remembering dad

I was sound asleep in some upper-floor hotel room in Manhattan. In the darkness the telephone rang. I startled, then looked at the clock. The glowing green numbers read 4:30 a.m. I knew who was calling and I knew why. My dad had died.

That day was sixteen years ago yesterday. The last time I’d seen Dad was at Christmastime. I have a blurry photograph of him sitting in a chair, my little nephew Max running past with wrapping paper or a new toy, my sister-in-law Julia in the background. Dad looks like a zombie, his vacant, black-morphine-eyes and puffy-chemo-face staring off—expressionless—into some diaphanous cloud that is his living room.

My mom and siblings had sheltered me from his two trips to the hospital while trying to battle pneumonia. Both times he’d won the fight, I found out later, after he’d returned home. I remembered the time I’d seen him that previous Thanksgiving, trembling in excruciating cancer pain, humped over the couch after Mom had given him a morphine suppository. I’m not even sure if he was aware I was stroking his back and holding his hand, the cancer and chemo having buried him alive.

I remember another famous photograph of Dad perched at the top of a tall tree he’d limbed up. He was wearing crampons, had one boot stabbed into the trunk he was holding with a gloved hand, extending his other limbs as if in a mid-air jumping jack and wearing a big smile. I wonder if that was the same time he fell, still grasping the chainsaw on his way down and slicing both knees with it. Bloodied and in pain he initially refused going to the hospital to get stitches in the long ragged gashes. It took three of us—my mom, my brother Alan and me—to convince him he needed to go.

It’s still difficult for me to understand how this man—this pillar of strength—had died at the mere age of seventy. I always described him like Clint Eastwood, only better—tall, slender, ruggedly handsome with a washboard stomach even in his twilight years. Dad was a hero who helped save lives and expensive equipment at Walker Air Force base in Roswell when a plane had crashed. He, a Naval Academy graduate who’d finished in the top ten percent of his class but had failed the pilot’s eye exam, became a civilian who galvanized a team of servicemen to push aircraft away from a speeding river of gasoline and an oncoming wall of flames. It was in all the papers.

He was my hero, my dad, a wickedly intelligent guy, amazing athlete, dedicated coach, swim meet official, funny man, disciplinarian, joker, ham, great friend, and dessert-lover extraordinaire. My friends loved him, though at first they were scared of his imposing form.

I think of Dad every day—like to dream of him with Calvin. I envision the two of them horsing around outside together like he and I used to do—throwing a ball, wrestling, catching frogs and snakes and worms and butterflies, chasing each other under azure skies and spraying each other with the hose—the sun shining on their faces—holding hands, eating homemade ice cream and licking their bowls just like we used to do.

I miss you Dad ... all the world misses you.

Donald Murray Shake February 20th, 1925 - January 16, 1996


  1. Christy,

    Such a nice blog. I too miss Dad especially when ever I am out doing something athletic or traveling and experiencing something new in this world. I also really miss him when I look at Mom and think about what could have been if he did not get cancer and she did not get Alzheimers.

  2. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. My own father was not athletic, not a hero-type, but I miss him too. He loved me. That was enough. I remember the twinkle in his eye, and wish I could see it again.

    Weren't we lucky to have good fathers?