Oct/Nov 2021  •   Nonfiction


by Kevin Brown

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

take care, v.: My father's last words to me.

Jim Brown (2015): "Take care."

I've been thinking about my father's last words to me for almost six years now. They might sound like something any father would say to a son who had been home visiting, which is what I had been doing. The difference is my father knew he was dying, and he knew—as did I—this visit would probably be the last time I saw him. He had been struggling with cancer for several years, had gotten well enough for he and my mother to go to Switzerland, but then it had come back in full force. So he knew this visit was probably the last chance he would have to say anything to me. He chose these words, so I need to understand them. At least I believe I do.


take, n.: Originally Scottish. An act of taking or capturing an animal, or (usually) a number of animals, esp. fish, at one time; the quantity so caught; a catch. Also occasionally: the activity or process of catching fish.

W. Combe (1789): "The take was so very great and the demand so small, that incredible numbers were thrown away."

My father took me fishing several times, as he had bought a small boat for that purpose. I wasn't good at it. I didn't have the patience to sit for long periods of time, and, honestly, the idea of killing animals didn't appeal to me. The story he liked to tell more than any others was of the time I drug a fish to death. We had our lines out while motoring slowly for several minutes before reeling them in so we could make a turn. Upon my reeling in my line, I realized I had a fish hooked. It was already dead, it seemed, and it had rocks in its mouth, as if I had been dragging it on the bottom of the lake for quite some time. Whether true or not, that became the story. It's not the story most people have of fishing with their fathers, but it's the only one I remember.


take, n.: Printing. A portion of copy taken at one time by a compositor for setting.

W.J. Gordon (1890): "In the small hours of the morning... the last speech is coming in on relays of flimsy telegrams, and the compositors are working short 'takes' of half a dozen lines apiece."

In the final weeks of his life, my father asked me if I wanted to give a eulogy at his funeral. I tried to tell him I would be honored to do so, but he cut me off. He looked directly at me and asked if I wanted to deliver a eulogy at his funeral. I said I did. I already had it written, in fact. I got the impression, though, that he didn't particularly care if there was a eulogy or whether I was the one to give it. Instead, he wanted to give me the opportunity to deliver it for my sake. He was thinking of what I wanted, not what he wanted. I think.


take, n.:Film and Television. A scene or sequence recorded in a single continuous period of filming; an instance of such filming. Frequently preceding a numeral to distinguish different versions of the same scene or sequence.

H.R.F. Keating (1976): "The scrawled chalk figures on the black board must indicate which scene and 'take' this was."

I saw my father a few weeks before he died, but it wasn't the last time I saw him. At that point, though, every time I saw him could be the last time, as he was clearly getting sicker and sicker. We gave each other a partial hug, and I don't remember what we said to each other. I wonder what I would have felt if it were the last time. I wonder how we both knew it wouldn't be, as neither of us made any grand gestures. Not that the final time I saw him was much more dramatic, but it was certainly a better scene for some movie version of our lives. Perhaps we needed more rehearsal.


take, n.: Originally and chiefly Theatre, Film, and Television. An actor's reaction or response to an action, statement, etc., typically manifested by a particular facial expression, esp. directed to camera or an audience.

New York Times (1939): "[Bob Hope], with his flip, precise way of throwing gags and his mastery of the bewildered 'take'..., carries the show."

My father had such a dry sense of humor, when I was a child, I couldn't tell when he was kidding or not. I would take him so seriously, I would almost be in tears before I realized he was joking. Once, when we were in the kitchen and I was making something using a steak knife, he made me so angry with his joking, I actually flexed the knife in his direction. I didn't turn toward him or make a move at him, and I was so much smaller than him, I would have never done anything violent, but he saw the motion. He quickly called my bluff, and I was then simply embarrassed. I take after his teasing more than I would like, though I've never come close to causing anyone to cry because of my humor, as far as I know. I tend more toward puns, a form my father never used.


care, n.: Mental suffering, sorrow, grief, trouble. Obsolete.

Robert Herrick (1648): "When one is past, another care we have, Thus Woe succeeds a Woe."

I find it interesting the Oxford English Dictionary classifies this use of care as obsolete, as it seems one of the most relevant uses of the word when it comes to grief. It's not just that somebody we care about has died, but now somebody has to deal with all of the details of dealing with said death. We went as a family to the funeral home (my brother wasn't in town yet, but he wasn't particularly close to my father), and we had to make decisions about issues we didn't care about. My mother had to decide what to do about clothes and knick-knacks my father had left behind. She even had to deal with furniture and parts of a house designed for someone almost a foot and a half taller than she was. It's taken her six years to get to the point where she remodeled the bathroom he always used, changing the shower to one better suited to her. There's no way not to think about my father when using that bathroom. One care comes after another; one woe succeeds another. People don't die just once. They die again and again, at least for the living, especially those who have to live with the absence every day for the rest of their lives.


take, n.: An individual's interpretation or assessment of a person, thing, or situation; a particular way of regarding or understanding something. Frequently with "on."

Bomb (1996): "That's just my take, from what I've observed."

I only know my father as my father. Whenever I would meet people who knew him from work or who played golf with him, and they would tell me a story about him, I didn't recognize the person they were talking about. The person they described would be talkative, perhaps, or someone who praised his children. I only knew a person who mowed the lawn and spent evenings watching college football or basketball, a person who spoke to communicate, but not much for conversation. Even within our family, we disagreed about who he was. I'm convinced he never wanted to have children, that he did so because that's what people in his generation did. My sister believes otherwise. None of us will ever know who was right, but we'll keep believing our version is the true version.


take, v.:transitive. To deprive a person of or remove (something) unlawfully; to steal.

