Time marches on. I have never been a big fan of change.
The best fishing guide ever: My Dad. So maybe he didn’t have the skills I now have as a fishing instructor and everyday guy out there on the water. But I wouldn’t be where I am if he didn’t take me fishing when I was a kid, accommodate the addiction I had to it.
The things we are blind to at the time. My Dad was the one who had to untangle every mess we made with his rods so we could keep fishing. I don’t remember even seeing him frustrated about it. Quite the opposite, he seemed to enjoy working it out.
So much that will be left out. This one could be 100 pages long. Which stories to tell? I’ll stick to who he was and what he stood for. The feeling overall is a controlled profound loss.
The greatness of life and our experiences: My Dad was a physician and surgeon, Vietnam War hero as a doctor, curator of health to thousands of thankful patients: Quite simply, the most intelligent person I have ever known. I’ve known some smart cookies. Enough to be jealous I don’t match up closely enough to true Einstein type stuff. My Dad could predict things a decade before they happened. When he was wrong, it wasn’t by very far.
When you combine that intelligence level with the entertaining humor that included that intelligence, there was a reason why I wanted to talk to him at times I didn’t want to talk to anyone else.
My departed brother: My father gave so much, all the way until the end. For all four of us, we were never in need. Honestly, we had it easy. We had Mom, who was the epitome of the best mother on Earth and Dad, who while we didn’t see for long periods of time because he would be called in to surgery on his way home, who, when he had his off time- he took us fishing. And we ate it up. I didn’t realize until so many years later, those weekends were his sanity time, for a guy who might be knee deep in blood most of the week.
Very structured in values and stubborn as the summers are long: My Dad stuck to what he believed. I will never forget an assignment I had in like the seventh grade which I mentioned at dinner that night. I had to write an essay on “Who would I be if I could be anyone in the world.” I submitted it as close as I could to what Dad said: I am who I am, where I am and who I want to be.” It rang to me just right, not only because it saved a lot of time and effort but because I didn’t want to be anyone else. Maybe there was a length limit on the assignment because I got a C. That came up like a week later and when I told him that he asked “Did you spell anything wrong?” When I said that I did not he said “The grade is meaningless. How you feel is all that matters.”
My Dad, a realist, often came off abrasive because of it. Passed down to every generation, I saw a lot of Grandpa Taylor (Les I), the same in brothers (Les, III), Mark and Stuart but no question in me. We don’t hold any punches. A spade is a spade. I called one night and when Mom answered I said “What is my Dad doing?” (code for “I can’t listen to regular Mom updates tonight). He got on and he got at it fast and asked what’s going on and I said “You are the only one I can talk to. I’ve just told everyone I encountered today to &u%k arf or to kiss my a$$.” He said, “You are right. You have never said either of those to me so you are in good shape.”
My friends: Doc Taylor was a treat. For some, they went over to confide and maybe even get some advice. When it was relationship matters my Dad was always helpful but I started hearing some stories after I moved to Florida. They were funny stories that I wasn’t sure how much was factual. But every six months or so, another similar episode. Guys would be in a jam. My Dad would listen and then interrupt at the right time and say “You know, my son Neil has a phrase for this situation.” They would ask what it was and Dad would say “Time for a new girlfriend.” About two years after I heard this for the first time, it had come up enough where Dad and Mom were in Florida and he and I were waist deep in the water and it dawned on me this statement he was attributing to me so I brought it up. I asked him “Did I actually say that?” He said “Well, technically no but I’ve seen you doing it so I thought I would help these guys out by your example.” OK.
My Dad was so busy when I was a kid, I didn’t actually realize the effort he made until later in life. In fact, I got shut down when I tried to bring it up and acknowledge it. My youth was sports. My later youth was all Varsity sports from the time I started high school. But long before then: Baseball fields all over Phoenix, my entire team knew when Doc Taylor got there because you could smell his cigar. The guy might have come there after office time, rounds at the hospital, hours of surgery but he showed up to watch me play baseball. He could have been sitting at his garden with a drink and some peace. He could have been wherever gave him some reprieve from his day. He was THERE. I guess for me it was a flaw in my thinking: I thought he just enjoyed baseball, no matter how bad it was. He was there because he loved me and wanted to watch it.
The funny stories that come out so much later when you have a brilliant doctor for a father. I broke my ankle in early 2014. Only had an X-Ray because I had a routine doctor’s visit the following day. I called out to Arizona that following night and got Dad on the phone and said “He took film of both ankles.” Dad said “And?” I told him that I broke my right ankle in the current injury but the doctor was talking about a healed break in the other ankle. Dad said “That was when you were 13.” I laughed. He was letting me let it settle in. The end result, he said “For sure it was broken. But if we put you in in a cast, you couldn’t play. You pitched one day later.” And I said “And the coach named me MVP at the end of the season.” He said “Yeah, that was an easy one. You played harder than anyone else.”
