The Original - 4/09/2016
This is the way I've found myself describing my father to those who have asked me about him. My father was truly an original. He was not a watered down version of some other personality or someone that ever wanted to be anyone other than who he was. He was forged of a grit only found in people who came from nothing and earned everything through hard work and perseverance. My father envied no one. He was is the easiest person to love and the hardest person to understand. To say you knew what my Dad was thinking at any given moment would be as ludicrous as saying you can control the weather. Yet we all tried day-in and day-out to conquer the Morse code that was his mind. Here are a few short experts from this wonderful man’s life as our father that I constantly relive in my mind. I wish I could share everything about him but the story is too vast for this forum. Pull me aside anytime you want to know more and I’ll be happy to go on. Please forgive all of the bad punctuation and typos.
Those of you who knew know my father probably recall he was keeper of anything that he ever owned that had wheels or a rudder. I counted 4 cars at one point that were either in our driveway or at his dental office. These were not autos in service; no these were cars that were kept alive through my father's will-power. Cars he continuously brought back from the beyond. This was in addition to a canoe, a camper trailer and a boat (that sunk 2 times) and many others. I walked behind his office one day to see that the earth was literally swallowing the boat trailer with the boat on it. Weeds where growing all around it almost "seizing" the boat from future use. There were days when this drove me crazy. I mean my parents had two good cars at home why did my Dad keep all this stuff?!
Years and years went by. He would always tell us "No, that's a good car. One of these days when I have time I'm going to fix it". Of course he said that about the camper, the boat, the Suburban, the Cadillac, the OTHER Cadillac and so on. My Mother, brothers and I joked about it and shared some level of embarrassment with the junkyards that were slowly forming in my parent's driveway and the back of the office. A few years ago around the holidays my Dad and I were driving that Suburban looking like something from the "Road Warrior" coming down Shackelford Road, I asked him "Dad, what in the world are you doing with this stuff? Let me help you get rid of it." My father responded with a tear in his eye (I've never forgotten this moment) "Son, these are not just cars or 'junk' to me. I can't just throw them away. These are memories of everything I've done in my life with you kids and your Mother. That suburban has gone back and forth from Little Rock to Snowmass several times as we all learned how to ski and spent days in the car as a family. That boat, I taught you boys how to ski behind that boat and so many summers have we loved being on the water together, I used that camper to take you boys camping with your friends and in cub scouts and we floated the Buffalo River many times in that old canoe. I can't just get rid of these things because as you boys grew and moved away from home these things made me feel like we're still together. I look at them and memories come rushing back. I can't just throw them away".
To my father everything (inanimate or not) that ever help give him a moment of joy with his family was, well, family too. I never would have made this connection in my life and as quickly as that clear glimpse into my father's thought process opened it closed. He stuck a screw driver into the ignition switch of that old rusty Suburban and off we went to pick up a Christmas tree. He took a hard left turn and my door that I thought was locked swung open. I squeezed my seat belt with all my might hoping I wasn’t going to fly out of the car. When the Suburban finished its wide turn and my life flashed back into my eyes I saw my Dad snickering "Yeah...that door doesn't stay shut anymore. I need to fix it!"
I’ve always been a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy but every time I scrub up I look in the mirror and see my Dad. He used to be so proud when he saw his boys dressed up. “Yeah man! That’s a good looking suit” as his hand brushed my shoulders. He taught me to look my best and to represent my family, to enjoy the art of tying a tie correctly, to tuck in my shirt, pull up my pants and never sit down with my coat buttoned. And remember “your cuffs should be right at the top of your thumb so a little bit of your shirt sleeves peak out but not too much”. I don’t think my father was “Dapper Dan” I think Dan was “Dapper George”.One would never guess that this was is the same man who likes his suits picture perfect. A man that will take a tie out of his closet, go to a men's clothing store and put that tie up against every suit in his size until he sees what he's looking for. The perfect suit was never hanging on clothes rack. No, it was designed and tailor made in my father's mind first. "Now it is just a matter of finding it" he would say. He was the best at finding that perfect shirt, tie and suit combination. He'd correct everything the tailor would want to alter and the funny thing was (as we learned with time) that our dad was ALWAYS right. He worked in a men’s store as a young man and reveled shooting the breeze with the salesmen talking about his days in “the business”.
Digging our way out:
He taught my brothers and I the value of hard work and I do mean HARD WORK and sometimes the hard work was ODD WORK. All the other kids were mowing the lawn at their house over the summers but not the Gillian boys. No siree, for us it was 2-a-day football practice and then mowing our front and back yard, my dad's office which consisted of a front yard and a massive open lot in the back and then 3 rent houses (front and back)! That was the easy stuff, there was always a weekend filled with digging up rocks, I'm sorry I meant "small boulders" from various properties and then hauling them to some interesting person's house way out in the country to help them fill a hole. How did he know this person had a hole that needed filling in the first place???
The most confusing of all were the days we spent, and I'm not kidding here, DIGGING UNDER THE HOUSE! This was some kind of “Gillian Boot Camp” thing. Our basement was really just a crawl space that was initially about 4' high at best in some places and as low as 3’ in others. It was filled with spiders, camel-back crickets and the occasional angry varmint. One day my Dad asks my brothers and I to come outside and he just tells us "get the shovel and the pick-axe and start digging out that basement". He didn't tell us why, or how far, or how deep he just told us to “get after it”. So we did. This wasn't just a weekend situation. This went on for what seemed like forever. You couldn't do anything or go anywhere fun unless you dug under the house for a few hours. We'd have friends calling up "Is Kipp/Kris/Kevin there??" my Mom usually fielded those calls and would say "No, he's digging underneath the house right now. I'll have him call you back when he's done". Our friends would be left wondering "what are they doing digging under their house??" This quickly became a Gillian-ism that our friends still use today "Why can't you come? Are you digging underneath the house again?” Dad’s end game for that was to create more room so he could store lawn mowers and such but he never told us until we were done.
