Another dead man in my life.

Two weeks ago Thursday I finally got to sit down and listen to voicemail messages. Between my kid’s school, work, politics and my personal life, time to sit down with the phone and chat is limited. There was a message from Barbara. Patrick had passed away the night before. In my mind that makes three. Patrick, Jim and Dominique. Three working men in my life. Three men who died early. Three men who helped me raise my sons. Dominique was a bachelor. If he was paying attention he could have stopped being a bachelor as there was many a woman, mostly black, who were sending him smoke signals. Dominique was charming, witty, very funny and very overweight. Instead a lady, he worked on sculpture drawing from his skills as a steel fabricator. He was one of the best fabricators and welders I have ever known. And I know. I met Dom in a factory where he welded and I machined. We shared a life of working men. Men who turned metal into things people used. It was a world of blueprints, setups and a constant battle to have oil where we wanted and not where it got into the way. We shared something else: War trauma. Now reduced into a cliché called PTSD but known forever by those who have to deal with emergencies, death and killing. His was in Vietnam. Mine in Nicaragua. He became my best friend for 18 years. When I found his body I called the baby he helped me raise to come and keep me company. Such is the life of the father of a young adult. Years earlier when I was having my ugly divorce from that young adult, his 8 year old self said to me: “Your friends did not take sides” (in the context I knew he meant his mother’s or my side in our divorce) “no” “like Dominique, he did not take sides, he just keeps being your friend, if he thinks you are full of shit he will tell you, but he is always your friend” On that day I knew that the kid was going to pull through this just fine. When I was looking at Dominique’s body on his bed I wondered who was going to help me raise the little brother the way Dominique had helped me raise the older one.

The answer for a while was Jim. Jim was a bachelor with a son named Aaron. Aaron was the classmate of my older son and we did stuff together for years. Field trips, birthday parties, events, dinners, Thanksgiving. There is always a core group of men who turn up at the school and help out. Another was Steve. Events where I was invited often included Jim, Aaron, Steve and Dominique. There were women at the school (women of color) who could not tell us apart. We were all six foot ish white men with broad shoulders, a bit of paunch and the big rough hands of working men with longish hair. Jim though was blond with blue eyes. And Jim spoke Spanish without a trace of his American parents but with the twang of Ensenada. When Jim spoke Spanish you could feel the heat, wind and dust of the Sonora deserts. Jim was always bailing me out by doing his job for me. At my work we would count on him to get rid of junk for us. At my first house, he helped me do the demolition work that gave us back a back yard and helped me clear out a hundred years of junk to build a new kitchen. Dominique and I built a setup to mount a new gas space heater where the old floor heater used to be. Together we earthquake proofed the water heater and fixed the drive. Jim’s Mexican Spanish kept the roofers on their toes. When my son’s mother became violent I could go to his home with the younger boy. After I left her we would take him to Faryland together. The kite we flew together is the only possession of his I asked for from his son Aaron. Aaron’s high school equivalency test results were posted on my wall. The younger boy’s picture was on Jim’s mom’s refrigerator when we cleared out her apartment after she passed. One of the younger boy’s blankets is her knitting. Funny how you become close to someone without noticing the change or depth of the relationship until it ends. When I needed help with all the crap that Dominique had collected in his warehouse, Jim was the man giving me the help again. It was a lot of work. He worked on it right up until he started to die of cancer. It started as pneumonia and then went straight to chemotherapy. They put in a breathing tube that almost never came out. At his bedside most days was me, sometimes me and my younger son and almost always Patrick. I had known Patrick for years because I knew Jim for years. Patrick was Jim’s Dominique. A single working man, separated from his own offspring, who helped him raise Aaron. Raising Aaron was no easy feat. For one, Aaron was abandoned by his bi-polar mother at the age of 6 months and for two Aaron inherited his mother’s sickness. Just before Jim got sick with cancer, Aaron started to get sick with bi-polar disorder. To avoid treatment (as many do) he ran away from home at 16 to go live with his sick mother that he never knew. All I ever knew of her was that she would call Aaron up, promise Christmas presents and then never send them. This caused Aaron to be teased at the school where he went with my son and where I

