and romance many of us can only envy. Shipped out early
as a cabin boy after World War Two, he spent 20-some years as a
merchant marine sailor for various European and Scandinavian shipping
companies, truly sailing the seven seas as did heroes of old.
you can name a shipboard job, chances are he did it at least once.
If you can name a nautical skill, chances are he'd learned it on
one of his many months-long journeys across the globe. If you can
name an exotic place, chances are he stepped ashore there. Among
his many ports of call were Russia, the Middle East, the West African
Japan, India, North and South America, and just about every major
European harbor city. He traversed both the Panama and Suez canals,
and explored the Casbah in Alexandria. He witnessed an atomic test
in the chilly waters off Novaya-Zemlya even as submachine gun-toting
Soviet marines boarded his ship to keep it away. He witnessed a
near-mutiny while iced-in at a remote Siberian port, where the crew
nearly froze without heavy clothing and he risked arrest
by using a forbidden camera behind the Iron Curtain. Tempted to
dabble in African diamond smuggling, he wisely opted out at the
last minute. He suffered thirst and dehydration under a blistering
Indian sun while stuck in-harbor, and caught sharks off the coast
of Africa (as a kid, I cut myself on the shark tooth he'd brought
me). There were light moments, too he once took home an eccentric
exotic parrot from Brazil who nearly bit his nose off, and he introduced
us all to the fiery curries he grew to love in India. Some of his
real-life adventures have already found their way into my fiction,
and many more will.
brought me toys from the strangest places, hoofing them over land
and over sea, by rail and cab and on foot, following them up with
descriptions and stories of all the places he had seen.
worked as a harbormaster's fire marshal for a while, inspecting
shipboard repairs, trying to keep nonchalant smokers from torching
docked ships. He fought a few fires in that capacity, risking his
life for the safety of others. He worked in a television factory,
an ice cream factory, and other strange places. Fact is, he could
learn any job, anywhere, and do it well, even in English, his second
language (not counting his passable fluency in Spanish, Portuguese,
Arabic, French and Russian).
landing in the boating industry, he spent many years as a Technician
for the Engineering arm of Outboard Marine Corporation of Illinois,
makers of Evinrude and Johnson outboards. He tested outboards out
on choppy Lake Michigan, piloting chase boats, and in special tank
rooms where eventually the high-pitched noise would cost
him his hearing and on dangerous barges. He worked on some
of the newest innovations of the outboard industry, like the rotary
engine (a failure for OMC) and various inboard/outboard V-6 and
V-8s. In his prime, no one could tear down and rebuild an outboard
motor or a lawnmower! faster or more accurately than
retired from OMC, he continued to expand his horizons with his continued
interest in horticulture, traditional
photography and photo development, stained glass crafts, and even
computers and digital photography. An avid fan of NASA and the space
program, he watched many a launch from his Ormond Beach, FL, home.
interest in the world, the universe, and everything scientific lives
on in my heart. Indeed, he will live on in my heart, in my fiction,
and in everything I do and write from now on.
held my father as he died, and it was the hardest thing I have ever
had to do. But I'm glad I was there to do it, and to whisper in
his ear that I loved him.
wish you red skies at night, always.
commit your spirit to the sea you loved, with our eternal love and
flowing like a river
Time, beckoning me
Who knows when we shall meet again
Keeps flowing like a river
To the sea
my love, Maybe for forever
Goodbye my love, The tide waits for me
Who knows when we shall meet again
Keeps flowing like a river (on and on)
To the sea, to the sea
(E. Woolfson & A. Parsons)
click here to view a gallery of his photographs