December 10, 20132 Comments

My dad, the feminist

I was born in 1969's 'summer of love' and learned how to walk and throw tantrums while women across the United States read Betty Friedan and fought for equal pay for equal work, the right to practice law or sit on a jury. For little girls like me, doors were being opened that had been shut to my mother and my aunts and my grandmothers. I take it for granted most of the time, but it is pretty amazing if you think about it.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure my father was a feminist. Not the kind who marched in protests or got arrested or wrote letters to the editor. And not the kind who argued his point at parties or asked people to sign petitions. But the kind who quietly and consistently raised his two daughters to believe they could do anything they wanted to. His belief in our potential was so deep and strong that we never doubted his faith or our abilities. What a gift that has been for us.

My mother told me that someone asked my father once if he was disappointed he never had any sons to carry on the Lipinski surname. "I love my girls - and I'd take a dozen more of them," he said.

Dad loved women; we joke that his progressive attitude was because he grew up with four sisters and no brothers. He was surrounded by women later in his life too -- the only man living in a house with my mother, my nana, my sister Laura and me.

Dad, surrounded by women

My mother says that the thing she loved about him the most was what a good father he was to Laura and me. But when I look back at all the gifts my parents gave to me, I realize that the most precious thing has been this extraordinary, fundamental belief that there are no limits to what I can do. Thank you, Dad. We miss you every day.

John Lipinski
John Lipinski
June 28, 1936 to December 13, 2012

February 13, 20133 Comments

My Dad’s Four Doors

My Dad's Four DoorsMy father spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling in his last year of life. Parkinson Disease ravaged him from the inside out, shakes giving way to a terrible stiffness in his muscles. It was as though his spine was contracting, drawing the muscles and tendons and ligaments of his neck, arms and legs as taut as fiddle strings. I thought if I could see through his skin, I would see the muscles of his neck withering into his shoulders and back as his nose and chin tilted ever more directly to the sky.

Sometimes his mind took him back to work as a maintenance supervisor at American Airlines, talking about getting the plane out. Other times he saw his mother and father, or talked about a trip home to Pennsylvania. By mid-December, bedridden in hospice, his eyes fixed upwards, unblinking for what seemed like hours.

"What do you see up there?" a hospice aide asked him.

"Four doors," he said.

"What's on the other side?" she asked.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," my dad said.

Later: "Is it beautiful?" Dad: "Oh yes."

Oh, how I loved that answer. The universe's infinite beauty, beckoning from beyond four doors, the last thresholds to cross before Dad could escape the prison bars of his Parkinson-riddled body.

"You can go right through the door. Any time you want."

My mother, holding his hand, kissing his forehead. My nephew and niece reminiscing and telling stories about their Pop-pop and laughing. My sister sitting quietly and crying.

Later: "Are any of the doors open?" Dad: "No."

My sister and I laid across my parent's queen-sized bed in their pale green bedroom looking at old family photos; my mother sat on a brown metal folding chair next to his hospital bed, her hand wrapped around his wrist.

He was slipping away from us now, his eyes open but unfocused, still looking upward. The door was open now, he said, but no one was there. We drew closer to him, and closer to one another. His breathing quickened. We waited together for his parents, Anna and Peter, to take him through one of the doors.

Dad didn't speak to us after that, but I imagined that his parents appeared, speaking their impenetrable Polish/Czech dialect Dad once knew but lost in these last years. But somehow, my dad understands them as easily as he did when he was a boy. Maybe because the words flooded back into his brain, or maybe because you don't need language to understand love when you come home.