His name is Mike Fulk. He was born September 11, 1952. He lived in Findlay, Ohio most all of his life. He worked in construction as long as I can remember from paving roads to building hospitals and hotels to doing backyard and home improvement projects for friends and family in his very sparse spare time. His pride was in becoming a carpenter like his father before him. My dad has made some of the most incredible woodwork pieces I have ever laid eyes on. He could have charged a fortune for the things that he's done.
One of my favorite memories with my dad was when we reroofed a house in the summer for a friend of dad's. We stripped all the old shingles and replaced them all over the course of the weekend. It was during the re-election campaign for President Bush Sr. and the train clacked past not two blocks from us. He came out on the back of the train to wave at us as the secret service helicopters whirred overhead. That was the same summer I had Rally's for the first time and when I shocked dad's friend when I said I really didn't care what kind of car anyone drove. I was completely unimpressed with his classic Corvette other than I liked the rich sapphire blue of its paint job.
Dad loves to fish. When I was little, he had a wooden boat we used to scrape down every year in January and repaint and seal for the fishing season ahead. I worked with a putty knife scraping the peeling green paint from the sides of the boat. Dad took me out fishing at least once a month, if not more. He even bought me my first pole. A Bill Dance. I was so proud of that little fishing pole. It was black with little yellow rings around each of the tension points and a little thumb cast reel. I was so excited that next morning when we went to Delaware and set out onto the water before it got too hot. I brought that pole back over my shoulder for my first cast, just like we'd practiced the night before with the training lure. Over the shoulder, breathe in and give it a quick flick forward. Behind me, dad calmly but urgently called out "Hold it, hold it, hold it!" When I turned around, I had hooked dad between the thumb and forefinger in the webbing of his hand with my first lure. Dad had to cut the barb off the end of the hook to get it out of his hand. I felt awful. Dad just told me it was all right and to just cast more careful next time. Maybe from the side.
I learned to be more careful casting after that. I was honestly surprised when he didn't get mad or yell louder when he was hooked. He also took the same approach when I was learning to drive, but we'll get to that.
One such afternoon as my sister and I are scrubbing the boat and listening to the new pop station WKXA (that's now a country station), the power went out, the radio went off and I went to the garage to check the fuse box. The fuse in the living room tripped. I flicked it back on and it immediately went back off again. Hm.
When I walked inside, dad was yakking on the phone (seriously, that man was always on the phone) and I gave him a funny look. Sitting beside him on the floor, dad completely oblivious, my little brother, who was maybe only two at the time, had taken the key to my journal and stuck it in the wall outlet. The current had fused the key to the key ring it was on. My brother, of course, was sitting there staring at it in absolute shock, not crying until I started freaking out. Dad was still yakking on the phone. Yak yak yak. Until Tyler started crying. And I had to tell him about the key and the fuse box.
Oblivious father was sometimes oblivious. Most of the time he was good dad. Sometimes he was anti-dad. And then there were times when he was flat out an asshole. No alcohol required.
I hated shutdowns. Dad was a surly bear. He was tired, he was sore, he came home and wouldn't let me touch him until he went into the laundry room and stripped off the clothing he was wearing at work that day. I remember him telling me he didn't know what all he'd gotten into that day and didn't want me touching it in case it was dangerous.
This coming from the man who never wore face or eye protection and barely wore a hard hat. This also coming from the man whom I watched jump straight off the roof from the house when the ladder fell and we were stranded. Jump, tuck and roll. Like some kind of Redwing boot wearing ninja badass. Like the man who poured the patio and drove stakes for the fencing with a sledgehammer he wielded over his head in long, controlled strokes like the legends of John Henry.
I thought my dad was freaking invincible and could literally do anything. I learned to season food by watching dad in the kitchen. His technique was to open up the pantry and start dumping things in to what you were cooking. Sometimes it turned out awesome, sometimes it turned out really kinda gross, but at least you knew what not to do. I could change my own oil. I could change my own brakes. I could rotate my own tires. All I needed was an afternoon with dad in the garage with the salamander running and the line from the air compressor running through the exhaust hatch so we could use the air ratchet. When I had to make an adobe brick for class, dad brought home clay from the work site. When I needed specialized sets for the musicals I was in, dad built them. When I started making cosplay props, dad made my first EMR for me.
At the time I was pissed, but now I'm really thankful for it.
I don't think I have ever seen my dad wear anything other than plaid shirts and the occasional (very occasional) tee shirt in his life. I found some on clearance for seven bucks and picked up three of them for him because I knew he'd worn out some of his winter ones.
My dad was invincible. He was going to live to a ripe old age until we had to wipe his butt for him. When I bought my first house, my dad was going to help me go through it and spot the things I needed to look out for. He was going to tell me what was wrong with the house and how to negotiate the price. When I finally signed the deal and the key was in my hot little hand, my dad was going to help me fix it up before we moved in.
There was no fucking way some sucker punching bitch cancer was going to take my dad out. He was immortal. Still young. He hadn't even made it to retirement age yet! He was going on a trip to Alaska over fourth of July weekend!
We had a cookout that memorial day. Dad really was having trouble swallowing. He had to drink a lot of fluids to wash every bite down and he chewed forever. He said it really hurt every time he had to swallow something, which made him not want to eat. I don't blame him. It looked painful.
He was most disappointed that the trip he'd planned two years for he'd been told he wouldn't be able to do. He wasn't going to be able to go to Alaska. He was crushed. Almost to the point of tears. And my dad didn't cry. He punched things when he was angry or sad. I told him to go and get a second opinion at either the Cleveland Clinic or the James Center in Columbus.
