31 Days, 31 People
Day 24: BARRY
I think my sister said it best at my dad’s funeral back in 2012, “It was not easy being my dad’s daughter…” It’s true. It was certainly not bad like some kids have it. I think things got better as we got older, but I can’t speak for my sister on that one. Growing up with Barry Craig Isom was not easy.
Sometimes I think when a person passes on, it’s easy to forget all the difficult and painful things you may have experienced with them and put all focus on the good. That’s definitely where my memories go first. But I feel like I’d be leaving out a lot of the things I’ve become grateful for if I left out all the stuff that was hard. The hard stuff shapes us just as much as the good stuff maybe, in some cases, even more. So maybe some peeks at those things are OK too.
My dad was a Vietnam Veteran, and a good man who loved us. There was a lot of PTSD. My mom had stories from before I was born, of months he slept on the floor because the bed was too soft or he’d stay up through the night keeping watch outside in the bushes. Times he’d wake up in fighting defense to the slightest movement of the cat jumping on the bed. The jumpiness remained throughout much of my childhood. He never could sit at a restaurant with his back toward the door. We learned it was not a good idea to surprise my dad or catch him off guard.
There were a lot of times when I felt like I was being raised as a Marine. Not just the drill sergeant like shouting to clean my room or help around the house or in the shop but there was no tolerance for tears or crying, no tolerance for any backtalk. I think in a lot of ways, this has benefitted me with a bit of mental toughness I may not have otherwise had. In retrospect, tactical drills and the ability to field strip an AK-47 were fairly impressive skills for a 15-year-old cheerleader to have.
I can count on several fingers the times visiting my dad in VA mental wards, throughout my childhood and as an adult. I remember one time visiting him in the Palo Alto VA hospital, the maximum security ward, he’d gotten in trouble for trying to break out. Visiting him, he explained that he just wanted to show them how easy it was and that they had some things they needed to fix. To me, he always seemed like the normal guy in those places.
I learned a lot about independence from my dad. He was great at following his heart. Maybe that’s a more positive spin on him having no tolerance for work he didn’t like, or working with people he didn’t respect. Or maybe, that’s the exact essence of following your heart. Through my younger years, he changed jobs a lot. Through most of my teen years, my dad owned his own sand and gravel business. I remember things like making a family event of sorting through stacks of receipts getting things organized for taxes. I got summer/weekend work at times, washing giant loaders. My dad always had ideas. He was always trying new things, listening to self-improvement tapes and learning things. Like Morse code… via audio tapes… on long road trips.
There were 10 years between my parents deaths. I grew a lot closer to my dad in the years after my mom passed away. At first it was tough, he was so, so sad. He’d come hang out at my office on Fridays after his VA meetings and just sit. Occasionally he’d try to understand what I did for a living. All he really got was that I “worked on computers” but I was doing alright. Sometimes he’d stay the night at my house. We’d have long talks about business and life. Eventually, he met and married an awesome woman named Mary. Visits became a bit more sparse, but I really enjoyed them.
My dad was at my house the night before he passed on. He left that morning on his motorcycle and never made it home to Mary. In one of our last conversations, I asked him how he felt brave enough to make some of the big job shifts in his life that he made when he had a family to support. I asked if he ever worried about what might happen to us all. He said, “I didn’t care if we had to live in a tent, I wanted to do work I liked doing and I knew we’d be alright.” My dad made a good life for us, we didn’t want for much. We never did live in a tent. He knew that if he liked what he did, the rest would work out. He cared that we had each other.
I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I had growing up with Barry as my dad. Our family life was a bit different and it gave me so much that I am grateful for. It was not so much a “normal” or easy childhood but in hindsight, it was a good one and there was love.
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