Dad’s 80th Birthday

Robert E. Zuege's 80th Birthday

Today, my Father (Robert Edward Lee Zuege) would've turned 80. He passed away last year from complications of heart and kidney failure.

In celebration of his birthday and to honor his memory, I've pulled together this photo album to remember him. It includes some shots that I have never shared before; some are common and familiar. All are great memories, touchpoints in time of a great man.

Happy birthday, Dad. I miss your wisdom and lectures (ones that always seemed to drone on too long and meander; how I wouldn't trade anything for time like that now).

I love you, always.

a slow swan song

There are little white bumps developing on my legs. I guess my father has them too, supposedly connected to his Diabetes. But I’m not Diabetic. I know where these strange masks come from: the course of poisons sent from tweaked organs. I think my time limit is based on the concept that I’m poisoned inside out, from the deep clogged pockets, quickening blood to the Bilirubin stares. It manifests itself like an expanding outer shell, like Swan after the apocalypse, her mask thickening and hardening with every passing day. I feel the yellow in my eyes, the venom peeking out of the available pores and collecting into scale-like fragments.

And I feel filthy. Inhuman. Imperfect. Impure.

Maybe it is to become my shell, my cocoon, my final wrap. Pharoahs were mummified in careful cloth and surrendered to the other side in pyramids of wonder and coffins of gold. Even the divine-on-Earth didn’t live long. I wonder if Fifteen is an accurate number, and realize with the fatigue of every passing day that the score could be accurate.

We all have to fade someday, let the rigor take over and mortis finger the keys. Some are just destined to hear the piano tune faster than others. The tall black keys strike low. The white keys high.  I sometimes wish the piano wasn’t so black and white, that the tones were greyer.

I didn’t ask for this. I woke up one day to an uncommon path, to a cursive sentence and wicked ball-and-chain. I knew I would have to face this alone, realized the artist path would be the only way to find harmony in a world of the perfect, the captivated, the callous and careless. Caring partners are too few and far between these days, the cool women giddy and drunk on the vapid liquid of normalcy and plasticity.

Someday, we won’t fail so easily, our flesh and harmony less collapsible. This species isn’t meant to drift and disappear like flotsam on an endless ocean, like a Swan in a thunderstorm. We are meant to evolve, ascend and explore, become something greater than the sum of our individual parts.

I won’t be around to see that human concerto, but I must work to tune the instruments.  As the little white spots expand all over me, onto my hands and face,

the last crash

Today’s Lesson (early edition):   Time eventually crashes every airship, regardless of whether or not the crew knows how to operate its controls.


My friend Kiki’s father is dying.  Perhaps weeks away from his own death.  He’s an older, tallish man who raised a strong family, but is now weakened by his failing body–overworked heart making up for failing kidneys.  On dialysis, he has months to live; without it, not long.  Kiki’s siblings are converging in this area this weekend so the father can estate plan with the three of them.  It is a gruesome, real story about a man at the end of his life.  I am truly saddened for my friend Kiki, whose father is on the verge of saying “Good Bye”.

But we all have our ways out of this place.  Some know their route; others enjoy the ride with blissful ignorance.  Either way, his end is imminent.  Near the end of our conversation, I gave her a compliment for being there for her father near the end of his days. I suppose it’s common sense that we would be there for the passing of our parents, hopefully to comfort them into their exit door.  We should expect such reciprocal treatment from our children and loved ones.

We gave each other a painful look when we both realized that neither of us would probably have such generous care.  She’s married, in her 50s, with no children.  Men die first in marriages; it’s almost a statistical given.  I am not as far down the path as she is, but have sparse family and no offspring to speak of.  I’m not middle aged, but I’m of the age where a midlife crisis is plausible.  Even possible.  The reality is when we make our individual exists, at the end of our long and winding road, the odds of us departing without loving, caring, lifers around us to pillow our fall is pretty small.

I write these words and they automatically seem whiny.  “Poor me for not having planned better”, I hear myself complain in my head. I compare myself to the success of my friends, old and new, and wonder how I got plopped on this runway, in this cabin with this crew. The words do seem a touch defeated and hopeless.  we’re not dead, and there is time for us to make sure there is at very least a sweet looking stewardess for the final ride. But how does one not lament the empty plane, the rows of silent seats and a cargo hold devoid of comforting memories?  Life was simpler–not less difficult, just more direct–in the era of Kiki’s father.  The path to “The Dream” was not as complicated and convoluted, with competition attacking your stability from every global angle.  Roles, though resulting in far less freedom, were far more defined and clear.  Every time I got used to a persona or familial role, circumstances changed my course.

Or I got too drunk to understand the map.  And so did the pilot.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses for my failures, or the streak of longitudinal choices that didn’t go my way.  Maybe I’m saving all my luck up for that final clearance, for one final shot with the stewardess before my departure.

The best thing about life on the main runway is that you don’t have to contemplate heavy questions like these. The people who are lucky enough to have the common path don’t have to ride through the turbulence with a window seat at 2am and no one else around you. Yes, the truth is that everyone dies alone, and odds are good that we won’t be able to determine where we are and who will be around us when we pass on.  We all return to the same dark window we original flew through.  But if at the last moment, which comes swiftly for all of us, there is no one to keep us company, was the trip worth it at all?

Time eventually crashes every airship, regardless of whether or not the crew knows how to operate its controls.  Today, I’m thinking that I haven’t prepared well for the last crash.