A Letter to My Father

Martin Lanser

Dear father,

it's a few days now since you passed. I'm back in the States and have had a bit of time to think about not just this last week, but also about the last 45 years or so.

It was 6:37am last Thursday. I was sitting on the tarmac in Stockholm waiting for them to finish de-icing the plane, when I got the message that you had just died in your sleep. My first thought was that I was glad it went so fast. I was glad that you were spared any further unnecessary pain, and that you were able to die with some dignity.

When we visited you at the hospital last Sunday, I could tell that you had been suffering for a while. The cancer, your liver ... what a shitty way to go! I'm sorry this happened to you.

I'm still angry at the doctors and nurses and the whole medical bureaucracy around you -- it was Kafka-esque! The final straw was them deciding to do a biopsy on you, even though they knew that it wouldn't change anything other than cause you more pain and discomfort.

Why? And there was nothing we could say, or do, to change their minds. No, they insisted that you tell them that you didn't want the procedure. You?! You could barely speak, and you didn't even know what day of the week it was. In fact, you were so confused that you thought you had already had the procedure done. But they still insisted that you tell them what you want. It's moot now, and I'm glad they didn't get a chance to go through with it.

I'm sitting here trying to process the last few days. Actually, I'm really trying to make sense of the last 45 years or so. How often have we met since you left us? Maybe 3 or 4 times total! There was that one time about 15 or so years ago when I visited you with my daughter -- your first grandchild. Then there were a few times in '81 when I found you after looking all over Stockholm. And before then, I guess that would have been before you left us ... right? I don't know, and it doesn't matter anymore.

I guess I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, that I don't know you. I mean, I know of you, but I hardly know anything about you. My mother has told me a few things over the last few days about you that may explain -- but not excuse! -- a few things. But I'll be honest, I really hated your drinking. We all did! It ruined so much, and I was angry at you for a long time ... then I stopped caring.

You know, I have only one memory of you from when I was a little boy -- you gave me a small toy tractor for my birthday. It may have been my 6th birthday. I remember playing with that tractor on the living room table. It was red, I think, and it had a working front-loader, and I could load it with small pieces of chocolate and candy.

But that's all I remember. I don't remember when you left us, and I don't know why. And I don't know why you never tried to contact us. I do remember you being drunk the few times we met. Really drunk!

You definitely had your demons -- real and imagined -- and I've learned about some of them in the last few days. I now know that your childhood was a horror story, and I'm really sorry. And yes, it may explain, but does not excuse. And frankly, many of your demons and problems were of your own making. But no, you did not deserve what happened in the end. Nobody deserves that.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out had you stayed, and I'm not sure that it would have been better. It would definitely have been different, but probably not better. Maybe it was good that you left. Who knows? Either way, I certainly do not hold that against you. Divorce happens. Besides it doesn't even matter, at least not to me. What does matter is that you never tried to contact us ... not once!

I've always known that you were a great chef. Everybody who has known you can attest to that. Hell, I can attest to that! Even when you were drunk you could do magic in the kitchen. Real magic!

There are a few things I wish had been different. You would have stayed in touch, and you would not have been alcoholic. You would not have gotten cancer and your liver would not have crapped out. And you would have taught me how to cook like you ... I would have liked that!

This is my farewell to you ... here on the Internet (maybe you have awesome access where you are). There are still so many things unsaid and undone, but they don't matter anymore. But I want you to know this -- I sincerely hope that you finally found peace. And if we ever meet again, in some other life, then let's try to do it differently.

Your son,