Through most of the chemo treatment, dad was doing remarkably well. He wasn't showing most of the signs of hair loss, weakness or frailty that are common with chemo patients. He was coming in for massage to help with the pain in his back. He didn't start losing his hair until his birthday last year. My sister bought him a bunch of clip on mustaches to wear since he hadn't been without one since I was about six.
The cancer started to recede from his esophogus. Dad was able to eat better, although it was still difficult. They were hopeful they were going to beat it back into remission. The doctors were positive and hopeful. Dad was still doing all the things he did before. He laid all the new patio brick in front of the house, tore down the old deck on the back of the house and rebuilt it out of stronger wood and plastic hybrid. They sold off his work truck and he bought a sporty SUV, which surprised the hell out of me. My dad has had a pickup truck as long as I can remember. He and mom went fishing after his chemo treatments he was taking every three weeks. They were going out and doing things, coming down to Columbus to visit. They even came down for me to host Thanksgiving dinner last year.
He was still good on weight. His energy was good. He was in good spirits. Still doing all the things he did before. Things were good. I saw him in March for my nephew's second birthday. He came home from a gun show he'd gone to with my uncle. While everyone was there, he was same old dad, but once everyone started leaving, dad went back to lie down.
It hit me then that maybe he was pretending to be more okay than he was.
My sister sent me the above picture of my dad working on the boat with my niece in early May. Dad's pants were bagging off of him. My dad's pants always fit him. They never sagged like that.
I got a call from mom that she was taking dad up to the Cleveland Clinic because dad wasn't able to eat at all. Everything he tried to eat he brought back up. He couldn't even keep water down. When he was working on the boat, he tripped over the tongue of the boat and fell. We aren't sure what happened, but obviously something. Cleveland kept him in the hospital for a week. They did another scope. The cancer had filled his stomach, pancreas and esophagus. It was in his throat, in his vocal chords.
When dad came home, he wanted to get all the kids and family together and talk to them. Any time a family meeting is called, it's some seriously bad shit. I went up the Sunday after he got out of the hospital for a visit. I gave dad a massage. Hospital beds are incredibly rough on people. I swear to God they only put a couple pieces of plastic over a stone slab and call it a bed.
Dad had two tumors, one protruding from his neck and the other from his back around his shoulderblade. As I massaged him, I could feel the swollen lymph nodes rolling in his neck and shoulders. The tumors were the size of baseballs and were immovable. The cancer was winning. The extra chemo didn't help. The chemo they put through the port didn't help. The radiation didn't help. Nothing was helping anymore. They weren't going to do any more treatment. The hospital called for Hospice to help dad through the next two to eight weeks and manage his pain and feed him through the feeding tube they put in through his stomach.
He was so thin. He had trouble walking on his own. His stability was questionable. After I gave him his massage, he reclined back in his favorite chair and took a nap for about two hours while we all ate pizza.
The hardest part was when my mom, sister and brother all started blowing up my phone, my roommates phones and my son's phone at six in the morning on June 7th. Dad was in the hospice care unit. He'd fallen and mom couldn't help him get back up again. They called an ambulance to take him in and dad told mom she had to let him go.
I talked to him. I said my goodbyes. I told him I was sorry it was ending this way, but that I would be okay. I told him I was glad he would soon be out of pain and he would no longer be suffering. He told me if I was too upset to drive to stay at home and not endanger anyone. When he talked to my son, he told him not to let me drive if I was too upset.
My son, being the charming child he is, told my dying father that "even though you were kind of an asshole, you were still a pretty good man." My dad laughed. I heard him from across the living room. He told us he loved us and I hung up.
I couldn't go and sit by my dad's bedside while he died. I just couldn't do it. I'm sure dad understood. Mom had both my dad's brother and sister and their family there with her while dad passed. My uncle left church early to come and be with her.
My uncle never leaves church for any reason. Ever.
As I was coming downstairs on Monday for my doctor's appointment, I thought I saw someone standing behind the lamp in my living room. I turned to say something to my son, whom I thought was standing there and there was no one.
By the time I got to the doctor's office, mom called to tell me dad was gone. I'm pretty well convinced it was dad checking in on me one last time before he left. That's why no one was there when I turned around.
This picture was taken during dad's last stay at the Cleveland Clinic ten days before he died. He made it a year and ten days from his initial diagnosis and I consider the extra six months I had with him to be a blessing. If you look at him in this picture, you can tell everything you need to know about him. He was a consummate smartass and despite his tired eyes, the love and life are still there. Arms back behind his head, chilling out in a hospital bed, a smile still on his face despite everything.
When I went up to visit him the day he told us he had 2-8 weeks left to live, a friend of his called to ask if dad would help him install some cabinets in his kitchen. My dad, who had been given a terminal diagnosis, told him as soon as he got some strength back that, yeah, he would be there to help him.
He had two weeks left to live and he was giving of himself to the end. That's my dad. I am more like him than I ever wanted to realize or admit.
This Father's day, if you are still on good terms with your dad and he's not a toxic piece of shit in your everyday life, please give him a call or, better yet, a hug for me, a thirty-six year old woman sitting at her computer crying like the four year old girl with an ear infection who just wants to warm her ear on her daddy's chest one more time. To hear the steady thump of his heart and the rumble of his voice in his chest as he asked how bad it hurt and if I'd had any Tylenol. To be the fourteen year old girl showing up dad's construction worker buddies by carrying two bales of shingles up a single aluminum ladder to the roof of a two story house like I'd done it all my life. To hear my dad laugh again. To have him irritate and annoy the hell out of me. To be able to tease him about his eyesight getting worse and not being able to see close up without his glasses on. To hear his ringtone on his phone chime again and hear him yak yak yakking away on the phone while he tightened the bolts on some part of the car or another. To not have to sit here staring at the last picture my dad's smiling face as he lay there dying. Smiling.
Happy Father's Day