W. Prynne (1649): "As Theeves and Robbers take mens goods and Purses."

Most people who have a family member or close friend die feel like they've been robbed, like they've had something taken away. Even in those situations where the person who died lived a long life. The exception might be when someone is clearly suffering, and it would be better for the person to die than to continue living in such pain. Even then, though, the feeling is that we want longer with the person. Everybody in my father's life expected him to live longer than his mid-70s, even after he was diagnosed with leukemia. He went through the first rounds of treatment and seemed on the other side of it, and he was improving and gaining his health back, even playing golf and traveling again. When he finally died, it seemed equally inevitable—as he spent his last month or two clearly moving toward death—and impossible, given the good health he had been in just months before and throughout his adult life. Of course, feeling we've had something taken from us leads to the expected regrets from when someone dies: we should have spent more time with them; we should have had those conversations we ignored; we should have told each other we loved each other more often (or at all). The real problem comes from the fact that no amount of life is ever enough for all we hope to do, even those of us who are more intentional. Death always acts as a thief, as it always steals away the one more day or month or year we believe we should have had with that person. We spend our lives trying to create security systems death can't breach, only to wake up one morning to find our lives ransacked; we know it's coming, and we'll never find a way to stop it.


take, v.:transitive. In chess, draughts, and other board games: to capture (an opponent's piece) so as to put it out of play. Also with the capturing piece as subject.

Peter Parley's Annual (1840): "A pawn takes the enemy angularly."

My father was good at playing games of any kind, and he enjoyed doing so. He was competitive, so much so, I seldom beat him at anything. When I took a badminton class in college, he challenged me to a game and promptly beat me, even though he was in his early 50s by that point. When I was learning gin rummy after watching The Flamingo Kid, he watched me work through a few hands, then asked me to deal him in, promptly beating me in yet another setting. I could tell story after story like these, ranging from athletic competitions to board games to card games, as he beat me again and again throughout my life. The one place I could best him was when it came to games relating to knowledge. Whenever I would come home to visit and watch Jeopardy! with him and my mother, he would start with the same joke, that there was no shouting out answers. Of course, we shouted out the answers, and I always knew more. To be clear, he knew a good deal, much more than he ever let on in everyday conversation, as he didn't flaunt his knowledge, but my years of graduate school and reading put me ahead of him there. That might be why my flaunting my knowledge, especially when I was in college and graduate school, rankled him so much that he often made cutting comments about my penchant for learning. It was the one place I could beat him, and he didn't like to lose. However, it could also simply be that he was a humbler person than I am, and he didn't like to see my arrogance (and I definitely was arrogant about my knowledge when I was younger, perhaps because I had spent so much of my life losing). It was probably both, as he, like all of us, is human, and he acted out of both a desire for his son not to be full of himself and a frustration with a son who had beaten him at something.


take, v.:transitive. Sport. To succeed in winning (a game, point, match, etc.).

Boy's Life (1953): "He couldn't let his adversary take the match this way. He had to attack soon!"

My father was a great athlete. I don't mean he had been a great athlete in college, though that's true; he was still a great athlete into his 60s. He could still play a round of golf just a bit over par, and he could still go to a basketball court and hit 50 free throws straight, the ball always returning to him without his having to move. He played college basketball, and he played baseball when he was in the Army. He tried out for a couple of major league baseball teams, even pitching batting practice for the Boston Red Sox, striking out both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. He was competitive, and he was good. I've often wondered about how frustrating it must have been for him to have children who either weren't very interested in athletics or very good at them. My brother, the eldest of us kids, didn't show any interest in sports, as far as I can tell (he's ten years older than me, so I don't know much about his childhood). My sister was good at track when she was in high school but didn't pursue her abilities. I tried to play a variety of sports, and, while I was better than average, I was never good enough or disciplined enough to improve beyond that level. His grandsons inherited his height more than any of us children, but they didn't do anything athletic with it. As is typical with my father, he never said anything about how he felt about the lack of athletic interest or ability in his descendants, so, as with so many areas of his life, I'll never know.


care, n.: Serious or grave mental attention; the charging of the mind with anything; concern; heed, heedfulness, attention, regard; caution, pains.

N. Udall, et al. (1548): "Buryed with the busy care of a noble man."

Neither my mother nor my father had any particular interest in having a funeral for him, but they felt it needed to happen. They didn't want any of the traditional songs, such as "Amazing Grace," but we had to do something to mark the end of my father's life. I don't remember what music was involved, nor do I remember what anybody said or did, apart from the eulogy I gave, which will stay with me as long as my memory holds up. We did spend some time thinking about the visitation, though, as my wife thought we could do a few things there to help people remember him. We took a few items he kept in his den—such as his college letterman's jacket—to have around the space in the funeral home where people congregated when not in line for the visitation. I put together a CD of songs he enjoyed, especially those from his high school and college years, that we played during the visitation. I had to choose pictures to run during a slide show; I was only allowed to include 32 pictures, so I had to find a way to convey 76 years of life in a few images. While I can't say I enjoyed having to take care of those parts of the funeral and events related to it, they kept me busy and gave me something to focus on. They didn't distract me from his death, nor did they really help me process it; they just kept me busy, like so many pastimes we use to distract ourselves from our lives.


take, v.:transitive. To grasp (esp. a part of the body) with one's hands, to lay hold of.

H. Jacobson (1993): "More singing. We take the shoulders, or the waist, of the person on each side of us, and we rock together."

The last day I saw my father alive, he was able to get up and walk me to the door. My father was not hesitant to touch people, clasping them on the shoulders, even giving women half hugs. With me, it was always a slap on the back or a hand on the shoulder. Given my father was a solid eight inches taller than me, it was easy for him to touch me in that way. We didn't hug, though. Even if I was leaving for quite some time, the most he gave me was the hand on the shoulder. On that day, though, it was clear we both wanted more, but we didn't know what to do. We tried hugging each other, but it was awkward, and neither of us seemed to want to let go at the same time. It turned into an awkward dance, with a couple of steps toward the door, a bit of a hug, while he or I still held on a bit too long, then another step or two. It was the closest I ever was to my father on a literal level. Maybe on a metaphorical one, as well. But I'm not sure. And I have no idea how he felt about it.


take, v.:transitive (in passive). With adjectival complement, as to be taken ill (also sick, blind, hoarse, lame, etc.):to be seized or struck with a specified illness or affliction.

J. Wilson (1664): "Being taken very ill of a sudden."

My father first started feeling badly when he and my mother were in Las Vegas on vacation. He had trouble catching his breath and needed to keep sitting down. He was in great health, so that was surprising, to say the least. He had other health issues, such as blood pressure that could suddenly rise or drop, but nothing like this before. When they came back, he went to the doctor where they diagnosed him with a type of leukemia. He emailed me a page of notes about the diagnosis, then called to talk through them. Thankfully, he called before I saw the email, as one part of it showed a survival rate of zero. That part of his notes was only if he received no treatment. I never yelled at my father, but I did chastise him for sending me those notes, as I can only imagine what my reaction would have been if I had read those out of context. As with so many things concerning his death, I'll never know.


take, v.: transitive. To come upon suddenly or unexpectedly; to catch unprepared.

