My father, Richard Dee Riggs, passed away yesterday. He was a few weeks short of 71.
He died from lung cancer even though he wasn’t a smoker. Just to remind us statistics includes outliers. The cancer wasn’t even detected until the beginning of February this year, at which time it had spread to multiple organs and bones. He died just about three months after the cancer was found. The speed and transformation caused by the cancer was startling. Eventually, his body lost the struggle, though he was mentally sound until the end -- apart from the painkillers; he was continually frustrated that he had to get “doped up and stupid” to block the pain.
We don’t have a lot of time in this world. One of the principles he believed in is that you should strive to do things that are worthwhile, that matter to you, that are fun, and that reinforce your connections with those you care about. Don’t put them off for mundanities. You don’t want to die with regrets.
In the end, he encouraged me and my family to keep moving with our own lives. Even on our last visit, this past weekend, he enjoyed speaking to me but also made sure I was spending time with Tim and had some fun things planned, too.
My dad served in the military. He was a naval pilot assigned to airborne alert on the DEW line. He worked there for a few years as a tactical officer. He was then deployed in Vietnam, flying 100 combat missions which was the service limit. He left the military, frustrated by the politics and culture of the time, to enter private industry.
He worked for a variety of Silicon Valley tech companies, primarily around developing storage technology. He planned and oversaw some of the first hard drive plants using vapor deposition (sputtering). One of the early hard drives produced held 380 MB (on only 8 platters).
He designed manufacturing facilities and managed building teams. He worked for Ampex, Maxtor, Seagate, and others. His name is marked in the cement or tiles of about a dozen Silicon Valley buildings (plus others worldwide) that he helped design.
He was a devoted husband. He and my mom were married for 40 happy years.
He could be a bit emotionally reserved and cool. (That’s where I come by it, perhaps?) But he was always sincere and honest. He had a sly sense of humor and mischief that crept in when you least expected it. He loved sharing a good anecdote, even if he couldn’t get all the details right.
He was a good father and steered me toward success, offering tips small and large that have helped me get through life. Though I do remember the time I asked him, just before Timothy was born, for advice on being a good father. He put his arm around my shoulder, his face serious, and said, “I can only tell you what I did: wing it!” So I should say that generally he had useful advice. See previous note about sense of humor.
He was interested in furry even if it wasn’t really his thing. First bemused, then incredulous about my decision to make mascot costumes, he came to really enjoy it as he saw my skills progress. He was extremely proud when I finished my book “Critter Costuming.” That was going from being a quirky hobby to being a published expert in a field, after all!
He encouraged my pursuits of costuming and writing. He enjoyed my stories and read at least one of my novel manuscripts. I think he became rather fond of furry fandom, too, when he got a sense of how artistic and social it was. He even hung a fantasy bear painting over his bed -- that was his totem animal.
Now he has passed on to whatever, if anything, awaits us beyond this world. He gave me so much and I’ll dearly miss him.
Somewhere out there, I like to think a bear is enjoying a sunny field. Maybe in a few decades more he’ll be visited by a rat.
To close, I’d like to quote a piece Dave Barry wrote about the death of his father:
I go in for my last words, because I have to go back home, and my mother and I agree I probably won’t see him again. I sit next to him on the bed, hoping he can’t see that I’m crying. “I love you, Dad,” I say. He says, “I love you, too. I’d like some oatmeal.”
So I go back out to the living room… My mother thinks maybe I should go back in and try to have a more meaningful last talk but I don’t...
He and I have been talking ever since I learned how. A million words. All of them final, now. I don’t need to make him give me any more, like souvenirs. I think: let me not define his death on my terms. Let him have his oatmeal.
This is the only public post I've made about the situation since it began. (And I hope you'll forgive the lack of cut tag.) To my friends and especially to my family, thank you sincerely for your support and well-wishes.