Carnett: Dad is still with me — in the mirror

I visit my 88-year-old mother at her Huntington Beach residence every week.

She lives alone in a quiet mobile home park.

I recently let myself in through her side door and walked through the kitchen. I hollered a cheery "Hello" as I turned the corner into the living room.

Mom was seated in her favorite armchair and, when she saw me, she let out a gasp. Then she smiled. I was afraid I'd startled her.

"Are you OK, Mom? Did I frighten you?"

"No," she assured me. "My heart just skipped a beat. For a moment, I thought you were your father. You looked just like him."

Dad passed away nearly six years ago, and my thoughts are very much on him this week as our family makes its run up to Father's Day.

I felt honored to have been mistaken for Dad by the woman who fell in love with him in 1943, after the handsome young soldier finagled a date with her. She shared her life with him for 63 years. Today she misses him terribly.

"Well, Mom, considering the genetic pool that I draw from, I guess I'm supposed to look a bit like him," I said as I gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Actually, I run into Pop quite frequently around our household.

I see him when I brush my teeth in the bathroom after my morning shower, when I walk toward the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the end of the hallway next to our bedroom, and when I take my car keys from the drawer below our entryway mirror.

I also hear him when my wife, Hedy, attempts to communicate some important tidbit of information to me as I read the morning newspaper in my favorite chair. She finishes her breathtaking disclosure, and I reply absentmindedly, "Umm-humm." I heard Dad say that to Mom a million times.

We're genetically linked to our parents for a lifetime. However, I find that I remind myself more and more of my dad as I age.

I have his hair, his eyes, his walk, many of his mannerisms and his bony knees. And, now that I share the Parkinson's disease that he battled for the last decade of his life, I have his shambling gate and upper-body rigidity.

Fortunately, I'm not repelled by our shared distinctions. I loved my Dad — and still do. I appreciate him now more than ever. I wish we could experience one last conversation. We had many stimulating discussions throughout our lives together.

We'd have loads to talk about now were we granted a final tête-à-tête.

Just before Dad died in a hospital bed in his bedroom of more than five decades, I visited him. He was drifting in and out of consciousness but, for the most part, seemed insensate.

I walked up to the bed and looked down at him. "Hello, Dad," I whispered.

He heard me and opened his eyes.

"Hi, Jim," he said, in a surprisingly animated voice. "Pull up a chair."

He was obviously ready for another conversation.

But he closed his eyes and lost consciousness. Those turned out to be his last words to me. He later slipped into a coma and died the following evening.

The day that he died, I sat beside him and read aloud passages of scripture from a Bible that he and Mom gave me when I was 12. I don't know if he heard me reading to him, but hospice workers tell you that hearing is perhaps the last sense to leave a dying person. What's said in their presence is crucial.

I like to think that Dad heard my scriptures. I like to think that he heard my brother and me reminiscing about him as we held our bedside vigil. I like to think that he heard the hymns sung by my mother and daughter. I like to think that he felt my sister's tender fingers on his brow.

You say I remind you of my father? I take that as the highest compliment.

Happy Father's Day, Pop!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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