Robert Alan Burns (1959-2020)

The following post was placed on my Instagram and Facebook feeds a few weeks ago in order to alert friends of the passing of my father, whose memoir I’ve been reflecting on with previous posts on this blog. His obituary is being printed in his hometown paper, The Victoria Advocate, tomorrow, Thursday July 23rd 2020, and I felt it was appropriate to post these words here before continuing (at an unknown later date) the memoir project which I will be finishing in his honor. – GDB

A week ago my father Robert Burns died of a heart attack in Portland, Oregon. He was 61. Yesterday morning my mother and I returned from settling his affairs, or beginning that process, and mourning & remembering him with my sister who still lives in the PNW. We’ve had many health scares in the past decade, each one shocking the system, but none of them really prepared me for this. The whole experience has been surreal and I stayed clear of posting anything until the end of the journey. But now I wanted to share with friends, many of whom may have met him, some lessons I carry with me from his time as my father.

First of all, our relationship was fraught with issues. We did not get along for many years. He formally adopted my brother and I after marrying my newly divorced mother, coming into my life when I was 5. He was overwhelmed taking on parenting two growing sons, then having a daughter a year later into this new marriage, straight out of a first one gone awry. He was often an angry and frustrated man, physically and verbally abusive, making one feel small and insignificant. Also, he stood 6’3″ at his tallest, near and sometimes over 400 lbs., so he was an imposing parent we usually tried to avoid. Times were good when he was employed and on anti-depressants, and bad when he didn’t have either. It was hard to see beyond my own nose about him and it took many years to step back and view him like a bust of frozen music, his past and person in-the-round.

Although a stubborn and prideful man, he was also humble before his God and generous towards strangers. A Christian who often quoted the converted Saul, it wasn’t until after his divorce from my mother that I began to see behind the monstrous figure I had so feared. I found there a man in pain, wounded by abuse he had suffered in his adoptive family, and privately haunted by his financial failures and self-sabotage. I also began to know and understand his vulnerabilities, those in particular that plague the psyches of the Boomers, but which can be entryways into grief and soul work. I listened and was able to forgive, working on myself in the process, and am very thankful we shared the time to do so.

The last decade, after intensive therapy, late diagnoses, and slower life in care facilities, we were able to bond as two adult men with a shared history as father and son. I had never felt closer to him, and I feel like we had more path to walk. He trusted me as a typist and editor for his memoir, which will continue now that he has passed, as he wrote the final pages before his fateful visit to the emergency room. Oddly enough or fittingly before I drove out to the Finger Lakes to meet my mother last Wednesday, I checked my mailbox and found the final pages of his memoir stuffed into the manila envelope I had self-addressed a month earlier. I finally took a hard look at it in the backseat at a rest area parking lot and broke down crying. Tears might be the origin of baptism, but I don’t know what kind of world I’ve now been brought into by them. It will take time to find out.

It saddens me I will no longer be able to call him or call him back, to reminisce about lines of movies and television bits which stuck in our brains, to tell him I love and care about him, or send him another book. I am at a loss for truer words, but I will have his to remember. I hated him, then I loved him – he was my father.

R.I.P. RAB Born: 2/59 Died: 6/20

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