volunteered. The taunts came mostly from kids who had missing fathers. Aaron is also very smart. He had it hard at home and hard at school. Patrick saw all of this and took the role of god father to heart. Jim had canceled his plans to become a merchant marine to raise a child and run his own, one truck, a man and a boy, demolition and hauling company. Aaron had broken his heart by running away. Then while Aaron was away, Jim’s parents passed shortly one after another. Aaron came back to neglect his father in the hospital and then spend his inheritance into homelessness. He had turned 18 in the middle of that and Patrick was torn between protecting Jim from Aaron and trying to get some help for Aaron. I helped with both or at least tried to. Patrick was a builder, a KPFA activist and one of the forces behind the community garden on Sacramento Street in Berkeley across the street from my older son’s middle school. That we could all relate to. He was a student of UFO’s and the Bible, which less of us related to. Often when there was Dominique and Jim, there was Patrick. Patrick had given me some very powerful advice when I was remodeling that home. Patrick was very much part of our circle and a friend. But I really got know Patrick as Jim was in the intensive care from which he would never return. Patrick and Jim had fallen out for a while. It probably has a lot to do with Patrick getting off alcohol, but there was more to it. Patrick is Aaron’s god father and there was Jim’s drinking. I do not know the cause but by the time Jim parents passed, they had reconciled. I had helped Jim recover his inheritance on a day that I shortly had thousand of dollars and then Jim had to pay for lunch. After Aaron left, Jim and Patrick did other things together as friends independent of that child. They went on a trip somewhere, did other things. I started to see more of Patrick and became more aware of his personal battle with substance abuse and became more aware of how bad Jim’s drinking problem was. Jim stopped drinking in intensive care. Jim and Patrick both were two packs a day and the patch was not enough for Jim. Later it also turned out that Jim drank and would hit Aaron. My son told me more about that than anyone else did and some things are pieced back together after the fact better than they are understood at the time. Patrick kept saying that Jim is dealing with being sober for the fist time in years and that is part of his problem. Watching Jim die was ugly. I only brought the little boy in on good days. Jim had been asking for his normal quart of milk. We brought one in when he finally got the tube out. The boy made Jim smile that day, as little did. He was too weak to drink the milk. After Jim passed Patrick gave me some help cleaning Dominique’s place, which was still going on. He and I kept in touch and watched as Aaron sank, spent all of his inheritance, turned the apartment he grew up in into a homeless shelter to only eventually slink away to his mother’s flat broke. Patrick was always saying that

someday Aaron was going to realize what he had done. I was always telling him that the ability to “realize” was what was missing and that was what the sickness was. Aaron was not going to realize anything any more than I was going to finally see what my color blindness masks. We talked about other things. In July of 2009 Patrick came to my rescue to help me move into my apartment. We had 3 weeks to undo 20 years of neglect. Patrick, the boys and I worked together leaving Patrick very impressed on how hard those guys can work. The older boy and his band mates sanded the floors and that really got Patrick’s attention. Their ability to do hard work earned his respect. And it got the younger boy launched. He could paint and he could sand. He sort of knew Dominique, knew Jim a lot better, but learned to value his own ability to work with Patrick’s influence. To this day the younger boy and I have scheduled time in the shop. He continues to learn and to value. There is a bit of my three dead men in all of that. After we moved into that apartment Patrick continued to come around to help out around the place. He was not doing well and despite all his skills he was not making any money, which was ridicules given the demand for what he could do in painting and home repair. He spent a lot of time on the garden project and his radio program but did not show many signs of taking good care of himself. KPFA has descended into and endless civil war and is not a community radio project that people feel good about supporting. Patrick had no time for that any more. Watching the slow train wreck of his god son could not have been good for him. Everything Patrick had been doing around Berkeley was now over. His community work had become marginal, his best friend had passed, his god son was beyond reach and my family was no substitute for the one that he had just lost. Then he did a wonderful thing. He ran away. He told us all that he had a job out of town and just plain disappeared. When he did not come back when he said he would, I filed a missing persons report. Before I was done, I got a call from Barbara telling me that Patrick was back east, living with her and doing well contracting and working in her area. He had started a new life. “Good for him” was what my older son said. “Will we see him again” is what the younger one asked. We did not. After the phone message I needed to make time again to call Barbara. Then I heard it. He too died of cancer. Before they got together he quit smoking, but that was only a couple years back and the damage was done. She said that they had had great happy years together. She was thankful. I was thankful for having him in my life.

It made me think of all three of them at once and I was thankful for all three of these men. And I am thankful that I have tears.

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