My father died in 1975 at the age of 43 when I was just eight years old. My parents had already been divorced (since I was only a year old), so I have very little recollection of who he was or what he was about. I've heard all the stories about his alcoholism, his run-ins with the law, and his never ending moves cross country looking for greener pastures.
While I haven't heard any fond memories of him from my mother or my brothers, I do still hold onto the few times that I remember seeing him. I remember him coming to visit us and taking my brothers and myself to ride go-karts and I remember the shiny yellow Tonka dump truck that he brought me on another visit. Despite his lack of commitment to his family, he still gave me something to wish for. He gave me the hope that I'd get him back and get the father I always wanted.
While my (older) brothers seemed to be unaffected by his death, I was devastated by it — to their amazement I cried for days. I realize now that my sadness came out of losing a dream and not about losing the person. A person who for whatever reasons, was incapable of raising children and being a part of a family.
Fast forward a few decades and here I sit almost a decade older than he was when he died. I very often reflect on what his life must have been like, the struggles he went through, the demons of dealing with his own abusive father, and his own methods of self-medication. He had a hard life and while the direction he chose is not a direction that I could fathom, it doesn't surprise me that he ended up where he did.
Several years ago, I was doing some family research and I came across some letters that he had written to his sister in the year before his death. One recurring theme in these letters was a complaint about restaurant food and how he would get what he thought was food poisoning. Knowing what I know now about my own health challenges through the years due to undiagnosed celiac disease (I was diagnosed in 1999 and was severely malnourished at nearly 80 lbs. underweight), the light bulb in my head went on and I can almost be certain that he was dealing with celiac disease and that it was probably was one of the largest contributors to not only his death, but his ongoing health problems and the psychological challenges that came with it. This is of course is sheer speculation but with the commonly referenced estimate that a person has a 1 in 20 chance of developing celiac disease if a direct relative has it, I'm willing to bet this was the case (besides myself, one of my brothers was also diagnosed).
I can only imagine that had my father been lucky enough to have been privy to the information that we have now on health and nutrition, things could have been different for him (and me). Just maybe he would have been the father I always dreamed of having — just maybe I'd be wishing him a Happy Father's Day today. Regardless of the fact he's been gone for over 40 years, I'll still say it — Happy Father's Day Dad!