The Dead Dads Club


CRISTINA: “There’s a club. The Dead Dads Club. And you can’t be in it until you’re in it. You can try to understand, you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss… My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.”

GEORGE: “I… I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t.”

CRISTINA: “Yeah, that never really changes.”

The passage is from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where the character, Cristina Yang, is giving her blunt comfort to a colleague who has just lost his father.

I was reminded once again of my membership in this club last night. I was attending a workshop and the session was devoted to reflecting on our “childhood attachment relationships.” The questions on the worksheet asked us to think about from whom we received comfort and support as children, how we had come to define that love and support, had we ever felt unsafe, betrayed, etc.

I was a little stuck at the beginning, my memories of childhood being fuzzy at best, but the more I spent time with it, the more I came back to my father as having been my primary source of warmth, trust, and stability. I’ve written about him before here, but what brought me back to him, besides the workshop, is the increasing number of friends and relatives who seem to have suddenly become members of the club.

It’s one of the things that truly sucks about aging is the increasing number of funerals one must attend to support young friends who have lost their loved ones or for contemporaries who have succumbed to the vagaries of time and age. And every funeral is joyful, or tearful, or awful, and all of them leave me feeling guilty about my happiness over continuing to wake up every morning. Every one of them is a reminder that I will be the featured guest some day.

But sitting in the workshop, thinking about my dad who I lost in 2008, I felt sad that I don’t think he ever knew that he was my chief source of “comfort and connection” the entire time I was growing up. As good as our relationship was, neither of us was very good at articulating our love and affection for each other. It just wasn’t a Waldron thing to do.


He taught me the value of an after-work nap!

I sometimes think my dad lived a “small life” because I only remember his years as a father and sometimes forget that he grew up as the son of an itinerant baker who took the family from small town to small town, from North Dakota to Montana, setting up shop and trying to scratch out a living.

My grandfather, Lee Waldron, was absolutely beloved by my sisters and I, but I learned long after his death that he was a binge drinker and would disappear from the family for days at a time and then return and not drink for months when he was younger. My dad never once complained or even made reference to how difficult his life must have been with such instability.


By the time I knew my grandfather, he had traded alcohol in for his ever-constant coffee and cigarettes. His other addiction was to tatting, a delicate kind of crocheting that he picked up somewhere and plied constantly, producing everything from simple doilies to large and complex tablecloths, one small piece at a time.

My dad’s “small life” included serving in World War II in the Navy spending much of his time in Guadalcanal but also stopping in Greenland and other far-flung locations.

My memory of him though was simply that he was the kindest, funniest person in my life. I believed he re-filled the ocean every night with the garden hose because he told me once that he did. I remember how he laughed off the time that I kicked a hole into the wall of the garage when I was expecting to be in deep trouble. I remember how he was the only one that I wanted to tell about my first real kiss.


It still kills me to think of his last few years being full of pain and his struggles with dementia. He deserved so much better. He was a good man.

It kills me that I didn’t tell him that every day. He brought joy to the people around him. He worked hard his whole life and served his country when called on to do so. He took care of his family and loved his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. He was the kind of man that every man should strive to be.

And guys like him don’t get any awards. I should have told him every day that he was my role model, that he was the reason I had succeeded as a teacher and (I hope) as a parent. It kills me to think that he may have died not knowing just how special he really was.

Maybe that’s why I related to the actor J. K. Simmons’s Oscar acceptance speech this year when he, with little context, urged the crowd to, “call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”

Jack Waldron was a man to be thankful for.


Unsubscribe Me


I am at war with my email. At this very moment, I am looking at the top two messages which are addressed to Frank and Henry respectively. My name is Tom.

Frank is being thanked for his prompt response to something I have never heard of and Henry is being praised for the terrific agenda that he and Phil prepared before our last meeting. I don’t go to meetings any more, and I’m sure Phil did a fine job, but I have no idea who he is.

I am plagued by these messages. I get many messages intended for “Thilda” a name I’m not sure actually exists and for months I fielded emails with reminders about “our” big “Ring the Bell!” reunion which a lot of people seem awfully excited about. Just not me.

Occasionally, I will get focused and purposefully spend a solid hour “unsubscribing” from every junk email that is cluttering my inbox. Somebody, somewhere besides thinking I am Frank, Henry, and Thilda also thinks I am a doctor, so I get tons of professional medical emails. I cannot seem to convince them that I am not a doctor and have no interest in being one unless they are giving out free samples of medication that makes me feel good.

Likewise, my home phone’s only purpose seems to be to field pitches for donations, something I thought we were supposed to be protected from now. Usually, I just ignore the landline entirely, but occasionally I will go on a rampage and answer every call, demanding that I be put on their “do not call” list once they take a breath in making their pitch. It’s frustrating and tiring and does not seem to diminish the plague of annoying, nap-interrupting rings.

My impulse to “unsubscribe” has recently gone beyond the relatively minor annoyances of email and phone calls. As I see the triple tidal waves of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, I find myself wanting to find a way to simply say, “No, thank you.”

Please know, I love spending time with my family. What I chafe at are the rites and rituals that have become ingrained are increasingly codified even as our family ages and changes. I feel trapped by trying to meet the needs of every group of relatives and how hard we seem to work at not offending anyone and keeping everybody happy. People build up raised expectations of what the holidays will bring and are inevitably disappointed. Increasingly, we do not seem to know what or why we are celebrating.


I do not hate the holidays. I am not yet ready to draw the drapes and not allow entrance into my Grinch-cave. I truly want you to have yourself a merry little Christmas. I hope you roast lots of chestnuts on an open fire (as long as you mind the wildfire conditions here in SoCal). I sincerely want you to sit with friends and sip your peppermint mochas out of your bright red Starbuck’s cups happily ignoring the whining of evangelicals and Republican presidential candidates. Stay up late and watch the “Christmas Story” marathon while you bake cookies and make hot chocolate. Sing carols, enjoy the light displays, stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve and kiss someone you really like while you brave the crowds at a fireworks show.

I hope that someone actually tells you that all he wants for Christmas, is you.

I, however, am just ready to tap the “unsubscribe” button when I get the official “THE HOLIDAYS ARE HERE!!!” email. I’d like to sneak away to some place tropical, with any family members who’d like to come as long as we don’t bring a tree, any lights, tinsel, wrapping paper or songs by Nat King Cole.

I’d like to sit on the beach and enjoy their company and talk a little bit about how our last year went, catch up on their stories, and think a little bit about what we would most hope for in the year to come.