“My mom divorced my dad when I was seven, for very good reasons.
I was the oldest of three kids. I still remember when dad took us all into the basement, where he had his favorite armchair and tool-bench, and put all three of us on his lap to tell us he was leaving the house but he’d always be our dad and would always love us just the same.
We didn’t see him again for more than two years. He went into a deep depression, sank into alcoholism, and was homeless for a while. Even when he resurfaced and got an apartment we could stay at to visit him, he was always dead broke (later I learned my mom was paying his rent) and the best he could do for a fun visit was to take us to the YMCA pool once in a while.
He taught us all to swim, there in the Y pool. He had been a junior Olympic silver medalist in swimming, or so he told us. Whether that was true or not, he was at his best in the water. We had the most fun with him, playing water games he invented to help us gain confidence. Pool Shark and Down Daddy Down. Summertimes he’d take us to the lake, and we’d swim all the way to the far dock, farther than any of the other kids.
When I was a teenager, he remarried, a great lady who was good for him and good for us. But they divorced after only a few years. He was awful to her, controlling and browbeating and maybe even occasionally physically violent. After that second divorce, he came to live with me and was a live-in grandpa to my daughter, his oldest grandchild. He lived in my basement for seven years, and during that time he was probably a better ‘father’ to his granddaughter than he’d ever been to any of his kids.
My dad was diabetic, and he never took care of his diet. By the time he was in his late fifties, he was severely disabled. He had a stroke and was paralyzed on his right side. Somehow, he reconciled with his second wife and went to live with her in the Southwest.
They had a pool, and even though he was confined to a wheelchair on land, once again, that’s where my dad shined. He taught all of his grandkids to swim in that pool, even half paralyzed as he was. He would play the same games with them – Down Daddy Down and Pool Shark – that he used to play with us. He taught them to dive. He imbued then with confidence.
Once, some friends of ours came to stay with us at his house in the desert. They had two kids who were absolutely terrified of water. I mean these kids would scream and cry if they stepped in a puddle. Yet, within two days, my dad had both kids playing and splashing in the pool, dunking their heads and starting to learn to float and kick. I don’t know how he did it, he just had a gift.
My dad was somehow a nearly complete failure as defined by our society – a deadbeat, never could hold a job for more than a few months, a cripple and a lush, a bum and a bully – and yet at the same time one of the most loving and caring human beings I’ve ever known. He was a wonderful teacher, not just of swimming but of chess (he was a master) and of cooking. He remained an adventurous soul even after his stroke, and traveled every chance he got. He was brave and fearless – he could not be embarrassed – and he danced with me at my wedding, dragging his paralyzed leg behind him.
Dad died this past spring. His wife couldn’t care for him at home anymore – he kept falling down and she couldn’t pick him up. The firemen were getting tired responding to 911 calls. The transition to a home was horrible and I think it broke his spirit. He lasted less than a year after he couldn’t go swimming anymore.
Theodore Bruce Day was not the world’s greatest father. But he was a pretty good dad, in his own way, and I loved him. His grandkids loved him, as you can see from the picture below. I miss him a lot.”
– Aimee Day
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