The last night that I spent with my dad, it was just him and I telling stories as we sat on bar stools at his favorite spot, the bar shaped as a piano at The Orleans in Las Vegas. I couldn’t ask for more of a perfect last night, doing what we did best.
That night, he told me about a dream he just had. I was a little girl and he and I were playing down by the swing set under the large willow tree at our old home in Brookfield. My mom called for us and as we ran up the hill to the house, he fell behind as I ran off ahead.
Not sure quite why at the time, I jotted this dream down. Something about it struck me as poetic, as if maybe it had a meaning I might not have yet known. Finding it today, it’s seems as if I was being told then what was to come: that it was time for me to run on ahead without my dad, only I wasn’t ready to know that yet.
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My dad was a gambler by nature. And with gambling, you never quite know what you are going to get. You are going to get your wildly good times and your all-time lows.
He made mistakes. Sometimes the same mistakes again and again. And those who loved him had been let down by him at times. He was carefree, yet could seem careless as things that were out of sight were often out of mind. But he was really good at the good times. All the good you felt when you were with him often drew people back in. Some of us were lucky enough to let go of the conflict, accept him for who he was (and who he wasn’t), and love him for it. And we were all lucky to know him in the unique way each one of us did.
When you were right there next to him, he made you feel special and he would “Thank you for being you.” He had a free spirit that we all envied. He had the most uncanny ability to be carefree and enjoy life, and I think it pulled us all in like gravity to him. Weighed down by our daily stresses, we all craved that carefree essence that seemed so elusive to us and so natural for him. Even when his world seemed to be crumbling around him and most of us would be crushed by the stress, his energy still managed to be light. He seemed to let things roll off of him and roll onto the next good time. His happy-go-lucky charm was contagious. We all caved and said yes to “just one more drink” on that bar stool next to him in hopes of drinking in just a little more of that carefree element before we went back to our reality. Yet to him, this was the reality. That bar stool was his reality. Yelling “Crown me up” to the bartender and downing a Crown Royal & water as he cheered on the Packers was his reality. Connecting with friends and making them feel more alive was his reality. Days and nights full of Great Action (GA!) was his reality. Vegas was his reality. And we all wanted a piece of that to take with us.
In Vegas, there is a saying “This is my Friday.” It’s a 24 hour town and people work all kinds of schedules. For my dad, he loved joking that every day was his Friday. And he truly lived up to it. He lived every day of his life as if it were right on the edge of a good time.
He was forever acting like an 18-year-old. Forever a gambler. Forever running on luck.
He was lucky even when he wasn’t. I can’t count the times friends and family ended a story with “That would only happen to Dad” or “Only Milwaukee Mike.” He was a character larger than life, complete with his own catchphrases “GA!” and “Crown me up!”
I had a trip planned to Vegas where the mission was to talk about all of the stories that made up his life so that I could write them down. Alas, we did not get the chance.
Maybe some of those stories were meant to die with him. Maybe they were stories that were just meant to be over Miller Lite’s and “Crown Me Ups” and laughs at the bar. Maybe each of us has our list of crazy stories with him that we get to take with us. Maybe he gets to live on in so many different stories in so many different hearts that it seems impossible to reconcile them into the story of one human life. Maybe the story of Milwaukee Mike gets to remain the stuff of legends.
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They say luck will always run out. But I don’t think his did. I think he got to live the life he designed, mostly the way he liked it, until he died.
But now, just as in the dream he told me about that last night as we had cocktails at the piano bar, I guess it is time to take with me the love and memories from my dad and run on ahead.
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in loving memory of Michael Paul McCarville
(February 12, 1938 to August 5, 2015)