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June 18, 2010

Robert Dugoni: The Last Father's Day

Posted by Anonymous

In this touching tribute, legal thriller author Robert Dugoni remembers his father’s final days, and the special moments they shared as father and son, as well as the wisdom his father imparted during his final days. Pictured: Robert Dugoni with his parents, Bill and Patty.

100_1284.JPGI lost my Dad to a three-year battle with cancer on Father’s Day, April 15, 2008. That my father would die on Father’s Day was particularly fitting given that he had lived his life raising 10 children. But then, my father, a truly funny man, always had great timing, including his birth, Christmas Day, 1931. 

Bill Dugoni was the character every writer hopes to someday create: larger than life yet still remarkably believable. He possessed that rare ability to command a room not by drawing attention to himself, but through his intimate and quiet demeanor. Many occasions I watched him stand back, taking everything in, and smile knowingly at it all. He lived the writer’s mantra --- show don’t tell. I don’t recall him ever raising his voice to me, nor do I recall any father-son chats about cheating, or stealing or lying. And yet he managed to teach me all of those lessons and more by the way he lived his life. The hardest working and most honest man I’ve ever met, I regard him now as simply the best man I have ever known.

dugoni.JPGMy greatest concern, living in Seattle and he and my mother in California, was that I would not be present when he died; that I would be trapped on an airplane or stuck in an airport, unable to get home in time. And so, in March of that year, when I visited, sensing the end drawing near and not knowing if I would see him alive again, I said my goodbye. I told him that I loved him; that I hoped I had made him proud, and that someday, if I could be half the man he was, I would be one hell of a man. Thin and drawn, his skin sallow from the cancer and the treatments equally as deadly, his body beginning to smell of decay, my father spoke with tears in his eyes. “You already are a good man,” he said, simple words that will sustain me.

But my father did not die that month, and so the Thursday before Father’s Day I flew back to the Bay Area to surprise him on what we all were beginning to understand would be the last Father’s Day. I took him to doctor’s appointments and to receive pints of blood that his tumors --- leaches, viciously siphoned from his body. Throughout he remained uncharacteristically quiet. We’d sit at his appointments or out by the pool and talk a little, read a bit, but mostly just going through the process.

At one of his appointments I received a voice message that my son, Joe, had made the Little League All-Star team and shared the news with him. My Dad smiled and said, “That’s great.” But I also remember that he avoided talking or even looking at the man who sat in the chair beside him, a tall man with a great shock of white hair who advised that he had been a little league umpire for 30 years, including games at the World Series in Williamsport.My dad sat as if he did not see or hear the man. I briefly left the room to return the call and when I reentered the man was gone. I asked my Dad where the man went, but his response was blank stare and a question. “Who?”

On Saturday I drove my father to what would be his final appointment, and on the way home he talked of my mother, his wife of 56 years. “God loves that woman,” he said. “He broke the mold when he made her. Where would I be without her?” Then he looked at me and answered his own question. “Up shit creek,” he said. “But I guess I’m already there.”

That night I slept in the room of my childhood, the one at the back of the house I had shared with my four brothers, the one that once smelled of gym socks and basketball shoes and used to ring with laughter and the insults only brothers can understand really mean, “I love you.” In the middle of the night, early Sunday morning, a different voice awoke me, the panicked cries of my mother calling my name.


And I knew.

I knew before my feet hit the floor and I dashed down the hall to their bedroom where death had a grip on my father and this time would not let him go. My mother cradled my father’s head as I rushed to call for the ambulance,dutifully staying on the line, unlocking the doors and turning on the lights. I searched the house for the Do Not Resuscitate document, the one in which my father expressed his wish to die in his own bed, called my brothers and sisters, and the local priest to come and administer the Last Rites, and ultimately convinced the paramedics to simply make my father comfortable. The tasks completed, nothing left to do, I held my father’s hand and told him he no longer had to fight, that he could go, that he had earned his peace. But he didn’t go, not just then. He continued on, shallow, irregular breaths, less than six a minute --- certainly not for himself, but for the rest of his children, those frantically driving from the East Bay and Sacramento, all hoping to beat death to him. 

I wouldn’t be writing books had it not been for my father. His only goal in life, it seemed, was to give his children every chance to follow their dreams. This is mine. I owe him and my mother my career.

Of my father’s death my wife wrote, “Sorrow is truly left for the living.” She could not have been more right. Things are not the same for me. I do not have my father to call on Father’s Day, and I no longer think of that happy bedroom of my childhood as a place of comforting memories. But my father left one heck of a legacy, and I am a proud part of it. I strive to honor him by living my life in a way that would have made him proud, in a way that might, someday, make me half the man he had been.

In THE GREEN MILE, Stephen King, ever brilliant, concludes with these poignant words: “We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, I know that, but sometimes, oh God, the green mile is so long.”

In my father’s waning days, days I was blessed to share, it became apparent that he knew the end was near and that he had come to terms with, if not full acceptance of, his own walk down the green mile, a journey made easier because of each step he had taken in life.

His final lesson. On Father’s Day.

Robert Dugoni is the bestselling author of recently released BODILY HARM, as well as WRONGFUL DEATH, THE JURY MASTER, DAMAGE CONTROL and THE CYANIDE CANARY available wherever books are sold. Click here for our Suspense/Thriller feature for BODILY HARM.