I could go on and on about the wild work that went on in our house-hold and like any teenagers it was the last thing we really wanted to do but then we'd look outside and we'd see our father doing the work of multiple people all on his own. I mean hard, hands in the dirt work. Today I know it was inspiration but as a teenager we just felt guilty so we'd put our work clothes on and join him or we’d answer our Mom’s call to “get out there and help your father”.
My Dad has an ultimate set of tools!
My father hardly ever bought a tool. He owned owns a red tool box and the thing hardly stays shut. I swear so many times I'd pick it up only to have it fling open and every tool in it would hit the floor. Drove me nuts but if you were to study the tools on the ground you would find some of the most interesting, “not-available-in-stores”, “one-of-a-kind” gizmos in the world. Our father would rarely go the hardware store when he was in a jamb. Instead he would look around and quite literally forge a new tool from a combination of odd items. He “MacGyvered” long before there was a “MacGyver”. Remember this is the man that started his Suburban with a screwdriver after all. As a teenager I would just bang my head against the wall telling him "Please Dad let’s just go buy something to get the job done" but my Dad would ignore my pleads and instead narrate the creation of some new gadget and show me how it would work. As much as I would pray for his efforts to fail so I could get out of there I would be amazed that he would almost always succeed. There were the rare times he didn't and he'd relieve me to go hang out with my friends. I would bolt out the door only to find myself later thinking about him alone working on whatever apparatus I left him with and hoping he'd figure it out and regretting my decision to leave him.
As odd as the work was, as hard as it was, and as random the instruments were to do the work I wouldn't trade it for anything and wish I had one more odd chore to work on with him. He taught me how to put my priorities in line, how to get things done even when you don't like the task, how to really buckle down and dig deep and how, when you're empty handed, you can always create the right tool for the job. My father not only forged some odd functional devices but he also molded 3 boys that could go into the world knowing that work was a simple matter of grabbing a shovel and “getting after it”. If you don't know what to do you just figure it out. You can solve a problem a million different ways and sometimes you learn more reinventing the wheel than you do buying one off the shelf.
I sit as I write this hopelessly grasping for fleeting memories of him recollecting these tales and seeing the wonderment in his eyes as he spoke of his rambunctious childhood. My father's memory was something like a fortress. Memories go in and they stay, securely guarded and never forgotten. His memory for us will be under lock and key both in our minds and our hearts.His life as a child was a true-to-life Norman Rockwell picture with children playing by the creek with their ole-dog in tow. Never knowing what adventure lay ahead or what game they would conjure up out of thin air, each kid with a roll to play in their daily episodes. My father relived those moments all the time. He constantly told us hilarious stories about his childhood, his brother and the other kids in his neighborhood. His stories had such vivid detail you could almost hear the children laughing as they played outside in the 1940’s & 50s. My father’s ability to tell a story is unrivaled. He had has a way of capturing your attention and mesmerizing you with a yarn that was always worth the time and attention. There were times he would be in mid-story only to be interrupted and loose his crowd, an hour could pass and then suddenly my dad would pick up the story right where he left of as if he never stopped in the first place. It was uncanny and something only my father could do.
Down but not out:
When I was a junior in high school my father was stricken ill by a hepatitis vaccine he took. It was a vaccine that most medical professionals where required to take. This was a product of one of those large pharmaceutical companies. They claimed their side effects where “negligible” and the chances of having an adverse reaction were something like “one in a million” or some contrived number. My father was a healthy man, strong and tall. This shot ravaged his body. It attacked and dissolved his phrenic nerve which controls the diaphragm. It rendered his diaphragm useless which means he lost half of his breathing capacity. The drug attacked his muscle tissues and nervous system rendering him partially paralyzed for years. It was even hard for him to talk. It was a horrible punishment to man who did nothing but try to help others.
He withered away before our eyes. I remember my family gathering around his hospital bed holding his hand. We thought it was over. Our father was down but he was not out! Not by a long shot. He fought back with everything he had left. He would never regain his diaphragm but he did regain most of his motor functions and weight. It was a long road for his recovery and as soon as he was able he was right back in his dental office catching up on patients. He worried incessantly about others during his affliction. Dad’s life and quality of life was completely altered after that. He would constantly battle the damage caused by this drug. My parents tried to appeal to the pharmaceutical company that created this toxin but the firm “lawyered-up” with their big corporate attorneys and swept us aside.
My father would go on to have two quadruple bypass surgeries, a carotid artery and God knows what else over several years but he would just come right back. You could not keep that man down. How could you? I mean he’s got cars to fix, patients to see, stories to tell, suits to buy and a family to love.
I could go on but I’m tired for now and just want to look at photos of him. I’ll add to this in the future and I hope you enjoy hearing about him as much as we like talking about him.
The moral of this epilogue is that our Father, Dr. George Edward Gillian, was the Original. I understand him now probably more than I ever have. Right when I know what he’s all about the good Lord called him home. I’m mad, sad and everything in between but the thought of our Dad telling God a story from his childhood just cracks me up. I can see God scratching his long white beard saying, “You’re kidding!!!” as Dad explains one of his adventures.
He worked so hard all of his life, he survived so much, he fought like a lion and loved us like there was no tomorrow.
Like all great stories there is a beginning and an end….. but then again you’ve never heard my dad tell a story!
We will miss you so much, so very very very much. We will love you till the end of time. As I sit with my children I see so much of you in their faces. I can’t wait till they’re old enough to understand so I can tell them all about you.
Your Son - Kipp