RIP Bernie Peterson. Love you forever!

It’s been one hell of a month.  Eleven days after George’s dad left us, my own, excellent father, went on his final journey into the Great Beyond.

Back in the day.

Back in the day.

He was kind of a dreamboat.  Check out those lashes!  And I just realized I genetically inherited his teeth, which is cool.  My niece, looking through old pictures of him, commented both on how handsome he was and how “everybody always looked great in those old pictures”, and that maybe she and her fiancee ought to up their games to try and look as fabulous as he and my mom.  Pretty sweet, really.  And the man did like to step out in style.

I’ve written about him before, and how he struggled with Parkinson’s disease, how his body became his own worst enemy, but after I wrote that it got worse.  In September he suffered a stroke and my mother finally admitted he was beyond the point of her capacity to care for him, so he went into a nursing home and there he stayed.  His body was out of control and his mind was deteriorating; we didn’t know from one day to the next if he would recognize us, or if he would know where he was or what year it was.  He apparently held conversations with old friends from high school who were nowhere near his room, if they’re still alive.  Even my mother, who was devastated when she got the call from the nursing home telling her he’d passed away, recognized that at least his struggling was over. “He wasn’t having much fun,” she said, as though that summed up why we all, through our grief, had a vague sense of relief.

But that’s not how I want to remember him.  His final struggles were profound and drawn out, but when he was younger and healthy, his vigor was untouchable.

Pop, giving us "Blue Steel" before "Blue Steel" was cool.

Pop, giving us “Blue Steel” before “Blue Steel” was cool.

Want to hear about the guy who learned how to disco-dance and was accused of “showing off” at political events?  That’s my dad.  Want to hear about the man who took my cousin out for a night of shenanigans before he left for the Air Force, complete with a late-night rousing rendition of The US Air Force Song (you know the one: Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…)?  That was my dad.  Want to hear about the romantic who, while on a bus with some friends, pointed out my mother walking down the street and said, “That’s the girl I’m gonna marry” and sure enough did?  That’s my dad.  Want to hear about the guy who would play ukulele and sing swingin’ jazz tunes like Hold That Tiger?

That’s my dad.

My mother just told this story about my father, as he was breaking into the political world.  I’m not sure if he’d started to campaign yet, or if he’d won his first election yet, or if he was just thinking about throwing his hat in the political ring, but here’s the story as I know it:  He was talking to the owner of a store (now defunct) in Woodbridge, when a man pulled up in his car and stopped to schmooze for a few minutes.  The driver got back in the car and left and my father said to the shop owner, “Who was that?”  The shop owner grimaced and said, “Oh, that’s [insert a name].  You know who he is; he’s that dirty politician.”  My father came home, told my mother that story and said, “I never want my kids to hear that about me.”  And we never did.  He didn’t take bribes (and would report the offers to the chief of police).  He fought against things like land grabs (“Hey, why is this person buying 2500 acres of land in town for an incredibly small amount of money?  Seems like someone should look into this.”) and unnecessary pay raises for council members (yes, even though he was one, he didn’t think he should treat the council as his personal bank account) and the overdevelopment of neighborhoods.  His stance against the activities of one group of politicians (including the mayor, at the time) cost him the support of the Democratic party in one election, so he ran as an independent and won.  That group of politicians were eventually convicted of embezzlement and money laundering and went to jail, while my dad?  Had a clear conscience and slept well every night.  In his own bed, not in jail.

That’s my dad.

61 years later, she was still the straw that stirred his soda.

Through 61 years of marriage, she was still the straw that stirred his soda.

It was daunting, to grow up with someone like him as a role model.  He wore his integrity like a suit of armor and there was no getting around it.  You’d think that would be good, right?  And it is.  It’s good and reassuring to see someone actually stand up for what he thinks is right.  But it’s also so, so difficult to come up against.  We were both headstrong and stubborn…actually, there are five of us kids and we are all pretty stubborn and argumentative and inquisitive…pains in the ass, really, that’s what we are, and we absolutely get that from him.  When we were young we weren’t allowed to get away with anything, since he was keenly aware of his position as councilman and didn’t want any sort of internal family “scandal” to mar his time in office.  What I didn’t realize was how deeply he recognized how his kids felt.  I just watched a video of his retirement from the Woodbridge council after twenty years of service, and he both thanked and apologized to us for putting up with him during his time in office, since he knew he could be tough on us all.