J. Trapp (1650): "They are preoccupated, taken at unawares."

None of us thought my father would die in his mid-70s. I know, statistically, that's about when he should have died, but he was in good health his entire life. He continued playing basketball into his mid-50s, often playing against college students at the university where he taught. He kept playing golf until the year before he died. His doctor often joked with him that he was in great health, except for the cancer, of course. By the time my father died, we knew it was going to happen; it was pretty much inevitable at that point, though we still held out hope he would get better again. Still, just the fact that he died at what I considered a young age was enough to catch me off guard. Even though he dealt with cancer for a year and a half or so, I felt like I needed a lifetime of preparation to be ready for his death. And I didn't have that.


take, v.:intransitive. Of a scion of a plant or a graft of animal tissue: to form a successful union with the recipient plant or animal; to establish itself on or upon a stock or other recipient.

A. Nelson (1946): "Even between grafts of quite close relationship the union may be abortive. One variety of scion will not 'take' on a given stock on which another variety of the same kind does quite well."

Though he never said so explicitly, I always thought my father wanted me to be an athlete, just as he was. And I was, of a sort. I grew up in a neighborhood with a large number of kids, and we played sports pretty much year round. I grew up playing baseball and basketball in leagues through the Boys' Club, only quitting when I got into high school. I was never a strong enough player, though, to make the school team, partly because I went to a rather large high school, but also because I simply didn't have the physical gifts my father did. He was a bit over 6'4" with long arms and big hands, while I barely top 5'8". I am built like him in that I have long arms for my size, but that doesn't much help when I don't have the rest of his attributes. When he attended his 50th high school reunion, he stayed with me, and he clearly wanted to talk that night. Somehow, I turned the conversation to me and my athletic attempts, a fact I'm not particularly proud of now, as I should have let him talk about his high school days. At some point in that conversation, he mentioned he knew I didn't have the strength or size to succeed at sports, even commenting that I should go back and look at my pictures from that age. As he said, "Even if you made good contact with the ball, you would have been lucky to hit it out of the infield." It was a relief to hear that, even though I was almost 40 by that point, and I still wonder how I would have felt if I would have heard it when I was much younger. I don't know if he could have told me in such a way that would have taken away my desire to be the athlete he was. I don't know if I would have wanted that, given I was able to be more athletic than I would have naturally been, which has stood me in good stead as an adult. And I'm not sure I would have believed him, as I'm notoriously stubborn when it comes to proving people wrong. I'm glad now he didn't expect me to be like him; I only let myself down, it seems.


care, n.: to have a care, keep a care, take care.

J. Moxon (1680): "You must take great care, that the Solid Ball... be... exactly Spherical."

My father tried to teach me to care about details when I was growing up. He was the type of person who was always early; I learned to do the same, even when I was a teenager. Other than that attribute, though, I didn't learn to be a disciplined person until I was into my 30s. I was a careless, not a careful, person, and I took great pride in that. Of course, that could simply be typical teenage rebellion, as I was trying to be somebody different than who my father was. It could also be typical teenage behavior, as most teenagers aren't known for the careful nature. I wasn't entirely reckless, as I held down a job and didn't make any decisions I regretted, but I also didn't take anything as seriously as I could have, leading to my not making athletic teams or earning the grades I was clearly capable of. Even when I was in my late 20s, in my first teaching job, I regularly skipped faculty meetings and let entire class meetings get off the subject. Perhaps the difference is my father started having children when he was 21, while I chose never to have children. Perhaps it's a generational difference, as adolescence now seems to extend well into the 20s. Given my father never understood my pursuit of advanced degrees, certainly not in something as impractical as English, or my writing or even how many novels I read, not to mention my lack of interest in keeping up a house or car, he could very well have thought I never grew out of my careless phase. He regularly told me to "take care" when I was leaving after a visit. He probably thought that was the most practical advice he could give me.


take, v.:intransitive. Of a medicine: to take effect, to prove effective. In later use also of a vaccination or inoculation: to produce a discernible reaction in the skin (now rare); to stimulate a protective immune response.

Ben Jonson (1631): "If all succeed well, and my simples take."

Like many other people, my father underwent chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with cancer. It worked fairly well for a while, helping him get well enough to travel again, but then, as in so many cases, it stopped working. As anybody who has ever had cancer knows, there isn't a cure; there are simply treatments that might or might not work. And by work, we mean gain somebody extra years without any guarantee the cancer won't come back. Near the end of his life, his doctor mentioned some experimental treatments he could try, but he was finished trying by then. I didn't understand that then, and I still don't, but that's because I have an over-developed fear of death my father didn't have. I can't imagine passing up any treatment, any chance at a few more years of life. But I haven't undergone chemo or radiation or any other treatment with serious side effects. I also don't know what it's like to be in my 70s (or older) and just be tired of the pains of living. I might make a different decision in 20 or so years. Or in just a few, as there are no assurances of what my future holds.


take, v.:transitive. To receive (something given, bestowed, or administered); to have (an office, honour, degree, etc.) conferred upon one; to win or receive (a prize, award, etc.).

Kingsley Amis (1984): "I had supplicated for and been permitted to take the Degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts on the Saturday."

Whenever people hear my father was a university professor, they assume that's where I got the inspiration to gather up graduate degrees and become a professor myself. However, he never fit the mold of a university professor, and I never saw him as a teacher, even though that's how he made his living. He only attended college because he was an excellent athlete, earning a basketball scholarship. He went on for a master's degree because the state paid for it, and it would help him get a better job. Even when I was in college, and people asked me what he taught at the neighboring university, I couldn't tell them, as I didn't understand it. Now that I'm older, I can say he taught people how to teach vocational education. For years, before it moved out of the university setting, he taught driver's education. I only saw him bring home anything to grade once, and I helped him grade a multiple choice exam. Rather than viewing him as a professor, I saw him as a coach, as he volunteered for a few years coaching in leagues I played in. That was more for me than him, though, as he would only coach for the year I played, then one more year, then he would quit. He only coached me for one year and then only because they desperately needed somebody to coach our team; he was much more comfortable coaching other kids. And I was happy with that arrangement. He was a good coach, though, and I've always regretted the fact that he couldn't have coached for a living. I don't know if he did, as well.


take, v.:transitive. To receive (something inflicted); to have (something) done to one; to suffer, undergo, submit to.

