I want to tell you about a man I once knew. His name was Martin Patrick Kentigian. He was 54 years old when he died, five years ago. Lung cancer that spread throughout his body, before anyone knew it was happening. By trade, he worked as a paper-maker, and then a plumber. He took pride in his work, and in his jokes. He loved outdoor sports and could fix just about anything. He introduced himself as “Martin”, people who knew him for a long time called him “Marty”, and I called him “Dad.”
Many of you know that part of my inspiration for this journey- the hike, the blog- was my Dad. Today makes five years since he died, and I feel like the best way to keep his memory alive is to remind people who he was or introduce him to those who have never met him- so he lives on, forever.
My Dad, like all of us, was a man of strength and weakness. I’m not generally a person who thinks acknowledging weakness is a weakness, but someone once questioned how I honor my dad in death, if I talk about him like he was imperfect? So, I’ll start this Tale O’ Marty, by telling you how I honor him in death: I keep him human.
I acknowledge the personality he spent 54 years building and give him a memory in the form of the person he actually was. When I talk about my Dad, as he was, it validates my sisters’ memory of him, which is the only connection they have now. I often talk about his quirks, because those are the things that I’ve come to miss the most. You learn that lesson after you lose someone close to you; that it’s our uniqueness and differences that people cherish, because it is all parts of our personality, intertwined, that will most accurately define the person we were. If I talk about my Dad like he was flawless, sans, for example, his enormous carbon foot-print or propensity for road rage, then the memory I have of him, as he was, will fade. I talk about my Dad like he was real and perfect and flawed, because he was real and perfect and flawed, and that’s how I want to remember him; as he was.
My real and perfect and flawed Dad was a self-taught man, who would master any trade or sport he took on. We joke about that now; he wouldn’t just start a new sport, he would method Actor it; immerse himself in the lifestyle of it all. Drown in YouTube videos until he knew everything there was to know about it. He would get all the proper and most reliable equipment and practice, practice, practice. He loved to take on projects and immerse himself in those as well. He once found a grill on the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. He taught himself, as he did, how to fix the grill, and for the next two years, he collected every curb-side free grill he could find. It was like living with Oprah, “and you get a grill, and you get a grill, and you get a grill.” He also wasn’t a man who would pass up a good deal. “Do you even need 6 flashlights, Dad?” “No, but you’ll never guess how much I paid for them.” The benefit of having a Dad who always got the most reliable equipment, and couldn’t pass up a deal? “You get a Maglite, and you get a Maglite and you get a Maglite.”
My Dad was a man who didn’t show a lot of emotion, but when he did, you knew he meant it. He would hug you with a firm pat on the back and a swift “love you”, before moving on to what was easier for him, like humor. He was the funniest person I have ever known. Someone who was so quick to a pun, that you knew he was as intelligent as he was witty. He was also a hard-worker. It was never surprising to us how quickly he moved up into a foreman position, or how sought after he was when it came to work. Some people would describe his work ethic as one with a short fuse, because he had little tolerance for inefficiency. His expectations of people were high but didn’t exceed the expectations he had of himself, as a worker.
Something I remember most about my Dad, and probably acknowledge more now than I did then, was that he was a spiritual person. He believed in God, and was fearless at the end of his life, because in his heart, he knew he was going to meet him. I don’t have as much confidence in an after-life as my Dad did. It’s not because I don’t believe in, for lack of a better word, something, but I’m still collecting information. Blind faith, without information, may keep you kind and disciplined in something, but it can also keep you confined and misguided. I do consider myself a spiritual person though, and I have to be now, more than ever. I need that to hold onto. Anyone who has lost someone close to them has to have that to hold onto, because the alternative is too hard to bear.
It’s been five years and I can’t help but think about how much has changed in that time. I have a different job, a new apartment, a partner who my Dad never met- and I didn’t tell him I was gay. I went on the hike, I’ve tried new things, I’ve met new people, and I’ve become more myself than I’ve ever been. He is frozen in time. Preserved. His memory is as he was on or before December 27th, 2013, and I’ll always know him like that. I’ll know him as the fisherman, and the snow-mobiler and prankster. I’ll know him as the handy-man, with a quick wit, a no bullshit surface, and under-layer of empathy and insecurity, like most people. The tough guy who could make anyone laugh, and knew it brought people joy. He’ll always be the person I knew him to be, but I will continue to change, as the days pass.
Without spirituality, without belief in something, you’re left with fear that if you do continue to change after they are gone, they won’t know you anymore. So, I’ll choose to believe, instead, that he is somewhere, as he thought he would be, and he is looking over me and my sisters, and someday I’ll freeze in time too, and we will meet again; as we are and as we know each other to be, then and now and when.
Until then, I’ll keep telling you and anyone who will listen, about a man I once knew, and know still. I’ll tell you about his strengths, and about his weaknesses, and about his love for his daughters, and about the life he left behind. His name was Martin Patrick Kentigian. He was my Dad.