It’s been a year. A year since I was sitting at my desk when my mom called sobbing. She said she had bad news and immediately a billion different things went through my head, most involving family. Had something happened to my brother? Grandmother?
The one person that didn’t float through my head was my dad. Because my dad was teflon. He was the constant, always there and always will be. Nothing could take him down. He survived Vietnam, he survived living in constant pain and he survived a fire that destroyed practically everything he owned.
But that’s who she was calling about. My dad was dead. He was less than one month away from turning 66 he just didn’t exist anymore. And that crushed me. And it still crushes me. I spent a week with his sisters earlier in June and it was beautiful. We, along with my mom, brother and brother’s girlfriend, spent hours talking about dad, sharing our best Dan Hayner stories and all i could think of how much he would have enjoyed being there. After all, who doesn’t want to hang out with their big sisters?
I’ve realized some things over the last year, some of which was helped along by the TV show “You’re the Worst.” I was really angry with my dad the day he died and the weeks that followed. This is where things get real. He died after drinking too much and foolishly riding his quad without a helmet in the mountains. It was an extremely avoidable mistake.
If he had just not had anything to drink that day. If he had not gotten on the ATV. If he had been wearing a helmet. If only someone, even me, had called him right before he left. There’s so many if’s that have run through my mind. But hindsight being what it is, I can see now that after the Butte fire that did so much damage and burned practically his entire life to the ground, he wasn’t the same.
With each visit I had up north, I saw my dad getting progressively worse. He was…lost. And scared. Here was this 65-year-old man who suddenly had to start from scratch and couldn’t handle it. I’d ask him what his plans were, what he was going to do when he got his settlement from the fire — which was a very preventable blaze with the blame falling on Pacific Gas & Electric — and his answer was always the same. “I don’t know.” He couldn’t make decisions.
The fire and the losses were his tipping point. I’d never seen my dad scared before, not even when he was going in for brain surgery…Which is another story entirely.
He didn’t do fear. He was teflon. But that was then — pre-fire Dan Hayner. Post-fire Dan Hayner was a different person and one who regressed further into himself every day. He didn’t even make it to the fire’s first anniversary, which I think would have pissed him off.
I think back to the last time I saw my dad, just a few weeks before his death. I was visiting home and he was there, quiet and tired. Very tired. I wish so badly I would have known that was the last time I’d get to hug him or tell him I love him. I don’t know what I’d do differently, other than memorize every single microsecond of it.
That’s not how life works, though. Bad things happen and you have to keep moving forward. That’s why now, a year after his death, I try not to think about the last eight months of his life. Because that’s not the Dan Hayner he’d want to be remembered.
Instead, I’m thinking about the guy who spent a good chunk of his life standing in a river panning for gold. The guy who bent up a fork at the Sizzler once because it made me laugh. The guy who took me fishing all night when I was a kid so I could get a Cub Scout badge that a friend of mine already had. The guy who told me wild stories about UFOs he claimed he’d seen and watched episodes of The X-Files with me — all because I was an obsessed little kid. The guy I’ve come to realize is responsible for most of my weird sense of humor.
I miss that guy. And I love him. Every day. I hope you found your peace, dad. And I hope you found Buzz. He’s looking for you and you know that dog. He was never comfortable unless he was leaned up against you.