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3.) When I was 20 I worked on a salmon boat at Kodiak Island, Alaska. The day I arrived, two Kodiak bears terrorized the Parks Cannery cafeteria. Three days later, a purse seiner dragged anchor and almost sunk in the 40-degree waters off Cape Karluk. I’d never been in a place where death and astonishing beauty fused so fiercely.

Sensing my mood, Dad wrote rich, upbeat letters. One example: he was reading the Great Books of the Western World, in order. When I was in Alaska, he was in Homer’s Iliad: “J. The Greeks and Trojans ate the ‘inner meats.’ That’s how they could fight a ten-year war, liver, kidneys, the inner meats: all that good vitamin B complex!!”

Dad died slowly. With tubes and designer drugs, modern medicine kept him alive, but in pain, for six months after his stroke — a reprieve for the family, if not for him. During that period, Michael put Dad’s sayings into a book he called Dondoisms. There were hundreds. Among them: “You stepped in what?”; “What do you want, jam on it?”; (the title of a movie star’s biography became his guiding philosophy), “Life is too short to learn German.” Most have meaning only for the family, and when we read them to Dad each sparked elated recognition.

We didn’t notice, until after he died, that Dad had written four Spanish lines on the final page of Dondoisms. These, which we’d never heard before, became his last words:

  • En este mundo traidor
  • Nada es verdad ni mentira
  • Todo es sequn el color
  • Del crystal conque se mira.

“In this traitorous world, nothing is true nor false. Everything is according to the glass through which one sees.”

This article is part of the Father's Day issue. To read additional articles from this issue, click here.

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