Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tribute to my Father, on Father's Day

July 4, 1962 - March 26, 2007 .... The span of my Father's life....warning you'll cry, laugh, and bawl - or at least I have while typing this out.

He was born, and died, Donald Linn Pierson. He was the 3rd child of my grandparents, Alma Jean Lake (Granny)& Edwin Lee Pierson(PaPa), out of 5, being preceded in death by a younger sister who passed during birth, as well as his parents who respectively died in Jan 2002 and Dec 2002.

He was born in Storm Lake, Iowa, where he lived as a young child, before moving to Bentonville, Arkansas, where he met my mother. He joined the Navy in early 1981. Married my mother, in October of 1981...I was born 7 months later, in May 1982. My siblings followed suit in the years 1983, 1984, & 1987.

I don't remember a lot about my daddy from those days. I remember being completely enamored with him and truly lived up to being a "Daddy's Girl"...even to this day. I remember clearest the times after we moved into our "first, real" house, I was not quite 5, my mom was pregnant with my baby brother, and the house was still under construction, just down the hill from my grandmother, on my mother's side, in Rogers, Arkansas.

It has been incredibly difficult for me to write this blog post. In all honesty I started this particular post on July 3, 2009, I've come back to it a number of times, fully intending on finishing it and then publishing it. This is all the further I have gotten so far.

I loved my father. He was a great man, now I'm not so wrapped up in my opinion of him to not see his faults, but he did try. We never had the latest or greatest of anything; rarely did we even have anything that was new. We never had the money to go to fancy places like Disney or Six Flags; most of our vacations were taken only a few hours from home, often paired with a family reunion in Iowa, just north of Kansas City and we'd go to the amusement park there - Worlds of Fun to be exact. We'd spend weeks in a tent on the river down the mountain from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, just two hours from where we lived. I looked forward to those trips every year. I finally did have an opportunity, that I took, when I was 18 to go to DisneyLand - it wasn't what I thought it was cracked up to be. My folks weren't there, neither were my siblings, and frankly I felt like it sucked simply for those reasons. Later that summer I also went to Italy, Greece, the Philippines, India, New Zealand, and Australia - the sites were great, I wholly appreciated the experience, don't get me wrong, but I'd had a falling out with my folks not long before then and it sucked. My dad had always wanted to go to Australia and never got the opportunity.

My dad had wonderful stories he'd tell about his life growing up. One of my favorite ones was of when he and his brother found a pair of abandoned baby raccoons, took them home, and then raised them. He'd tell about how when they'd get ready to leave for school in the morning they'd climb on the roof of the house & then drop down on his & his brother's shoulders when they walked out the door to catch the bus. They said that the raccoons pleaded in such a way that'd make you think they didn't want them to go to school, they were lonely on school days & would cause trouble on their own. My Granny & Papa confirmed the stories, so I'm confident there's no father falsities there. Granny wouldn't allow the raccoons in the house due to the mess they'd create so they were basically wild, but tame.

I still get a giggle out of remembering a story he and my uncle told about the time they'd raced up a HUGE tree that they'd been forbidden from climbing...only for one of the branches to break under the weight of my father, causing him to go crashing down the tree towards the ground. The only thing that saved his neck then was mere feet from the ground a forked branch broke his fall, hanging him there by his knees. My uncle then raced down the tree, then doctored his scratches and scrapes up, in the barn, because Granny was home. I was roughly 10 years old when I heard that story. My dad & his brother were telling the story - so they were 30 & 33 years old - we were all sitting in Granny's living room and the look on her face said she was going to beat the fire out of both of them with a belt, right then and there. One for lying to her almost 20 years ago about all those scrapes & scratches, two for climbing that tree, repeatedly, by admission, after being forbidden, and my uncle was bound to get an extra beating for putting his younger brother in harm's way, since he should have known better, being the older sibling. The looks on my dad's & my uncle's faces at that particular moment also said that they knew they were in TROUBLE. It was like watching the faces of two young kids immediately upon realizing that they just told on themselves for doing something seriously wrong that they'd lied about - pride in bragging about the conquest, immediately followed by the horror of realizing that their mother was sitting right there, listening to them brag about their conquest. Nearly 15 years later I did the same thing with my mother, when recounting the details of a car wreck I'd had, when I was 16, that she never knew about until I was telling the story of it. I'm a lot like my father - it may take me a while to come clean, but I really can't keep my secrets or lies for too long....I often forget that I'd lied or kept something secret at some point and tell on myself.

My favorite thing about my father is he always insisted on us playing board & card games. At an early age I learned how to play games like Risk, Monopoly, Cribbage, Chess, and countless different card games. My dad wasn't the type of father though that 'let' his kids win. You had to beat him at his own games through practice (and sheer luck); I have his competitive edge when it comes to such. I'm quite the shark when it comes to each of these games, but I also suck at them. I never fully paid attention to some of the moves he'd play in chess, so I still haven't completely mastered how to put a person out in less than three moves, nor how to block that particular set of moves. But it was countless hours of fun. Absolutely NOTHING got in the way of playing games when he wanted to play; homework could wait until later, same thing for chores. But heaven forbid you didn't have your chores & homework done before dinner was served!

