Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Day After

John Henry Parrish Jr. was known to different people as different things. His co-workers knew him as John, his parents knew him as Junior, people in my family knew him as Big John, and to his karate family, he was known as Sugar Bear.

I knew him as Dad.

When I got the news that my father had passed, I was halfway around the world in Japan. Even before my mother told me, I knew. I don't know how I knew, but I just knew that my father was gone.

On the plane ride back, I began to realize all of the things that I will never see and do again. I won't get the phone call asking if I want to go to the show. I won't get to ride with him in his cherry red Monte Carlo, filled with books and bags with karate gear. I won't get to hear his laugh. I'm sure a lot of people will remember my father's laugh. It started in his chest, like he didn't want to let it go and then would just slowly come out. But he never laughed loudly, it was more like a chuckle but it could put a smile on your face. Now all of these things are just memories. I'm one of the fortunate because I have those memories. I feel like there a lot of people who missed out and honestly, I'm sad for them because there was probably so much they could have learned from him.

If there was one thing about my father that I envied, it was his ability to just strike up a conversation with anyone. I felt like my father could walk up to a complete stranger and by the end of the conversation have made a new friend. I think it was because with my father everything just came off as genuine, mostly because it was. What you saw was what you got. He never talked just to hear himself talk, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't talk your ear off. It was just who he was. He was a storyteller, something that inspired me to be a writer. He didn't come off as fake, he didn't have an agenda. What you saw was what you got.

Now my father had two loves, karate and guitars. He loved guitars and he could play. He had more guitars than I could count and many of them were older than me. And he had played every single one of them. Anyone that knew my father knew that he could play guitar and he loved to play the blues. One of my memories was that during one of my birthdays, I was making my rounds to my grandparents' homes and I remember going downstairs to the basement and listening to him playing Christmas songs with a blues twist. As I got older, I didn't hear him play as much, but that always stayed with me. But one thing that never seemed to fade was his love and dedication to the martial arts and the karate community.

He loved karate and for him, it was like a second family. There people out in that audience that probably knew my father better than his own family, certainly better than I did. Growing up, I knew about him being called Sugar Bear and many times there were people I didn't know calling me Baby Bear. It was until I got a little older that I realized how deeply my father loved karate. I mean he'd have to love it because the only time he ever took vacation days was to go to a tournament and he never took vacation days. Ever. And he traveled all over the country for tournaments. As laid back as my father was, I had never seen him so comfortable until I finally got to see him in his element. Even back then it was obvious to me that when he was there, he was right at home. So to all of the people that knew him, sparred against him, and traveled those roads with him. Thank you. You have no idea how much it means to know he had somewhere to feel at home.

The thing that I respect my father for is that he never pushed me to do anything he did. He never pushed me toward playing guitar or studying karate. In fact, he usually tried to steer me away from those things in favor of finding my own way. He tried to keep me from doing things just because he did them. He wanted me to do things that I genuinely wanted to do. Once I found out what they were, he pushed me to do them. Even if they were things I wanted to do that he didn't neccesarily like, he supported me all the same. A lot of people probably don't know this, but my father was not a big fan of me going to college. He supported it, but he admitted that he was worried that it would change me and change my attitude. My father never went to college and sometimes I think the people he knew that did treated him differently afterwards. The irony is that despite this, he was the smartest man I knew. Still he had a stigma about it, but he knew it was something I wanted to do and supported me all the same. And that support helped me stand on my own and find where I wanted to be. Because of that, I can proudly say that I have accomplished most of my life goals before the age of 30. I wouldn't have gotten that far without his prodding and patience. He let me live a life of my own, but that was something that he was able to do as well.

If you were to look at my father, you would realize that he wasn't like anyone else around the neighborhood. He had his own style. How many people do you know that wore still wore jean jackets with the sleeves cut off? But he didn't care. If he liked it, he wore it. He was very much a man who did his own thing. He didn't try to be a part of the crowd, he didn't try to learn the latest gossip, he wasn't at church every Sunday. He worked, went to tournaments, and every other weekend would take me to the movies and the bookstore. Maybe that was why people around didn't really notice him. Sometimes I was frustrated because I felt like people never gave my father a chance, but I really don't think he cared because he was doing what he wanted. He didn't worry about what other people did. He was just doing his own thing. He didn't live the life we may have wanted to live, but he lived the life he wanted to live. Is it sad that he's gone? Yeah. On the inside, I am freaking out but I know that despite what people may think, he got to do what he loved. Some people spend their lives doing things they don't even like because it's what other people want, but my dad did what he wanted to do and what he loved to do. It inspires me to do the things that I want to do, not what people want me to do.