C.M. Yonge (1875): "He professed himself ready to take his trial."

My mother has told me several times since my father died that he didn't talk about his impending death. I knew he didn't talk about it with me, but she relates that he said nothing more than he was ready for it to be over. He didn't really want people coming over to see him, not because he was ashamed of how he looked—though he was certainly thinner, even the last time I saw him, six days before he died, he still looked quite good, and he was never particularly vain—but because he didn't want to have conversations about how he was doing or if he was ready to die. He spent most of his life in church, even serving as an elder for much of that time, but he never spoke in terms of faith, even when it came to death. I don't know, then, if he was at peace about his upcoming death or if he was simply resigned, more stoic than anything, or if it was just one more idea he didn't talk about. I often think there are so many conversations I wish I would have had with my father before he died, regretting those missed opportunities, but then I remember there really weren't opportunities because he simply wasn't the type of person who had such conversations. I'm the opposite, forcing such conversations into places where they probably don't belong. No wonder we didn't understand each other.


take, v.:transitive. To accept (a statement or assertion) as true or trustworthy; to believe (something told to one). Chiefly in to take a person's word at word n. and int.

Maria Edgeworth (1812): "Take it on my word, and believe me, sir; for I would not tell a lie."

My father was a person who lived up to his word. If he said he would help me or anybody else do something, he would do it. He was the type of person who would be up before 8:00 on a summer morning to work on building a fence around the yard. He took care of the house and the cars and the bills and whatever else needing done. He expected his children (and everybody) to live up to their word, as well. The times he was most disappointed in me, as far as I can tell, is when I did something beneath me, whether making a crank phone call to a random stranger or getting caught rolling someone's yard with toilet paper. He wanted me to be a better person than that, someone other people could trust. As children, we often see our parents as flawless, only to be disappointed as we get much older. There was much about my father I didn't understand, and we definitely disagreed about how to live a life, but I knew I could trust him, and I knew everybody who knew him could trust him. He never disappointed me in that area, and I hope I grew up to be a person who didn't disappoint him.


care, n.: Hence to have the care of, etc. to take care of: to look after; to deal with, provide for, dispose of.

John Stuart Mill (1861): "Things left to take care of themselves inevitably decay."

My mother provided all of the care for my father in the last few weeks of his life. They had called in hospice, but she didn't take advantage of the services they offered. That wasn't out of some sense of pride, really, though both she and my father grew up poor and were used to doing things for themselves. It was more out of a sense of not wanting to bother somebody, which also comes from being poor and not wanting to ask others for help. My mother is an even five feet, while my father was a bit over six feet four inches. Needless to say, my mother really couldn't manage to help him physically, though she tried. She did help him in every other way she could, from bringing him a trash can to vomit into when he was trying to eat a meal he had asked us to bring him on one of our last visits to making sure somebody walked with him when he was going up the stairs to lay down in their bedroom. In almost every essay where somebody talks about a family member dying of cancer, they talk about everything they did during those final weeks. I don't have any of those stories. Perhaps I'm trying to tell a different story for all of those who don't have the stereotypical experience. Perhaps I'm just trying to convince myself I have a story to tell when I don't.


take, v.:transitive. To receive or accept (a specified amount of money) as payment, earnings, or takings; to receive or accept (payment or wages); to charge (a fee, interest, etc.).

A. Unterman (1991): "The mohel is not supposed to take payment for his services."

My father grew up poor, as his father was a coal miner who developed black lung. While I don't know their poverty is the reason they moved around so often, it makes sense to me. Because he and my mother both grew up poor, they had become quite good at managing money, and they taught me to do the same. When I was a Senior in high school, my parents went on a cross-country vacation to see my older brother in California; they left me on my own (my best friend moved in with me for that month) to take care of the house. They gave me money that should easily have gotten me through the month. However, I ran out before the month was over, so I drew from the money from my part-time job to have enough to eat. When I was explaining this situation to my father, partly in an effort to get some of that money back, he asked me how I had spent it. I explained I had paid for some tennis lessons (which I had been taking before they left) as part of the expenses. He quickly pointed out that, if I was running low on money, I should have paid necessities first. I should have only taken the tennis lessons if I had extra money to pay for them. His lesson has stayed with me longer than my backhand.


take, v.:transitive. To accept (a bet or wager); to accept the bet or wager of (a person).

S. Rowlands (1602): "I take you, sayd one or two, and the wager being layd, awaie they went."

Whenever I was home to visit for holidays, the one way I could spend time with my father was to watch whatever sports were on at that particular time of the year. One year, around Christmas, we were watching a college basketball game between two teams most people wouldn't pay any attention to. My father, though, would watch whatever game was on, as he was more interested in the game itself than in who was playing. During that game, one announcer said to the other, "One, if not both, of these teams could end up in the national tournament at the end of the year." My father didn't think much of that assessment, so he turned to me and said, "I'll bet you a hamburger neither team makes it to the tournament." He knew the announcers were simply trying to work up enthusiasm for these teams most people didn't care about. I took the bet just for fun, knowing full well he was probably going to be right, which he was. That turned into an annual event, though, as he and I, then other members of the family, began filling out March Madness tournament brackets, with the winner being treated to a hamburger. I and most of the rest of the family didn't really follow college basketball, but the joy came from going out to get hamburgers with everybody after it was over. The last time we did so, eating at a Fuddrucker's, my father said something about mine and my sister's inheritance, and my sister simply commented that we'd rather have him than the money. He died the following February before any of us could fill out one more bracket.


take, v.:transitive. Baseball. Of a batter: to refrain from swinging at (a pitch).

Sandusky Star-Journal (1924): "It is foolish to hope that he will go after a badly pitched ball. He... can take a pitch that is only a few inches shy of the plate without being the least interested."

