My father died 30 years ago today, so some of my siblings and I (along with my daughter) will be marking the occasion later this afternoon at a tiny cemetery in Becker, Minn., where he and my mother are buried — along with a large contingent of the Cox clan (including my grandfather and great-grandfather). There will be much reminiscing about our childhood years, I’m sure, and I expect we’ll raise a few glasses of Grain Belt in his honor.
He made his living delivering that golden elixir to bars and restaurants in St. Paul, an occupation that earned him a barrel chest and arms like steel. (I remember returning from Air Force basic training feeling pretty buff and foolishly challenging him to an arm-wrestling match at the dining room table. It was over before I could contemplate the true depths of my delusion.) He was strong, but somehow sickly at the same time.
That barrel chest loomed over an even larger belly (he fought weight issues for much of his adult life), and he suffered from ulcers and other digestive ailments. His love of fried foods and sweets was legendary around our house, and we all learned how to smoke cigarettes and drink beer by observing him.
Of course, back in the ’40s and ’50s none of us knew the dangers of smoking — much less the insidious threats posed by greasy foods, refined carbs, a sedentary lifestyle and chronic stress (Dad was a hall-of-fame worrier). So, when he landed in the hospital with a heart attack at the age of 52, we were all shocked. And when cancer claimed him eight years later, we all felt he’d been stolen from us.
So I was thinking about Dad this morning while doing my morning zazen. And later while sweating through a half hour of push-ups, planks and kettlebell moves. He really didn’t know any better. I don’t have that excuse.