I found this picture of my dad last night, it's one of my favorites. It's got a real "here I am, take it or leave it" feel, which is kind of how I try and live my life. When I gave this picture back to my mom last night (I feel like I borrowed it years ago, it was hiding in an old journal) the look on her face was the same she always gets when he comes up. It's been over 11 years since he died, which is insane to think about, but you can see she still really misses him. I had the opposite upbringing of what tends to be common for kids of my generation. Most of them had parents who hated each other and lived together until they got sick of each other and got divorced. My parents never lived together (not after I was born at least) but never got divorced and always loved each other. It was hard for my friends to wrap their heads around, understandably.
Here are some facts about my dad: He was a Marine sniper in Vietnam, he was actually shorter than me but infinitely stronger, he hated being called "dude", he was an excellent singer and wrote some really mind blowing poetry, he thought Barney the dinosaur was a dragon (for some reason I still find this hilarious), he carried a hunting knife everywhere, and was in a garage band in the 60's called Where's My Daughter (some guy once ran into their practice space and yelled that at one of them).
My mom told me that this picture was taken around the time they first met, which I estimate to be around '76?? I was born in '81 and they were together for years before I came along. They had a farm with all kinds of animals and several crazy ducks that I've heard more than a handful of stories about. Now, there's no way of knowing if what is so casually hanging from his lips is a "weed cigarette" or just some kind of rolled tobacco...I've never smoked pot in my life but I would never deny someone who had somewhat recently returned from serving in Vietnam a little relaxation. I remember bringing his Purple Heart medals in to show-and-tell and feeling like I totally smoked the competition. Only a certain kind of child can feel like he WON show-and-tell...I was this kind of child.
Let's not get it twisted, for the bulk of my adolescence my dad and I had a very tumultuous relationship. We always got along but I was very often embarrassed by his attitude and the way he acted. Chalk this up, as I later discovered, to the fact that I was a self-important whiny brat for the years in question. I didn't understand him and looking back on certain situations I'm actually embarrassed with how I acted. He didn't care how he was perceived and he was completely unashamed of who he was, which now I have great respect for, but at the time...ugh, let's just say I sucked and move on.
If your dad dies when you're a senior in high school you can't help but feel cheated, I was just beginning to understand him and vice-versa. I remember once he saw me in one of my Crass shirts that said Fight War Not Wars, Destroy Power Not People and he was really taken by it. That felt like one of those inter-generational moments where you connect with someone that was always a bit of a mystery, or at least had become one since you were a kid. I feel like that's the time, if you're a guy, when you're really supposed to get to know you're dad, once you are more-or-less, a man. Then again, I probably never would have become a man, or at least grown up and learned as much as I did from dealing with his death. It's hard to say, it's such heavy, life-altering stuff.
It's funny, I'm sitting here thinking of stories I could tell (or at least reference) and they're all slightly-to-very intense and could easily be misinterpreted. I hope I'm not making my dad seem like some kind of outlaw. He was just a guy who did everything he could to raise me right and keep me and my mom safe, which is exactly what a dad is supposed to do. I'm sure that not every kid spends time at his father's wake talking to his dad's old biker friends, but I did, and I'm thankful for it. You only get one dad and none of them are perfect but I'm glad James Muirhead was mine.