Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Dad's Passing One Year Ago Tomorrow

My father, Paul S. Rouse, died one year ago tomorrow. I remembered this today, and a rush of sadness and remembrance came over me.

He was a brilliant man in many ways. His talents were far reaching, and ultimately un-realized were his dreams.

He was a photographer of great ability. My grandfather, Paul Rouse,

was a professional photographer for Indiana University Bloomington, and an actor in Hollywood westerns in the 40's. And my dad inherited his amazing ability to capture the spirit of a person in a photograph. He also had an innate artistic sense which allowed him to take abstract photos and create interesting and beautiful images. I remember a photograph he took from my mom's and my apartment in 1977 or so. He laid down on the balcony, which had a vaguely roman looking railing, and took a picture of the clouds moving overhead the railing. The image is somewhere in my mother's photo albums. None of these have been digitized yet, so they can't be put into blog format. But when I can, I will include these wonderful pictures in the blog.

Steve was also a writer. He was less disciplined with the writing than he was with other things, like his love of technology, and most of his works remain unfinished. When he died, I inherited his hard drives and a lot of that material is on those drives. I will get to them when I can, and begin sifting through the annals to find projects that I might be able to complete for him, a duty I feel toward my father's work and legacy. He has somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 nearly complete screenplays, and numerous essays and commentaries on life and reflections on the world.

My dad was a brilliantly talented musician as well. He started with violin as a child, and evidently was something of a prodigy. As he got older, he moved to keyboards and piano, and never took it to a professional level, although he was clearly capable of going all the way if he had focused on it as a career. My grandmother, Vera,

was a pianist, and my grandparents always had an organ in the house, as long as I can remember. My dad would sit down and tool around the blues for hours when I would visit; and when I was a baby, there is a photo somewhere of me in my diapers, perched on the bench, banging away at the keyboard. I'd love to get ahold of that pic. Again, not yet digitized.

He was, more than a musician, a listener. His need to listen to music was so great, that it became a career in and of itself to him. He was an archivist and audiophile. His stereos were always the biggest and baddest, he had stereo headphones for each of us when I'd come visit, so that we could watch Raiders of the Lost Arc with the best sound possible. These are wonderful memories for me.

His chosen career was in TV news. He directed the news in Pueblo, CO for the NBC affiliate in the tiny dusty high desert town where I was born, for a number of years. He and my mother worked together at the station. She was the anchor, and he was the director. He was a fantastic video editor. For his whole life he enjoyed delving into footage and creating a story by clipping pieces of tape together. I too love music and video editing and photography.

My dad was born in Los Angeles in 1947, and my grandmother, an avid gardener and Irish farm stock, felt it was important to raise the family in the country. Paul agreed. So they returned to Indiana, and that's where my father and aunt were raised. The things that I always remember hearing about my dad's upbringing was the abundance of laughter in the house. Things were always kept fun. I'm sure there were difficulties, as there are in any household. But overall, I think that it was an incredibly nurturing and artistically inclined home.

My dad was afflicted, you can say. He had clinical depression in an era when it was just being discovered that people had hormonal imbalances in their bodies. He always kind of wandered around in a fog and never had the gumption or wherewithal to complete the most mundane of tasks. I can understand this, having been diagnosed with tourette syndrome myself. I'm more highly functioning that he was, but still have some challenges to success in my areas of study.

This was hard for the people who loved him to watch. It was so hard to watch someone with endless talent and ability sit on the couch for years smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and watching movies (albeit he had a great collection!). But he was also afflicted with a stubbornness that prevented him from letting people help him get things moving in his life.

His diet didn't help, either. He never ate much, and when he did, it was usually a Marie Calendar's t.v. dinner, full of enough sodium to kill a horse. Or chocolate candies to snack on while he watched a flick. I think that when you have depression, the very first thing you need to do is fix your diet and exercise regimen and then you can see what truly ails you. If you then still have problems, seek medical or herbal help. But he was either never interested in taking that step, or just couldn't find the momentum to start a change for himself. Add that to 40 years of smoking cigarettes, and you have a losing combination.

I would say his crowning achievement was his bluegrass radio show in Bloomington, IN, in his final years. He was a great knowledge base on bluegrass music and its history. He hosted a great show on WFHB in Bloomington, IN. I will post his shows as I get ahold of them. He affected so many listeners, turned people onto bluegrass who had never known the music before or had an affinity, and he charmed people with his personality, which was witty, intelligent, and whip-smart funny.

So, last year, at 64, when he finally began to succumb to the beast that a poor diet and a cigarette addiction will create in your body, I was extremely sad, but not surprised. I had been telling him for years to change his habits. I gave him Oscar-worthy motivational speeches every time we spoke on the phone. I was never too present in his life, from the time he and my mom separated, but we were much like brothers. So similar in so many ways, with similar passions, parallel interests, a love of film, writing, photography, all the visual arts are in our blood, and not going away. My life was just getting started and his was already winding down. This saddens me greatly, that humans and animals often are relegated to passing genes on to the next generation, and that's about all the contact they can have with each other.

He only met his granddaughter once, and I know that was a source of sadness for him. I think he felt like he'd failed me in some ways, as a father who couldn't even parent himself.

But he did the very best he could with the tools he was given in this life, and I love him with all of my heart. I am very blessed to have such a great family, with all of their talents, and their endless heart. 

For me, success in life is less about what tasks you accomplish, or how much money you acquire or blow through, and more about the impact you make on those around you: your loved ones, friends, enemies, your audiences...And did you make a positive impact on the world, or a negative one. That's why I can't call business people successful humans on the merits of their ability to produce money. What are you doing for our world? 

My father, Steve Rouse, left a positive mark on this world. And his ripple will continue to be felt for decades. And for me, that is as successful as a human can ever hope to be. I am proud of my Daddy Steve and I celebrate who he IS.


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