My Dad loved that I played, but he knew my mediocrity. He told me before I got to high school that my skills would be surpassed by others. A realist, mentioned previously here, he was right. I wanted to be a star. It wasn’t in my skill set. I was able to overachieve in very brief periods of time, which, I must say: I am pleased he was there to see. He smoked a lot of cigars watching me hit ground ball outs. He got to see the great play of my teammates. And I think he was so pleased that I was a component of that team even if I wasn’t THE star. Times where I did connect good: Just another day. A great lesson in life: l was fine that there was no party or cake for me when I was a winner that day. He enjoyed it all and remembered details, and the people decades later.
The loss of his brother, my “favorite Uncle” in 1980, probably one of the darkest moments in family history. I was ten. I was probably more like a mature 10. But they made decisions not to tell me certain things.
Uncle Jim committed suicide, something I didn’t learn until I was 15 while golfing with my cousin Cindy. My reaction was that of a mid-teen (one trying to figure out when I was “lied to” even though that’s not really what it was). What my father appreciated and fortunately wasn’t upset by was that I was still harmed that I lost my favorite uncle. What I learned in the years to come: That was his little brother. My Dad could ignore my stupidity of age and comments and let me “understand” years later. My guilt: I lost my favorite uncle. My Dad lost his little brother, way more connection than I ever had. My guilt didn’t last long. My Dad knew the score and he taught me lessons in life from Uncle Jim’s suicide I still think about every single day.
My Dad the family man. Ever meet someone who was 100% faithful to their wife, never did drugs and was honest about and believed everything he said? Me versus my Dad. I can’t measure up. He wins every category. His win over mine, I would be talking at times he would be quiet. If he chose white lie “outs” I never saw it.
Socialized medicine? That was coming in right before he retired. I worked in his office two of my summers in college. VERY interesting. His correct prediction “People who would be great doctors are probably smart enough to choose another line of work instead of paying to go to medical school and then not making the money specialists do right now.” Not only was that the case, some of his contemporaries walked and opted to finish their working days doing other things. It’s too bad but he predicted it exactly correct.
The loss of his brother? My uncle was my favorite uncle. I had to endure the loss of a brother too. It was way different but eerily similar in many ways. Uncle Jim was kind of a lost soul. I didn’t know about his previous suicide attempt and I was just a little kid. I became aware of what happened to my uncle when I was 15 years old. And I was pretty upset that I was not told what had happened when I was 10 years old. I think my sincere love of my uncle got me off the hook. Because no one hurt more than my dad because of Jim.
How intelligent is my father? If he was in charge on 911 in New York City there would be a lot more people alive. I was with my father when we saw the first tower on fire and before the second plane hit immediately after Dad said “I wonder how many more planes they have?”
I asked a stupid question about sprinklers in the building. Dad pointed at the side of the building on the television and said these jerks took planes that were full of fuel and that is jet fuel, “those buildings are coming to the ground”. The guy is just never wrong. Anyway President Bush said we should go about what we were supposed to do end dead night we’re going fishing so we went fishing. It is the only day in my entire life where I went fishing with headphones on and listen to all the news and updates about the collapse of both towers the hijacking of another flight, the Pentagon bombing. It was a strange day
Cigars: He started chewing on cigars in Vietnam. I’ll never forget the day he told me about that. I had one in my mouth and he asked if my mother had seen that. I said no. “Your mother got on me for the cigars when I got back. The Colonel told her to leave me alone about it. I started chewing on cigars in triage to keep from getting sick. It worked. I was amazed that my father was telling me he was witnessing things so bad that it affected him.
Like so many other people, he was more tolerant of others then I. And he knew it but he liked me anyway. I think he probably saw a uniqueness in me but still 99% of him in me. Our humor, I got enough of that to keep things interesting, I just wish I had his intelligence to combine with that. He had to enjoy it even though he played it down. I did have friends growing up who were extremely intimidated by Dr Taylor. I could never actually understand that. But I could also understand it on a different level. Someone that smart could definitely be extremely intimidating.