My father tried his best to turn me into a solid hitter in baseball, but it never worked. I was a strong defensive player, at least in the infield, and I much preferred playing the field to batting. My problem wasn't just that I was small and not very strong; my real problem was I was afraid of getting hit by a pitch. There's simply no way to become a good hitter when one is afraid. My father would take me to the batting cages at the state university where he worked, and he would give me tip after tip to try to help me make better contact. He even tried turning me around once, as I bat left-handed, even though I throw right-handed. He thought perhaps I had made a mistake growing up, and that was the problem. I don't know if I'm impressed that he never commented or possibly even never realized my problem was fear, or if I'm bothered by the fact that he didn't know me well enough to know what should have been obvious, at least from everything else people knew about me during that time. I wonder if it simply never occurred to him because he wasn't afraid of anything, as far as I ever saw. Or maybe his not mentioning it was his way of being nice.


take, v.:transitive. Of a thing: to hold, accommodate, or contain (a particular quantity); to bear, withstand (a particular weight, load, etc.).

W.J. Lovett (1920): "A 6-in. diameter solid steel pillar with fixed ends can safely take a load of 170 tons, if the pillar is only 6 ft. in length."

When we were all going into the funeral home for the visitation, then the funeral, my mother stopped several feet away from the door and just started saying, "I can't go in. I don't think I can go in." We had to stop and comfort her and try to get her inside to get through this awful moment in her and all of our lives. That was the only time I saw her bend under the pressure of her loss. Once she was inside, she got through the next few hours as well as anybody could. Society praises people like my mother who can take such a loss without breaking down in some way, but that seems the opposite of what we should celebrate. The loss of someone close to us (in my mother's case, the closest person to her) should lead us to break down in some way. We're not machines or equipment designed to bear weights too great for us; we all should have a few moments in life that do overwhelm us, as life is overwhelming. Note I've talked all about my mother here, not me.


care, n.: An object or matter of care, concern, or solicitude.

Bishop J. Hall (1631): "The maine care of any creature is self-preservation."

When I think about my relationship with my father, I wonder about cause and effect. I'm not sure if we never had the conversations I now wish we would have because he wasn't the type of person who had those conversations or I simply had that impression of him, which prevented my bringing them up. I don't know if we would have had a different relationship if I would have pushed for that type of relationship or if it would have been a futile effort, as I felt it would, which is what prevented my pushing in the first place. Essentially, I always behaved the way I did because I believed he would respond in certain ways; that belief was certainly based on experience, but I could have interpreted his actions incorrectly. He might have behaved the way he did because he had expectations about me. And we never talked about our expectations or our behavior. Of course, that lack of talking about the expectations is just one more example of the problem. For all I know, he could have spent his life wondering why we didn't have the type of relationship he wanted, but he was waiting on me to say or do something. From all I saw in his life, even what I heard from other people, I don't believe that's the case; however, I still wonder if I could have behaved differently and changed something. And I'll wonder for the rest of my life.


take, v.:transitive. To receive (a medicine, drug, etc.) into one's body in order to produce a particular effect or sensation; to ingest willingly.

G.G. Beekman (1779): "Youl please to Send me a Pott of your Compound Medesen With Directions how to Take it."

My grandparents largely died when I was young, and I never saw them die. I lived until my mid-40s before anyone in my immediate family died, so I hadn't seen the process of dying in our modern, technological age. I hadn't seen someone have a port put in them to make the variety of injections much easier, for example. I hadn't watched someone struggling just to drink a few sips of Ensure. I especially hadn't watched someone who once had a hearty appetite, someone who was a large man (not fat or heavy at all, but large) not be able to eat more than a few bites before throwing it back up. When my wife and I were visiting once, my father had to go to a chemo treatment. He talked about how boring it was, so we stopped in to see him in the midst of it, bringing him some fast food he could still eat at that point. Given he was still able to eat, doctors were encouraging him to put on weight, as they knew what would come next. The idea of chemo being boring seems both spot-on but also as wrong a description as there can be. He would just sit there for hours, but then would suffer for days, even months later. That's a fairly apt description of our lives now that I think about it: we make decisions when we're younger and feel we're immortal until we're not, and those decisions come due.


take, v.:transitive. To undertake to carry out (a function, role, responsibility, etc.); to assume (office); to enter into (service).

A.W. Kinglake (1863): "The plan of taking engagements upon possible eventualities."

I've thought a good deal about my funeral, though I have a feeling it will be nothing like I would want. I think about it because I'm fascinated with ritual. I love some of the old traditions where people would take handfuls of dirt they'd toss onto the grave of the recently dead. Though I didn't know her well, and I was small for my age, I served as a pallbearer for my grandmother, an act which literally caused me to feel the weight of her death. Neither my father nor my mother, though, were interested in funerals at all; thus, my father was simply cremated, and we had a brief service. I wish there would have been more of those traditional rituals just because I wanted more of a symbolic service, but I also know I could simply be romanticizing the event. In fact, if I'm honest with myself, I probably want those symbols to make up for the lack of a more meaningful relationship with my father; they would simply be performative, though, not coming from true feeling. The simple service we did was probably just right for a person who never wanted to be the center of attention, a private person who just wanted to play golf, watch sports, and travel some after he retired. My fascination with funerals, both mine and his, unfortunately says more about how I want people to think about me than how I think about him and even how I think about myself.


take, v.:transitive. To accompany or guide (a person or animal) to or through a place; to conduct, lead, escort; to bring, convey. Also with over: to show (a person) around a building, garden, etc. Frequently with adverb or prepositional phrase, and with with indicating the agent.

William Shakespeare (1616): "Take the stranger to my house."

My father-in-law came to the graveside part of the funeral, not the part at the funeral home. We assured him he didn't need to come, but he wanted somebody there to represent that side of the family. It was a very nice gesture. He wasn't sure if he was going to make it or not until he arrived the night before, so I hadn't mentioned his coming to my mother. The next day, he drove over to the house with me and my wife. When my mother started to come downstairs, she saw him, then backed up the stairs where I was and whispered, "Who is that man?" My mother had probably only met him two or three times in about a ten year span, so I'm not completely surprised she didn't recognize him. However, her question was not simply inquisitive; it was fearful. In her grief, she seemed afraid of the world, and this stranger in her home had frightened her. Even after I explained who it was, she seemed quite tentative around him, as if she didn't completely trust him. The universe that had taken away her husband could do anything, so, in her grief, she was wary of anything or anybody that seemed not to belong.


take, v.:transitive. Esp. of God: to remove (a person, his or her soul, etc.) from the world by death. Also euphemistic: (in passive) to die. Frequently with from, or (with reference to God) to.

