Friday, September 06, 2013

Le Batard

"Bon Soir, tu magnifique batard.  Those are the last words that I leaned over and whispered to my recently departed uncle.  Today was his funeral, and I am quite good at coming up with last words at funerals (see "A Lovely Little Secret).  You can learn a lot of things at funerals, some of those things you would rather not know, and some of those things you wish you had known years ago. I attended my uncle Mike's  funeral today with a very heavy heart because the man being buried was my favorite uncle, and after a long illness that was making his life not worth living, he decided to put a bullet into his brain, and bring his time on this mortal coil to an end.

Suicide is, according to a lot of people, a very selfish move. It supposedly the most self-centered thing a person can do to the people that they leave behind. Those of us left on this side of the dirt are left to wonder what if. What if I had done the 'right' thing, and gone to see him during the last week before he died, what if I had at least had the decency to call him, and remind him that he was the single, greatest, live male influence in my miserable life.  What if a thousand other things happened that didn't, the two most dangerous words in the English language are "what if." The fact that he was the greatest male influence in my life is, in some respects, not saying a whole lot, but in others is saying all that needs to be said.  As I have mentioned several times before the paterfamilias was not the type of man that I felt the need to be around for any length of time. When Uncle Mike was in town, and could be bothered to humor his preteen nephew, all was right in the world.

The problem that I have with today's events are twofold. First, I was told by some preacher fellow that my uncle, the hard drinking, hard driving, bastard that I knew him to be, had 'found Jesus' about a month before he died. That may be true, but I (who have yet to find this Jesus of which he spoke) do not want to believe it. There is a school of thought that says that you can live the most dissolute of lives, and convert on your death bed, and find your way to this 'kingdom of heaven' where the streets are paved with gold ( I shit you not, the preacher actually used that analogy today during his 'service').  As the service wore on, I begin to detect a shift in its focus, it became less and less about the guest of honour, i.e. my uncle Mike, and more about trying to convince the live audience to 'accept Jesus Christ as our personal saviour. All well in good, for a Sunday service, but not something I want to hear when I am struggling (very hard) to contain the grief I feel at the death of my favorite uncle. You can proselytize some other day, brother. Today, I want you to remind me what a kick ass fucking uncle I am here to bury.

Secondly, I realized that the kick ass uncle I was there to bury, wasn't the same guy I remember. I remember him as ten feet tall, and bullet proof. Truth is, he was about my height, and as events proved, not bullet proof.  However, that is how I want to choose to remember him. Not the dying man, struggling to breathe that, I like to think, hedged his bets (he was a gambling man) by finding Jesus a month before his death.  He was a bastard, he was not a religious man, and it was because he was a bastard that I worshiped the ground he walked upon.  It took all of my self-control, and I realize it makes me sound like a bastard, to not get up and walk out of his funeral today in disgust. Disgust at the man the preacher was describing, because that man was not my Uncle Mike.

I realize that last line makes me sound like the most ungrateful, unfeeling, nephew in the wide world, but I also realized (about half way through the service) that the man being buried today was not the uncle of my childhood. He was not the guy who taught me how to shoot a gun, not the guy who taught me how to play cards, not the guy who taught me how to play the ponies, and not the guy who used me as 'bait' to attract the ladies in dive bars. No, he was the older, more mature, version of that guy. The guy who had been married to the same woman that he loved beyond compare for 33 years. The guy who was a fantastic step father to that woman's children, so much so that one of them called him 'Dad' in the few words she tearfully recited at his funeral.  He was not the hard living, truck driving manic that a youthful me put on the highest of pedestals (only to watch him fall off of it because no mortal man could have met my 10 year old expectations). 

No, he had aged, and like all of us mortals, age had slowed him down. In many ways, I am glad I moved away from where he lived, it helped me miss that slowing down. It helped me miss my Uncle Mike becoming an premature old man.  He was still Uncle Mike the man who taught me all the things I needed to know, but that persistent cough that I had always noticed, but ignored had become more of a defining characteristic that I realized.  It was that cough that was a sign of the disease that was going to (if he had allowed it) kill him. He knew it, his doctors knew it, and all his loved ones knew it. Uncle Mike was dying, quickly, and there was exactly fuck all any of us could do about it, except, as it turns out, him. Uncle Mike was of the generation of men who didn't ask for help, didn't need help, and belonged to a class of men "who couldn’t be tempted or swayed by the pleasant but boring dream of one day waking up at sunrise in their own bed with no one to run from and no one to apologize to."

That last comment in the quotation marks is from a website called Modern Drunkard magazine, and in many ways my Uncle Mike was a modern drunkard. He was a man's man, someone who you didn't want to fuck with. If provoked he would just as soon shoot or stab you as not.  He wasn't John Wayne by any one's standards, and I am quite sure that some of my recollections of him are quite romanticized, but for all of those things he taught me, he was one of my heroes. Not one of the 366 heroes I have already written about, but a true hero, one that I actually had the pleasure (not taken nearly often enough) of knowing, learning, and worshiping from up close. Those words that I leaned over his coffin to whisper into his unhearing ears, are the truest things that I, no matter how hard I try, will ever say.  Good night you magnificent bastard.

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