The biggest compliment I ever got, he told me that a situation worked out exactly how he thought it would. I told him, “you told me not to get involved”. He said yes that’s true but I told your mother you would end up winning on this one: “Because you are right and you never give up”. I thought long and hard on that one. That’s the biggest compliment my father ever gave me. He told me not to get involved. He knew there was no way I would stay out of it. And he enjoyed watching me in action. It was not fun but the end result having my father admire something I did was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my lifetime. No other comparison. Probably the closest I ever came: I was Dad’s henchman. Rarely necessary when there were hard things to be done he looked to me. I said nothing, obeyed and did what he wanted. In the end he would say “you will be rewarded for what you have done.” I would say “Nah, I don’t need anything.” It was almost like a game we had. I did what needed to be done and he oversaw the whole thing. He didn’t need any help. But he liked having someone to take a lead. I had an undying dedication to the guy. To the family. Right until the day he died actually. I called him Sir the last time I talked to him. He didn’t require it but he appreciated respect.
The second best compliment he ever gave me was saying that I had become his father. He said “It is almost odd. You wouldn’t know the things I knew about him but you became that same guy. I wish I could say it was all a gift.” So, being like Grandpa Taylor is a gift and a burden. I don’t forgive. Grandpa Taylor probably ended up better at it than I am now but I am a bad guy to turn on. For sure, you’re not going to win. On the flip side my father told me he had to nod in approval with how I have helped people. If I like you and you are in trouble: I’m in trouble with you and we will get through it. Of course, I watched my father help relative strangers my whole life so I was only doing the things I saw.
“If my dad is no longer here, my life is over.” That may be tough for you to understand but when I am in a situation where there is no one else I can talk to I would call and ask my mother to put him on the phone. And no matter how bad that day was for me, it was always fine after that. Sometimes he never even knew I was in a bad mood. He just seemed to sense my situation and always had a story or analogy that made everything a lot better for me not just the immediately but permanently. I wish I could be like that.
Something you wouldn’t know about my Dad? He was from a meager existence. Rural Ohio. But as he says “We never wanted for anything.” That’s his farming roots. Threats to run away as a child he was going to “take the salt shaker” and survive eating tomatoes. He worked to put himself through college and then my mother was actual a breadwinner during the medical school years in Rochester, NY. He was all about his family and he would never say an ill word about any of them.
Mostly, I was never in any confrontations with my parents. Three older brothers eliminated that need. I pride myself in the things they never knew about. Well, as it turns out, Dad had good informants. He knew way more about what I was doing than I ever realized.
When do you keep talking? When do you stop. I may be around for a long time. I’ll be quoting this guy over and over.
I have been a fishing guide. I have been a professional baseball umpire. Neither would have happened if my father didn’t approve. I would have used my Finance and Accounting degree otherwise. In his words “you don’t want to be that guy. You have more to offer the world.” All the while he is teaching me how to handle my money. I have more money than anyone who ever earned as little as I have, thanks solely to this one man. The money I did make? He doubled it. He was a financial maverick. He could have taught classes on “options.” He tried to teach it to me. Hours on hours on hours. I finally told him “I know what you are doing but I will never know when to do it with what. If I made money doing it, that would be pure luck.” I will never forget it. He said “I’ll do it for you. I think you could do it. I think you are better off not doing it.” That ended it. My new financial guy told me to just sit on what my father put me in, with quote “I wish I knew what this guy does.” I’ll keep earning money thanks to him even after he’s gone.
Now at the end: His fishing over and pretty much everything else he likes to do, we have to celebrate the man. I am losing my best resource. My father told me “When I die, don’t cry for me. I did everything I wanted to. I have lived my life.” Still tough to accept, I will go on.
Visiting during his final days, I will never forget. I told him I wanted to break him out of there and take him fishing. MISTAKE. That is the most upset he was the whole time. He definitely liked fishing. We were approved to give him beer. The beer was a good thing for him. It took him a full day to drink one beer but he did like the taste. He told Stuart “Get a few more of these and we can have a party.”
******My father finally died on February 24, 2018. I made it out to be with him ten days before that. We had some good interaction. Bittersweet, it was tough to imagine that he would never be that same person again. It was a relief when he finally let go. He lived his life and it was never going to get back to the way it was. 85 years is a pretty long time to live. No one did it better than he did.
A life change for me, he and my mother are the only ones I ever tried to impress. In hindsight, I’m not sure I ever impressed him but I had him interested a couple of times. A profound loss, I think I can continue with what he has taught me. Experiencing a depth of loneliness I have never felt before, I have to learn how to occupy that time I used talking to him. It won’t be the same.
He enjoyed more than anything: Being a grandfather. Sarah. Melissa. Caroline. John. And Garrett. He enjoyed them all. He liked them all and rightfully so: Every one of them is brilliant. If there’s an afterlife and my father’s not there: The system’s busted. And it’s busted bad.
Neil Taylor, Dr Taylor’s kid