Eugene O'Neill (1920): "It was God's will that he should be taken."

Even though I grew up in the church and grew up in the South, where a particular flavor of Christianity dominates conversation, nobody ever told me my father's death was God's will. I had long since moved on from that type of theology, so I was grateful for the omission. I wouldn't have turned such a comment into a fight, but I wouldn't have appreciated it, either. I would, though, remember people have no idea what to say in the midst of loss, so this approach is one of the only ones they know when it comes to trying to provide comfort. The people who make this comment want the universe to be logical and rational, but it's not, as far as we can tell. Sometimes, men who are otherwise quite healthy for their age get cancer and die. When I was in my early 30s, a friend from high school and college died of a brain tumor at twenty-nine. We all know stories like these, and we try to make sense of them when there's no sense behind them. God's will is an easy way to do that. I prefer a lack of logic to a God who's will is to kill my father, no matter the reason.


care, v.: To be careful, to take care. Now only dialect.

H. Smith (approx. 1593): "It is not enough to heare but you must care how you heare; it is not enough to pray, but you must care how you pray."

One of the main ways my father communicated with me was through trying to make sure I was being careful with my car. Whenever I would come home from wherever I currently lived, it was one of the few questions he would ask me: "How's your car running?" Once, when I was in college, I came back to my dorm room to find a message on the answering machine saying simply, "Kev, if you don't get your oil changed, your engine will explode." This type of questioning or conversation sounds like typical male banter, but my father wasn't a car person. He always kept up with the normal maintenance of any car we owned, but he was never out in the driveway working on a car unless something was wrong he could fix on his own. He didn't tinker with cars, didn't buy cars to try to show off some aspect of our lives, didn't go to car shows, didn't seem to care about cars at all beyond just making sure they could get us from one place to another. Granted, I didn't keep up with maintaining my car when I was in high school and college—thus the message about changing the oil and an exploding engine—but it seems more like my father simply wanted to make sure I was taking care of myself and, for him, that manifested itself in how well one managed their car care.


take, v.:transitive (reflexive). With adverb or preposition of direction: to make one's way, to proceed, to go.

Anthony Trollope (1866): "I am to pack up, bag and baggage, and take myself elsewhere."

I found out my father died on a Saturday night, as my mother called me just before I was going to bed. I had not planned to drive up until the funeral, but it became clear when I talked to my mother on Sunday that she wanted me to come up as soon as possible. I was in the midst of a semester of teaching, and I hate missing class days, not because I believe the material is so important to their lives, but because I absolutely love teaching. Thus, I stayed through the funeral on Wednesday and the graveside burial on Thursday morning, then drove back home, so I could teach on Friday. I even explained to my class that I wanted to be back because I feel most at home in a classroom. Several times my mother has made side comments about my leaving town right after burying my father, so I know it bothered her. One could argue I left because I didn't know what good I would do by staying there, which is partially true. We're not a close family, so I didn't know how I could provide any sort of comfort for my mother. Perhaps being there would have been comfort enough, so perhaps I should have stayed a few more days. It didn't feel that way to me then or now. It's not a decision I regret.


take, v.:transitive. To proceed to deal with practically; to treat in a particular way; to take in hand, to tackle.

H. Bracken (1737): "The Business is to take the Distemper in its first Stage."

I'm a rather practical person most of the time, but especially during times of crisis or stress. Whenever something tragic happens in or around me, I usually focus my energy on what needs to happen. Thus, in the week after my father's death and leading up to the funeral, I focused on two things. First, I worked on making the funeral plans, as neither my mother nor sister were in a place where they could make those decisions. When it came to questions I had no knowledge of or no interest in (such as the design for the guest book), my wife stepped in to make suggestions the rest of us readily agreed with. The rest of my energy went toward grading papers and emailing faculty and students at school. Most people found it odd I would spend the week of my father's funeral doing school work, but it's where I derived a great deal of comfort, as it's a significant part of my identity. Early in my career, when I was a high school librarian, one of our Spanish teachers died in a car accident on the way to school. While most of the faculty and students were sitting in the halls mourning, I was in my office working. A student who didn't know the Spanish teacher well came by to talk to me, as he didn't feel what everybody else was feeling. I explained I processed grief by working, and he explained how he was feeling. We were able to provide each other comfort in that we affirmed each other's feelings, which didn't seem to match with how most other people at the school were mourning.


take, v.: transitive. To proceed along (a road, way, path, course, etc.). Also: to go through (a particular door). Frequently in figurative contexts.

The Law Times Reports (1895): "The court... left the parties to take their own course."

My father, as well as my mother, was supportive of my pursuing a college degree. They even bought me a new car for my graduation, something they had not done for my older brother and sister, who hadn't gone on to college (at that time; my sister graduated as an older adult). He thought I should major in something more practical than English, a subject like accounting or computer science. Since he grew up poor, it would make sense he would want me to choose a practical major, one that would assure me of a job and steady career, assuming I was at least average at it. And those were two subjects I was good at and interested in when I was in high school. It's not that he was opposed to graduate education in the Humanities; he just didn't understand why somebody would want to do it. We often had trouble understanding each other, not in the way that led to arguments and anger, but in the way that leads to distance and bemusement. I didn't understand why he would want to spend his life working on the yard, playing golf, and watching sports, and he couldn't understand why I would want to spend my life reading novels, writing poetry, and moving from one place to another. I often imagine our having conversations where we tried to explain ourselves to each other, but those never happened. And they never would have, no matter how long he would have lived.


take, v.:transitive. Chiefly with from (also of, at): to obtain or derive (a material or immaterial thing) deliberately from a particular source; to copy or borrow (an illustration, passage of text, etc.) from the work of another; to base (a pattern, design, etc.) on a specified original.

New Bon Ton Magazine (1818): "Taking my text from the martyrdom of St. Stephen, I very modestly compared my sufferings with his."

