Born Edgar Franklin Flanagan, acquired Francis as a communion name, then shaved this mouthful down to Ed. He became father to me and my sister when he was in his mid-twenties.
This isn’t a real portrait of him, but only a small list of fragments, the tesserae of a mosaic.
He was always my standard for what honesty means. I was 4 months old at my first Christmas. My parents were living paycheck-to-paycheck, and dining on peanut butter sandwiches for the holidays. Being young parents, they wanted to make holidays special for me, but couldn’t afford much of the trappings, including an Xmas tree. On the night of December 24th, my dad was driving home from his work-day, and his route took him by an Xmas tree lot, where the people selling trees had left for the night, abandoning the unsold trees. He stopped his truck, and thought about it, but couldn’t bring himself to “steal” one of those abandoned trees, not even for his new baby (who really wouldn’t care).
He was generous to others in big and small ways. Of course he lent his employees at Central Supply the money to buy his company from him. When we were young and couldn’t open a jar of pickles or other condiment, he’d easily pop it open with his big hands, then tell us he’d only done so because “you loosened it”.
He always took joy in the evidence of others’ affection for him — i believe that he saw it as a gift, not a right. I remember the look of pure delight on his face when i gave him the Cohiba cigar he’d requested from Cuba. He was so happy to have been thought of.
He taught me to ride a bike — something parents do everywhere around the world, I remember him running alongside, telling me words of encouragement. Then when i’d pedaled a few beats on my own steam, looking behind me to find he’d stopped some yards back…and i fell over.
Later when i was 16 or 17, i took a bike and a camera off on a long ride into the farmlands around the north of Wichita. I took what i’m sure i thought were artsy pictures of corn or wheat fields, got chased by packs of dogs, and then after 4 or 5 hours, stopped exhausted with no idea how i’d get home. About 10 minutes later, my dad drove up — he’d been out looking for me, so we threw the bike in the car trunk and drove home, This may be the only time i’ve ever been rescued.
And he taught me that sometimes it’s OK to not always pretend to be strong. Once when i was about 6 or 7, i ran into the open staircase at the Tahoe cabin & bashed my head on a step. He saw me do it, and how i was trying so hard to not cry from the pain, and told me, “It’s OK, if it hurts, you can cry.”
He used to call St Patrick’s “amateur night”.
He had a good sense of humor, so i was introduced to Tom Lehrer’s survival hymn, “We Will All Go Together When We Go” through him. And he tried to understand why i found Monty Python’s Flying Circus so appealing — climbing upstairs one Sunday night to watch an episode, even though he didn’t see the appeal at all. (But he did like John Oliver, when i found him episodes to watch while in the hospital!)
He had a very healthy suspicion of marriage, but he was also a total romantic, so kept on trying!
He was crap at language. His Latin consisted of amo – amas -amat; his Spanish of una mas, por favor & his French of Chevrolet coupé, but he worked to communicate with others anyway, to find some sort of common, human ground. When he met Eran & his father for the first time in China, after he’d established that they’d both outranked him as soldiers in a different army, he cheerfully saluted the 2 Sergeants.
My Dad wasn’t perfect, nor always a good person. He was as selfish as any of the rest of us flawed humans, but gave us an example of striving TOWARDS being a noble human person.
I’m sure that I’ll keep remembering more as time goes on — for me the memories of Dad enjoying his life definitely eclipse those of the suffering he endured in his last year. I believe his own memories of this helped him get on with that last hard year.