Friday, January 19, 2018

In memoriam

I opened the dusty banker’s box.  The box was one of ten that I had transported from a storage space holding the remainder of the possessions of my father, Roy Schnarrenberger.  I had packed his possessions into the storage space when I sold his house the previous year.  Now that he had died, my wife and I were sorting what we would keep and what we would throw away.

Nestled within the banker’s box lay a calendar covered in astrological symbols.  Next to those symbols were a series of annotations in Roy’s cramped, prickly scrawl describing events in his life.  These events were a hodgepodge of the important and mundane: “Car takes 2 slots – move” was scribbled below “P is engaged”.

Stacked below the astrological calendar were hundreds of similar ones dating all the way back to 2010.  We found two other boxes similarly stuffed with astrological calendars.  The earliest calendar dated back to the early 1980s.  Roy had calculated and compiled by hand astrological charts for at least thirty years.

For all their obsessive detail, Roy’s astrological charts had not helped him predict or understand the major events in his life.  As he encountered more hardship, Roy increasingly supplemented astrology with yet more dubious techniques.  To protect his gut and reduce flatulence, he placed jade discs that had been imbued with “resonant frequencies” in his fridge.  To control his blood sugars, he enshrined his medications within self-constructed cardboard pyramids.  To help him build closer relationships, especially with women, he studied handwriting and body language analysis.  To understand his life, he consulted psychics, did hypnosis, and received six past life regressions.  Roy craved That One Weird Trick that would magic his problems away.

This not to say that he was incapable of fun.  During sticky Cleveland summers, he would take me to the batting cages, where we would hit fastballs until our hands blistered, capping our day with Dairy Queen sundaes.  When an Alberta Clipper blanketed Cleveland under half a foot of snow, we would stay snug in our house playing Cribbage and listening to Gordon Lightfoot.  And during his favorite time of year, Christmas, we would pile into the car to find the best displays of Christmas lights in Cleveland, a trip that always ended at the enormous display at the General Electric headquarters in Nela Park.

But always these good times were overshadowed by his yawning need for more time, more affection, more more more.  And he felt this need most intensely of the people to whom he was closest.  As his son, I could play games with him, but I could not confide in him.  Expressing my true thoughts and feelings around him was dangerous.

Roy confronted me about my emotional distance after I had settled him into the nursing home where he spent the last three years of his life. “You’re not helping me out of love,” he accused. “You’re helping me out of obligation.”  In some ways, Roy was right: visits to Nela Park aside, I did not enjoy the time I spent with him, and this was especially true toward the end of his life, when a lifetime of relying on cardboard pyramids to ward away diabetes came home to roost in his body.  But what Roy did not understand is that my love for him created the obligation that impelled me to care for him.  But for love, the obligation would not exist.

I could not force Roy to parse the difference between love and affection.  But I could show him this difference by caring for him, even as cancer hollowed out his body.  I could recreate with him some of the positive experiences we did share, like games of Cribbage played to the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, or one final trip to see the Christmas lights at Nela park.  And I could repeat to him the words that were some of the last he heard before he died:

I love you, dad.

In memory of Roy Schnarrenberger
September 22, 1948 – January 9, 2018


  1. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Patrick.

  2. Patrick, this is beautiful writing, and lovely pictures. Like you, I loved Roy's love of Christmas lights. It is what first brought us together.

    1. Patrick, as someone who knew Roy for a long time, I can appreciate the honesty of your words, and I particularly understand the reasons why you did not enjoy spending time with your father, but loved him nonetheless. As I have repeatedly told my wife, Roy was a "different" sort of person. He could often be awkward and difficult to spend time with. On the other hand, Roy was a good person, who cared about his friends and his son. I remember telling Roy that he should be proud of you, that he had a lot to do with this, and that one of his greatest achievements in life was as your father. Roy agreed with me, and I know he loved you deeply. R.I.P., Roy. I do miss you, my friend.

  3. I vividly remember meeting Roy and loving the gentle, caring nature that was his core. Thank you for this sympathetic portrait of him that illustrates both his loving side and the source of some of his confusion.