The last thing, I want to say about my father is that despite everything he went through in life, he tried to to the best he could. He put himself into everything he did and he very rarely went halfway in anything. That isn't to say that he did everything amazingly, but he did the best that he could do. When I was a child, my parents got divorced. I don't really remember living with my father. Even going as far back as I can remember, he lived with his parents. But despite that, he was always a part of my life. He wasn't perfect, but he did the best he could and I'd like to think that despite the many father figures I had in my life, he was the one who I learned the most from. When his parents mental health began to deteriorate, he didn't know what to do or how to handle it. Having one parent with dementia is rough, but having two in the same house going through it at the same time has to be insane. But, still, he did the best he could. He took care of them and watched out for them when they couldn't remember who he was or where they were. He didn't have a manual, but he did the best he could. I don't know if anyone ever told him, but I'm glad he was around to watch them in the beginning. He wasn't perfect, but he did the best he could do and in the end, that is all anyone could have asked him for.

John Henry Parrish Jr. was the greatest man I knew. He was my father, my hero, and one of my closest friends. He didn't do things just to show how good he was. He just did what he loved and it just happened that people were around to see it. Everything my father did, he would have done whether people were around or not. He lived life with a gentle nature that earned him the name Sugar Bear and could brighten anyone's day. He was going through a lot of things that many people don't know about, but I do. I know every frustration and every stress, though I had to find out from a journal. And it's frustrates me to know that behind his smile, there were so many frustrations. So even though I am sad, I know that he finally gets to rest. He worked hard his entire life and put himself into everything he did. I wish we'd had more time. I wanted to share so much with him. I wanted to sit and drink beers with him, I wanted to introduce him the the woman I marry and have him call her turkey, I wanted to see him holding his grandson in his arms, and more than anything I wanted to share everything. But that would be selfish. His struggles are over. All I can do is work hard, be myself, live the life I want to live, and make him proud.

In my office in Japan, when you leave before someone, you're supposed to say “Osaki ni shitsureishimasu” which means 'I'm sorry that I am leaving before you'. In response, the other workers are supposed to say “Otsukaresama deshita” which means 'good job' or 'your work is done'. So, Dad 'otsukaresama deshita'. I love you, dude.

_My Eulogy_

It still seems unreal to me that my father is gone. It seems even wilder that I was able to organize his funeral pretty much on my own and not have it blow up in my face. People are constantly telling me how strong I am, but it's just my father's strength rubbing off on me.

At the end of the service, my godfather told me that many of the karate guys said that they hoped their funeral was like that. No preachers, no choirs, no "I'll Fly Away". Just people who knew the man and loved him paying their respects.

My father's karate family knew who he was more than many people in the neighborhood and even his actual family. My goal was to make sure that by the end of everything, people knew that they missed out. My father was a great man.

One thing I noticed was that with my father, everyone said something about his character. They said something about who he was and it was consistent. I have never seen such an outpouring of love and so many broken hearts. It makes me proud to know there were people out there who got it. The people he worked with got it, the people in his karate family got it, the family got it but I think that for some, it may have been too little too late.

When I came home, my goal was to accurately depict who my father was. I think I did a good job, but I had so many people who helped me.

My Aunt said that I would be alone and that it would be sad, but I wasn't alone. I had my mother, my brother, my godfather, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. When I hadn't found a caterer, my cousin Kim stepped up to help and (to quote one of my favorite movies) put her ankle in it. My aunts helped serve at the repast. I didn't even have to ask and many times, they told me I didn't need to. My cousin Rowland flew in the day of. As tired and jetlagged as he was, he was ready to officiate the service and did a great job. Dad would have been proud of his nephew. Many people volunteered and it was out of love for my father. That meant the world to me and I can't even begin to thank them. Sometimes people look at me and say that I am alone, but I have a massive support system and people who can step up anytime I need them to. I thank God for them. All of them.

My dad lived the life he wanted to live. He walked his own path and raised me to do the same. I don't know what my path is, but I'm going to be like my father and put my everything into it. He'd expect nothing less.

Every time I hear that bell, I'll be thinking of you. You made me who I am and I am so very glad that you were the man who raised me. You did your best and now you can finally take that vacation you never got. I'll make you proud.

Later Days

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