That sort of quiet self-reflectivity?  That was my dad.

So now what?  Right now I’m left to pore through my sadness and sense of loss, even though he was ill for a long time and part of me half-expected this phone call for the last few years.  I think about what advice he would give me and imagine that part of him would tell me to walk it off and start to move on.  Another part of him would give me a hug.  I never said he wasn’t complicated.  I expect the pain will fade, eventually, though the memories (I hope) never will.  I already miss talking hockey with him.  I already miss calling him on election day so he knew that I was upholding my civic duties as a responsible citizen.  I really miss the stories he would tell about his adventures with the Boland brothers, or with his own brothers, or about his fights with the town council.  But mostly, I just miss my dad.  A friend of mine, who also lost her father recently, asked, “How do you sum up a life?”  I don’t know if you can, and the stories I told here are just miniscule snippets of insight into the man who raised me.  But there is this…

Here we are.

Here we are.

This?  Is how I want to remember him.

This is my dad.

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27 responses to RIP Bernie Peterson. Love you forever!

  1. Deb Slade

    Oh, thank you, Terri! What a beautiful and real tribute to your dad. You had me from the git-go, but that last picture just did me in. Tears flow, and a flash of the tenderness & pain that I wasn’t able to express in the wake of my dad’s death. You brought it back: with your words and your big heart.

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  2. Josie

    this is beautiful, I am thankful to get to know him through this and feel so comforted in knowing he made a difference in our world and in your life in particular. I am thankful to have my dad with us still, even though we are on different coasts. If money were no object, I’d be back there to visit every chance! I am actually even more inspired to make sure I get to visit him more regularly now. Sending you and your family love and light during this difficult time. thank you again for sharing this with us all.

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Ha! He was a presence, that’s for certain. I’m comforted by how peacefully he went (literally, went to sleep and passed away), though it can be alarming to realize you don’t necessarily have time to come in for final goodbyes. Even if you don’t visit your dad more often (coast to coast travel being what it is), just let him know you love him. Thank you for the very kind and thoughtful words.

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  3. Megan

    Lovely tribute. Both you and George seem to have lucked out in the Dad department, and it’s been a pleasure to read about them. You’ve had a hell of a month, indeed. My best to both of you.

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  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad passing away. I was crying while I was reading about your wonderful memories + stories. You did an amazing job painting a beautiful picture of a father that you so clearly loved very very very very much. My heart goes out to you + your family during this time.

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Thanks so much. I’m glad to hear you think I painted a good picture of him, because I feel like there was so much more to say… 🙂 But how do you sum up a life? I’m so grateful for your kind words. XOXO

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  5. Terri, hugs and kisses. Hugs and kisses, girlfriend. Sorting it all out will come – in its own time. Thank you for letting us in a little. -Nikki

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Nikki, I’m just trying to make sure George and I are putting one foot in front of the other. Hugs and kisses always appreciated. Thank you. XOXO

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  6. Amy

    Absolutely beautiful and you are so right to be proud of him. Here’s to being raised by a great one-I’m really not surprised. Cheers to your dad, and blessings to his five pain-in-the-ass-kids. May you move forward and continue to make him proud.

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  7. Carly

    Surely a man to be proud to have as your dad! As surely as he raised you to be a woman to be proud of! Here’s to both of you! And hugs to you and George as you keep putting your feet one in front of the other.

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  8. Mary Tuzzolino

    You can even tell by hie eyes he was a man of integrity. Thanks for introducing us to him. It’s so good to know men like this actually exist. So sorry for your loss Terri. Condolences to you, your Mom and siblings.

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  9. Burton

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I wish I had met this unique and great man. Please send our hearts to Aunt Grandma. You are in our daily thoughts my friend. Peace to you…

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Thank you, Burt. It makes the transition easier with support from friends, when George and I realize how lucky we are to have people like you in our lives. You would have liked him! He could have taught you a ukulele song or two… 😉

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  10. marjorie

    wonderful scrapbook of your dad. I get a glimpse, through those snippets, of what a great guy he was. But the pictures really capture the devilish charm. You have his eyes! Actually, you have his face! And you have his intelligence, wit and charm too.

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      Thanks, Marjorie. My mother said today, “I always knew you favored your father, but I never realized just how much!” 🙂 I’m glad you appreciated this but I gotta say…I’m getting pretty frigging sick of writing eulogies.

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