Every meal was to be ate at the dinner table, unless of course there was a show on that dad wanted to watch or we were watching a movie, together. We were rarely - to the point of almost never - allowed to go to friends' houses for sleepovers. We weren't allowed to go to friends' houses if their parents and my parents didn't get along. At the time I thought it to be wholly unfair - as a parent I find it to be a great idea - Mikeal has only spent the night at friends' houses where I know, trust, & love the parents of his friends - it helps me sleep easy those nights.

We, meaning Brian, the kids, and myself, just got back from our first 'family vacation' the other day. We went out to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. All I could think about was how my dad would have LOVED spending the week out there in a cabin in the woods - ok, truth be told he likely would have preferred a leaky tent - but surrounded by the mountains, varmints that'd knock over the trash cans - because apparently some city folks don't understand that there IS a reason the trash cans all had locking lids - the hiking through the woods, hanging out on the deck just talking, watching the sunset, the moonrise, and getting up early enough to watch the sun then rise through the trees.

The whole week we were there I could feel my daddy smiling, laughing occasionally, and just having a blast. I miss him.

I won't go in depth with all the details of the last few years of his life, but I will say this: PLEASE don't be a bullheaded man about seeing a doctor and getting your check-ups! My daddy wasn't yet 45 when he passed away. To say he was stubborn about seeing a doctor is a complete understatement. He had a massive heart attack and heat stroke when he was 32, there was evidence of him having a heart condition when he had his physicals for the Navy, but he passed the physical the second time around, so never looked further into it. He was in great health where his cholesterol, etc was concerned, wasn't overweight, nada, to look at him & his blood work you'd think he was in perfect health. After his heart attack all his tests came back clean...until my mom insisted that the doc put him under the stress test until it acted up. It took 3 hours of him being hooked up to machines, laying on his back, pedaling a stationary bike before they saw his heart hiccup, cutting off the blood supply to his brain, causing him to have what seemed to be a sudden burst of complete anger then a mild stroke, before his heart would restart and he go back to everything being normal. I do give credit to my dad for changing his diet - removing all caffeine from his diet, he was QUITE the AVID Mountain Dew & unsweetened tea drinker. He cut back on the type of manual labor he'd always done, to a job less physically demanding, etc. He had his first open heart surgery at age 40 to repair the defective valve. After the surgery he backslid on his caffeine free diet, feeling like he was 'cured' and really wanted to enjoy his Mountain Dew & caffeinated tea again. The surgery did leave his immune system a bit compromised for a little while. Three years later he had to have another open heart surgery. His health went quickly downhill after that. A man who never got sick, never had the flu, man colds, nothing, was losing weight at an alarming rate, had a chronic sore/raspy throat, and stomach issues, all the time. Almost a year of this went by before he agreed to see the doctor for it and mention these extra 'annoyances'. His doctor assumed it to be something related to the heart surgeries and sent him back to the cardiologist. The scans done by the cardiologist showed some severe abnormalities, they ended up decided to go with opening him up again...and that's when it was found. See, my dad had been a tobacco chewer since he was a teenager, anytime anyone would say something to him about it he'd defend his choice to chew tobacco by saying that if he's really poisoning anyone's body it's just his own, he's not poisoning folks with secondhand smoke, yada yada.

He'd quit the chewing tobacco before his first heart surgery and hadn't picked it back up, but between 20 years of chewing and refusing to get check-ups or seeing the doctor when he was sick he was screwed. When the cardiologist opened him up for his 4th and final heart surgery they found the cause of the abnormalities that showed on the scan - cancerous tumors, large ones. After a complete, thorough work-up, from head to toe, it was discovered that he had cancerous tumors from his mouth to his colon & every digestive organ in between. Later it was determined that he had a severely aggressive form of cancer that in combination with the repeated heart surgeries his body had become too weak to even attempt to fight it and the early warning signs of cancer were overlooked as being symptoms of his heart condition. Less than 3 weeks after telling me of the diagnosis I was given the news that he had passed away of a heart attack....I was really counting on him being around for at least another 6 months as I hadn't gotten to physically see him since I was newly pregnant with Mikeal, who was almost 5 at the time of his death. He never got to meet any of his grandchildren, yes, I'd send pictures & updates about Mikeal & my siblings & their kids, but he never did get to touch a single one of them. They never got to hear his stories, play games with him, nothing.

As I previously mentioned it's taken me almost two years to write out this post without becoming extremely angry over the details of the last decade of his life by rehashing them, maybe sometime in the future I'll be able to tell the whole story here, but not at this time. Those emotions are much too raw, even now, for me to even begin to attempt to tell, but I really needed this post to be posted, so that I can start moving forward.

I love you Daddy and if fate deems it to be so I look forward to seeing you again in the future. ♥ Happy Father's Day!!!

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