My father was never very forthcoming about his childhood, but I did learn a few things. I know they were poor, that his father was a coal miner who suffered from black lung, and they moved around a good deal. He also told a story about a psychologist (or psychology professor or something along those lines) who would have people write a page or two about their childhoods, then he would predict where they had ended up. Supposedly, this person was quite good at doing so. My father gave him something he wrote about his childhood once, leading the psychologist to comment, "This person is either dead or in jail." My father took great pride in saying his response was, "No, that's me." I have had trouble imagining what his childhood must have been like to lead anyone to assume he would end up dead or in prison as an adult, but perhaps that explains why he almost never talked about his early years. Even though we were poor when I was quite young, we were certainly much better off than my father was when he was a child. That was certainly the case by the time I was born, as I was the youngest of the three children, and my parents had steady employment providing them with consistent raises and solid retirement plans. Thankfully, I didn't have much to complain about, though I can't imagine my father (or my mother) would have compared my childhood to his, but it certainly wouldn't have stood up well, no matter what the details of his life. While he was competitive when it came to any type of game, he never tried to romanticize poverty or suffering, as he clearly had seen enough of them to know better.


care, v.: To have regard, fondness, or attachment for (a person).

Lady Hervey (1750): "I dread to see people I care for quite easy and happy."

I don't know why children gravitate to one parent over another, but I have always wanted to believe I'm more like my father than my mother. That's not because of anything negative about my mother, but it also doesn't seem to be because of anything positive about my father, either. I definitely grew up wanting to be an athlete on his level, though it was clear early on that would never happen. I also talk much more than he ever did, and I was (and am) much more focused on reading and learning than he was (though he was much smarter than he let on). The easiest explanation is I was a boy who grew up in rural Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s, so of course I would want to be like my father. But there were other boys in my neighborhood who didn't fit that template, just as there were girls who very much wanted to be like their fathers. It could be because I was around him much more, as his work schedule was more flexible than my mother's, so he was home more in the afternoons and summers than she was; thus, he was simply around. Even though we didn't see the world the same way and we had different goals for how we wanted to live our lives, I was always fond of my father. I just never learned how to show him how I felt.


take, v.:transitive. To write down (esp. spoken words); to report in writing; to make (notes, a transcript, etc.).

Bishop G. Burnet (approximately 1715): "He would not let me take a copy of it."

My father almost never commented on my writing; in fact, he read almost nothing I have ever written. Either he or my mother read enough of the memoir I wrote to be unhappy about that, but I'm not sure which one of them was the one doing the reading. Similarly, my father once emailed me about a poem I had written (it was online), complaining about his portrayal in it. It was about a father who had slipped and fallen outside, which my father had several years before. However, as I tried to explain to him, it was actually inspired by a friend's father's fall, as that father had broken his leg, which mine hadn't. Perhaps my father's real complaint was with the wording, as his email said, "And I've never meandered anywhere," using the verb I used to describe the father's path. As he often did, he couched the complaint as coming from my mother, "Your mother said…" and I didn't ever know who was actually bothered. I do know my father never understood my desire to write, in the same way he didn't understand my gathering graduate degrees and my passion for teaching. On the one hand, this complaint feels like that of every child, especially with parents of the same sex: "You don't understand me." Of course, when it's me who feels misunderstood, it feels different. Of course it does.


take, v.:transitive. To obtain (a picture, portrait, etc.) by drawing or painting; to make, execute (a picture, drawing, sketch, etc.). Also in extended use: to draw a likeness of; to portray, depict.

H.L. Piozzi (1789): "Her portrait... will not be found difficult to take."

I can easily describe my father physically: he was just over six feet, four inches, and he weighed anywhere from 220 to 250, though, when he was in college and near the end of his life, he weighed closer to 180. He had long arms and legs, with large hands that could easily palm a basketball. He had dark hair for much of his life, though he slowly began going gray in his 50s, ending his life mostly gray. He always parted his hair on the side and didn't let it get too long, as it began curling if he did. For most of his life, he was clean-shaven, though he did try a beard in the 1970s, and he also went through the long-sideburn phase, according to pictures. He wasn't what most people would call handsome, but he was far from unattractive. Describing my father otherwise, though, is a challenge. He had a dry sense of humor, but it became much more obvious when he was with a group of his golfing buddies. Similarly, he didn't talk much at home, but, in public, he was more garrulous. In that way, he felt more like a performer, like he was taking on a role when we went outside the house. He would joke with servers and carry on conversations with former students he encountered when we were out and about. I couldn't tell you what he believed deeply, though, or what, if anything, he would have been willing to die for or lose a job over. I don't know who he voted for or even if he voted in any election, though I believe he did. Though he taught the adult Sunday school class at his church for decades, I couldn't state any religious beliefs or doubts he had. I could have predicted most of his actions throughout the course of the day, given how habitual he was, but I couldn't have said why he chose to live life the way he did.


take, v.:transitive. To understand, comprehend (a person). Frequently in do you take me? and variants.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1882): "I am not in this affair for him. You take me?"

My father always seemed more interested in sports than anything else. He played golf almost until he died. He played softball until he was well into his 40s, if not his 50s, and he continued playing basketball until his mid-50s when one of his best friends (and former college teammates) died of a heart attack. However, he only coached a few years, and that was when I was playing in baseball and basketball leagues, where they always needed coaches. My mother told me he was offered a job coaching two sports at a high school in Chattanooga when they were young, but she refused to move there, so he turned the job down. He also tried out for a couple of minor league baseball teams, but he didn't pursue that route. I'm not even sure if they offered him a position, just that he didn't take it, if they did. I heard that from my sister, who at least asked him why he didn't do it. His response was he had a family to feed. Perhaps it's because I don't have children and, thus, have much more freedom in my life, but I've never understood why he passed up opportunities to do what he loved. Maybe it's because I come from a generation that heard we should pursue our dreams, but I simply can't comprehend how he lived his life. It could just be I'm selfish, and he was willing to sacrifice his dreams to make sure we had a stable upbringing. Some people would say my pursuing my dreams is exactly what he would have wanted, but he never seemed supportive of the dreams I wanted to pursue. He didn't understand what I chose, and I didn't understand what he chose. I always think that's what the parent-child relationship is, but then I meet other people who don't fit into that role. I don't understand that, either.


take, v.:transitive. To conceive and exercise (courage, pity, mercy, etc.); to form in the mind and exhibit in action.

J.W. Schultz (1912): "Take courage; don't be an afraid person."

