On May 12, 2017, my father Edwin John (Jack) Williams passed away after 5+ years of battling heart disease, 4 days before his 52nd wedding anniversary to my mom.
He was 75.
For the standard info, visit http://www.nicholsfuneralhome.com/obituaries/edwin-j-williams.html
For the non-standard info, keep reading.
Growing up, Dad worked 6 days a week at Polaroid for almost 30 years as a fire and safety officer. He enjoyed being at work, getting things done, hanging out with people he liked, and for him, it also meant overtime was a standard part of his pay. He worked because it meant that Mom didn't have to (until later years), and it was his way of being the breadwinner.
You would know my Dad by 2 names - Ed if you worked with him, Jack if you did not. We learned early on that if, on his off days, someone called the house looking for Ed, you took a message. If they asked for Jack, you'd go find him!
Dad was handy - to a degree. He LOVED tools - the garage will take years to fully clean out and sort. His use of them, well, let's just say he had great intentions, even if his attention to detail was a little less than perfect.
For example, in typical fashion, somehow he managed to have pieces of a shed, dismantled from somewhere at Polaroid, delivered to our house for reassembly. (Things appearing from Polaroid was a reoccurring theme at our house!) My Uncle Roy and I were helping put this particular jigsaw puzzle together.
There is a running gag in my family that I was Uncle Roy and my Auntie Chrissy's kid, because I am far more like them than my parents in many ways - but in this instance, the important detail is that Uncle Roy and I are a little OCD when it comes to building things. In this case, we had just put up the last wall, and where the 2 sections met in the back, they were out of level. Not a little - almost 4 inches. FOUR inches. My father insisted that everything was just fine - put the roof on and let's get done - "it's close enough!" - while my Uncle and I looked at him like he was (and he was) a crazy person. We argued with him for 20 minutes, then my Uncle and I ignored him and proceeded to fix the wall.
That shed still stands today, but by no fault of Dad's!
His vast array of tools served him in another way - he was always willing to help when anyone had a problem, and if that meant having some random, specialized tool would save the day, then he would have it, or get it. Our family was the only one with a snowblower for MANY years, and anyone that needed a hand clearing out was visited by that beast. Up and down our dirt dead end street, clearing out the 3 other driveways on our street, and sometimes around the corner to other houses we would go.
Dad also liked to read, and we did have that in common. However, his speed of reading could generously be described as "leisurely" at best. He enjoyed this serial book series called "Mack Bolan: The Executioner" - cheap trade paperbacks that came out once a month or so, about a ex-vet who cleared out Mob families and later, international bad guys, single-handedly. Think Dirty Harry meets Die Hard, with military training, and you're close.
Usually, I would buy him a few in the series that were recent (they number well into the hundreds now) for gift giving times - birthdays, Christmas, etc. Inevitably, later that day, I would steal them, read them in a day or less, and hand them back. Sometimes I'd have to wait months to buy the next few in the series because he wouldn't have finished that last batch.
While Dad was active with veterans organizations later in life, and we knew he served in-between Korea and Vietnam in South-East Asia, he did not talk about those times almost at all with us. I know very little about what he did during his service time. My understanding was he was Special Forces, but beyond that, he never really spoke of that time with us.
I think that time in the Army, however, predisposed him to liking a uniform. At Polaroid for a while, his boss made him wear a Asst. Fire Marshall's uniform - cap and pins, etc. To this day, I'm not 100% sure it wasn't his idea, and not his boss!
One day, he walked into the Wilmington Fire Dept. to ask for a burning permit on the way home from work - not remembering he was wearing rank pins on his shirt as a Fire Marshall. He said it took him about 5 minutes to figure out why everyone there was running around when he walked in to get a simple permit, "sir-ing" him and asking if there was anything else they could do for him.
Dad also was an Auxiliary Policeman for many years - first in Waltham (where we first lived) and then later, he created and headed up the program in Wilmington. He was a Lieutenant at Wilmington, and in charge of the Auxiliary Police for many years. Many of the "regular" officers were first members of the Aux. Police unit until spots opened up on the main force.
