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Robert Kirby: The Old Man is still with me

(Photo courtesy of DeAnn Eves) Eris and Robert L. Kirby, parents of Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby.

My father, Robert L. Kirby, died last week, taking leave of a seriously messed-up world. He was old, had Alzheimer’s and died of COVID-19.

The Old Man contracted the coronavirus in his final days, whereupon he was moved to an acute care center in downtown Salt Lake City. Because of the quarantine, I hadn’t been able to visit him recently.

It wouldn’t have been much of a visit anyway. Alzheimer’s is terrible. His final words to me — when I awoke him from a nap several months ago — were, “Who the [deleted] are you?”

Don’t be shocked. I wasn’t. These are words to live by, people.

Although I’m sure he didn’t mean it the same way that final time, it was a lesson he had tried teaching me my entire life. Who was I? Am I who I want to be? If not, why aren’t I doing a better job of getting there?

My father was born in a small Idaho Falls home in February 1932. If he left a hopeless world in chaos, it’s certainly no worse than the one into which he was born.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl were going strong the morning my father showed up in that back bedroom on 14th Street. Times were tough.

Bread was 10 cents for three 12-ounce loaves, tuna 15 cents a can, and chicken 16 cents a pound — if you could afford them. And a lot of people couldn’t. Unemployment was approaching 30% in America.

The political scene was no better. Herbert Hoover, an unpopular president, was on the verge of being chased from office by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Children weren’t all that safe 88 years ago. In addition to diseases for which there were no vaccines, they were the victims of crimes. Two weeks after my father’s birth, the 20-month-old child of Charles and Anne Lindbergh was kidnapped and found dead on the side of the road.

The world was changing. Some of it was for the better. When the Old Man was just 3 months old, Amelia Earhart had the gall to fly to Ireland from the United States without a male chaperone.

On the downside, the world teetered on unparalleled catastrophe as Hitler rose to power in Germany, and Japan butchered its way through China, precipitating a war that would cost the lives of 75 million people.

What business did my father’s parents have bringing a baby into such a screwed-up world?

Despite the seeming irresponsibility of it, I’m rather glad they did. Their baby would grow up, marry, and have a child capable of unleashing additional horror on the world but was sidetracked due to effective parenting.

A daunting challenge. The Old Man did his absolute best to drag me — a natural-born criminal — through life without much bloodshed. And it’s to his credit that I only ended up a mere newspaper columnist instead of a nuclear-armed drug lord.

If I have any regrets now, it’s that I didn’t get a chance to thank him. His mind was gone before that occurred to me. I’ll have to make it up to him by trying to remember what he taught me.

Before I forget, I’m grateful to the Sagewood at Daybreak staffers for their tireless efforts to keep him comfortable, clean, and tolerate his unintentional inappropriate comments. He was both a Kirby and product of his time.

Thanks, Pop. See you in a bit.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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