I was a child who was afraid of a variety of things: snakes, sharks, embarrassment; any kind of pain; getting hit by anything or anybody; new foods. I could go on. I never saw my father afraid of anything. Once, when a neighbor was having a birthday party, somebody saw a snake in the woods by the house; needless to say, most of the children were afraid. The mother saw my father in the backyard and asked for his help. He picked the snake up by the tail, then snapped it so its neck broke. When he was teaching me to drive, I made a turn onto a back road, and I kept turning into the grass, heading us toward a pond. My father didn't say anything; he just reached over, turned the wheel back to put us on the road, then put his hands back in his lap without a single comment. When he was working in the yard one day, trimming some limbs from over a pond with a chainsaw, he cut through the middle of his hand. Nobody was home, so he wrote my mother a note, telling her he had gone to the hospital and would be back soon. From all the evidence, he did so calmly. Even when he was dying, if he was afraid of his life's ending or of the pain that came through the treatment, I never saw it. He never expressed it to any of us, even my mother, according to what she's told me. When I was a child, I always attributed his lack of fear to his size. If I were as big as he was, I reasoned, I wouldn't have to be afraid, either. Now that I'm older, I don't know what to attribute it to. And I'm not sure it's all that healthy. Fear makes some sense, in an evolutionary sense and in a human sense. We need to be afraid of certain kinds of pain, or we would just run willy-nilly into situations where we shouldn't be. My fear of my mortality doesn't come from the pain, but from the ending of my existence. I like life, even when it's not all that great, and I really don't want it to end. That seems logical to me. But it could also just be one more excuse I'm making for my fears.


take, v.:transitive. With at. To aim or attempt (a shot, swing, punch, etc.); also figurative.

Sheboygan Press (1957): "You either take a swing at the ball no matter where it is... or else you decide that it's 'unplayable' and tack two strokes onto your score."

My father tried to get me to play golf with him when I was just out of college, even making me a set of clubs, as I'm left-handed. He ordered club parts and assembled them in his spare time, selling them to friends or giving them as gifts. We went out and played our first round together, and I had one good hole, one over par on the final hole of the course, the easiest in the area. He took me through how he played the game on a practical level: he always walked the course rather than riding in a cart; he didn't stop at the turn from the 9th to the 10th holes except for a pack of crackers and Gatorade, which he then ate and drank while walking the second half; he tried to start playing around 10:00, finishing around 1:30, as he argued the worst time to be on a golf course was in the middle of the afternoon when the breezes died down; he always stopped for a hamburger or sandwich on the way home—the loser was supposed to buy, but it was pretty clear I would always be buying if that were the case. I tried playing the game for a few more years, mostly with friends, but I never took it seriously enough to really improve at it. I never missed playing the game, but I did miss talking about it with Dad, as it was one of the few things we had in common. I really missed the rituals he had developed around the game, and I would have lost every match just to be able to buy him a burger.


care, v.: To take care of, guard, preserve with care. dialect.

Mrs. P. O'Donoghue (1881): "If you care your things... it is surprising how long they may be made to serve."

My father kept himself in good shape as he got older. He didn't like hard exercise, as he had been an athlete for much of his earlier life, so he didn't ever take up running or weight lifting or something along those lines where he would go and push himself to some limit. However, he was always active, whether playing basketball or golf, right up until a few months before he died. When I was in my early 30s, I started taking up running more seriously, leading the cross country coach at the high school where I worked to ask me if I would ever consider running races. I assured him I wouldn't—an assurance I broke just a few months later—which led him to comment, "Well, you're adding years to your life, regardless." I thought then, You know, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but I didn't say anything. Now I would just tell him about my father. I know I can run all I want, and I could die from cancer or a whole host of other diseases or accidents. I hope my body serves me longer than my father's did, but there are no guarantees.


take care, v.: My father's last words to me.

Jim Brown (2015): "Take care."

Most notably, my father didn't tell me he loved me. He seldom did, so seldom, in fact, I believe I remember the only time he ever said it to me: my first wedding, when I was 22. I would say I'm not bothered by this omission, given how used to it I had become, but I clearly am, given I keep thinking about his lack of willingness to use this one phrase. In fact, I had been home several years before he was diagnosed, and he had the perfect opportunity to do so, but he didn't take it. I had written a memoir my parents thought portrayed them in a negative light, especially one particular scene where I had my father saying something he denied saying. They had written me an email expressing their displeasure, and I had written back saying we never talked about issues in our family, that we never even said we loved one another. Rather than continuing the conversation on email, I went to the house, as I wanted to have a real dialogue about the memoir and our family. My father didn't say much through the discussion, but, at the end, when I was leaving to meet a friend for dinner, my mother was going to give me a hug goodbye (something she never did, though she does regularly since my father's death), as my father was walking upstairs. She called out, "Come tell Kev you love him," and he kept walking up the stairs, simply saying, "He knows how we feel."

I can easily explain his reluctance to say a simple phrase in a variety of ways. He grew up poor, born just at the end of the depression to a coal mining family. They moved around so much when he was growing up that he went to more schools than he had years of education, probably as a result of their poverty, but it's unclear. When I asked his older sister why they moved around so much, she responded, "You just had to know your granddaddy." Given he died when I was quite young, I never received an adequate answer to that question. My father was also a man in a generation of men who didn't express their feelings. And so forth and so on. There's nothing out of the ordinary here.

But he didn't take his final opportunity to say anything beyond what he would have said if I were just driving home on any other day of his life. And that's what I don't understand. It's not that he didn't tell me he loved me on a regular basis; he didn't tell me when he had his last chance to say it. I didn't expect him to use his last words to me to be witty or deep or meaningful or cheesy; I just expected him to tell me he loved me. Even that he would miss me.

I've been working on this essay for months, and for all of that time, I thought I knew how to end it. I was going to admit I hadn't told my father I loved him, either, as I'm definitely willing to admit my failings in my relationship with him, as well. But I was looking through my journal from that year to try to find a different scene from his final days when I found the entry about our last conversation, and I did tell him I loved him. Thus, rather than being left with the idea I originally had that he told me to "take care" in general, I now know that's what he said when I told him I loved him. While that makes me feel a bit better about me, it makes me feel even more disappointed in our final exchange. I have to believe, though, that his final words conveyed the same emotion but, for a variety of reasons, he couldn't bring himself to express his love verbally. I have to believe that, even if I don't understand it, and even when I don't believe it.