His health was never great - like most through the 70's he smoked, drank, and ate like crap. We called him the Michelin Man for years because of the spare tire around his 5'7" frame. His family history of heart issues did not really stop him from doing these things, but again, it was a different time.
Eventually, he stopped the smoking, but not before the damage was done. His eating wasn't much better, and his weight issues, while not obese in many measures, led to diabetes and other complications.
In the end, the combination of all these things began to take their toll, and conspired to hasten his end.
For many years, he was home, taking care of my grandmother who also lived in my parents house for her let few years, and I think that gave him a purpose. When she went, he seemed to take a turn, and the hospital visits seemed to become more frequent, until the last week, when he was in for a few days, came home, but never rebounded like he had before.
I was unaware of how bad it was during this last week, despite my sister's concerns. I knew things were coming to an end sooner than later - if anything I'm the pragmatic one of the family, the polar opposite of my emotional sister - but when he went in on Thursday, I figured it would be another sleepover and then back home.
Not this time.
Unbeknownst to me, that week in between hospital stays was not a good one at home - he couldn't/wouldn't eat or drink for 4 days, he was in pain, and his swelling of the legs was back. At he beginning of the week, they had an appointment with his cardiologist where they were told that there wasn't much else that could be done, and I think that triggered the start of the end.
Denial can be a powerful thing, and all of a sudden, reality set in. Lawyers we called for a will that wasn't finalized, plans we being made, and I think he just realized he was done, and didn't want to fight any more.
I arrived around lunchtime on Friday, and while semi-coherent because he had not slept in about 4 days, still asked "How's work?" when I arrived. 7 hours later, he was gone. The pain was too much, and he wanted the drugs. He was ready to be done.
My relationship with Dad was different than my younger sister - some of that is because she's 8 years younger (so therefore he had 8 years more experience lol), some because she was his little girl, and some because of the way I am.
We were not "close" - not estranged, not fighting, not anything like that at all - we just were not "pals". We did not hang out, go on father-son trips, etc. - which is all completely fine. We were different people in many respects, and while we enjoyed each other, we also didn't have a lot in common, or at least things in common that would have facilitated the kind of relationship that many people equate to a father-son pairing - and that's OK.
I did not have the patience for him that I should have, and I know that bothered him - and me. His standard opening question to me - even from his deathbed - was "How's work?" - partly because that how he related to things, and party because he really didn't know what else to ask me. I was annoyed with that question most times, and blew it off with a standard "work is work" - but I didn't have anything better to say either. Sometimes, I would dive into it, but my work is so outside his understanding that it was difficult, if not impossible, to keep it where he could relate.
I know it was his way to try and start a conversation with me, but that was the best opening line he could muster, and I had nothing better in my bag of tricks either. Small-talk is not a skill I possess, even with family. That bit of DNA was not transferred from parent to child.
He would get annoyed with me when he wanted me to teach him something with the computer all the time. The issue usually fell apart because the thing he wanted to to do needed several intermediate steps to master before you could get to the point he wanted - but you couldn't tell him that. He'd then tell me that while I have all these fancy teaching degrees and such, I couldn't teach computers for a hill of beans, and he'd walk off. Mom would usually shake her head, and tell me - "I told him it wasn't that easy, but he didn't want to listen to me!"
He did, somehow, impart in me a number of things that I've come to see as a reflection of him.
Like him, I like tools - not obsessively like him, but I like having the right tool for the job. More importantly, I like being able to help other people with my tools and skills. He was usually the provider of equipment and partnership, where I provide the skill and the tool, but mostly prefer to work alone.
Like him, I too, like being busy. While I haven't had a position that paid me overtime in 30 years, I like doing stuff. I'm curious about things, and that leads me to dive into many (maybe too many) activities, hobbies, and projects. I do try to spend more time with my kids, something that I'm better at the older I get - and I think he got better as well with my younger sister. I have the benefit of a little more leisure time - I don't have to work overtime to make ends meet - but I struggle with all my other interests and commitments to spend time playing with my kids - I just don't know what it's like not to be busy.
He always stressed that there was always someone better than me at a given skill or activity. For a long time, my advanced skill set at music early on may have swelled my self-image, and it took a long time before I realized I was not the best drummer in the world. I hear myself saying the same things to my 7 year old soccer star now.