Tuesday, November 08, 2011

John David Oliver, Jr., 1938-2011

Dad (R) and his brother Bob in the 70's. Probably at a chalet we rented in the mountains of North East Georgia near Dillard/Clayton.

Dad with me and Tom, probably about 5 years ago.

If you noticed the blog being dead for a week, it's because I had to fly to Georgia to visit my father, who, after being in poor health for rather a long time, took a sudden nosedive. He died on Sunday, October 30.

My dad was a great guy. His story was a classic American success story. He was born in Closter, NJ, and joined the Army after high school with the intention of being trained as a pharmacist. As it happened, there were no slots open for pharmacists, so he studied laboratory science instead, and when he left the service he got a job as a lab tech at Martin Memorial Hospital. He was eventually promoted to Lab Supervisor, then Assistant Administrator (in charge of the technical staff for the whole hospital), then Vice President. The house I grew up in was like a symbol of that progression. When I was born, it had terrazzo floors and bare, white walls. By the time I left for college it had carpet and tile in every room, wood paneling on the walls, French doors that opened into a screened-in porch with a swimming pool, and a fireplace in the Florida room. All these were added gradually, paid for by second mortgages.

After my mother had multiple miscarriages, my parents adopted me and (two and a half years later) my brother, Tom. They surely got more than they had bargained for--we both turned out to be very troubled kids with extreme behavioral problems, and had to have been constant headaches for our poor parents. But it occurred to me over the last week that I don't even have to ask myself whether he would have done anything differently if he had known. He would have done exactly what he did, because that's just who he was. He was as cool a dad as anyone could have had.

Dad was very involved with the Catholic Church, and sat on the board of Catholic Charities (he was president of a branch of that organization on at least two occasions), but he never went in for the fire and brimstone or the social conservatism associated with the Church. His understanding of Catholicism was about following a moral code that had more to do with treating other people with respect and compassion then with any kind of disdain for other people's personal decisions. There were times when he would tell us over the dinner table about debates happening among the hospital administration about ethical dilemmas regarding, for example, emergency room patients who were uninsured and unable to pay for their treatment. My dad would always fight for the patients. After all, how could he do otherwise and call himself a Christian?

When people find out I was adopted, they often ask me if I have a desire to track down my birth mother so that I can find out where I came from. Truth is, I don't need to. I know where I came from. The older (and more self-aware) I got, the more I would look at my father and see myself. Every aspect of my personality seems to reflect him. He passed on his sense of morality and kindness, but also his moderate, easygoing nature, his sense of humor (usually off-color), and his love of the good life. (Maybe I didn't quite get his work ethic.) My dad enjoyed life, good food, a good drink, a good cigar. He retired twice, and each time was followed by the stock market taking a nose dive, so I don't know if he ever really had (in his mind) that real sense of being able to take it easy and not worry, but he didn't really need it. He always took it easy and enjoyed life to the fullest, even if he was working 12 hours a day. And I guess that's true enough for me as well.

Here's to you, Dad.


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