my father's ashes


My father is dead.

It seems like that needs to be said. And like that is too blunt a way to say it.


My father’s ashes are in the possession of an aging former beauty queen contestant.

This seems, knowing my father, somehow very fitting.

And at the same time very very wrong.


The aging former beauty queen contestant says her father owns a fishing boat and plans to take my father’s ashes out to sea.

That is definitely wrong.

My father would want his ashes dumped at a local race track.


I have read a lot of obituaries and last thoughts written by strangers about my father. And most of them are useless and not about the man at all. So. It falls to me. His estranged daughter. To say something actually real about my father.


My father’s name was John Quincy Adams. Named after his father. A man from Boston who told my grandmother no children and when she singlehandedly got pregnant walked out on her. It was not an easy name to wear. Explain. Justify. Or dismiss. As an adult he changed it out a lot. As a kid he got in a lot of fights. As a kid he also had such awful tonsillitis doctors looking at his X-rays asked if he had had tuberculosis.

He was a tall man and did not suffer fools lightly. He was often unkind. But generally fair. And very good at math. He apologized once in his life. To his daughter. He was handsome as hell as a young man. And never noticed that had faded in later age. Perhaps because he never exactly realized he had looks. My father thought for all of his life he was trading on charm and never got most people only put up with him initially because he was so damned good looking. And never understood the difference between charm and sarcasm.

His forebears include two presidents, many revolutionaries, a movie star, a train robber and song writer, twin vaudeville performers, a Scottish missionary and the founder of Richfield Oil. His great uncle is buried in the last crypt of the Hawaiin royal family. According to legend my father singlehandedly initiated the People’s Park riot.

He hated children. He said they destroyed lives and potential. This is what he told me. He may have had other tacks with people who were not his children. He definitely had other tacks with women he pursued who had children.

He liked and generally drove small sports cars — whether or not he fit into them. [And he mostly did not he was 6′ 5″.]

His apartments were always horrific and contained many hard water stains. Fortunately he generally did not spend much time at home he spent the majority of his time at work. In bars. Or at the homes of beautiful women.

The one time he had a fancy home it was a house boat but he lost that to the Italian Mafia and chose never to live anywhere extremely elegant again. [As legend has it, he won that house boat in a bet. And lost it backing up a friend.]

He liked beer in green and brown bottles — and preferred green. His best friends were hard scarred men who laughed like they meant it, wore overly ornate loafers, carried concealed weapons without permits and talked about everything except war when they were full of drink. And one woman who despite her looks and breasts he treated like a man — which in my father’s terms means like an equal — and I have never exactly discerned why but it must have been something big and probably involved gunfire and emergency vehicles to garner that kind of respect on his part because in general he did not consider women equals.

He had a weakness for pretty women, especially stupid pretty women — and horses. And considered both equally intelligent but horses more trustworthy. He told the IRS he made his income writing. But brought most of his cash home from the track.

You could always tell when my father was really sick because that was the only time he did not show up at the track.

He did not tell jokes well. He did tell anecdotes well. And he had many. His favorite books were huge tomes written in Japanese and translated into English — and he found it hugely amusing discussing them with women, especially discussing them with unintelligent women.

He hated his mother, never knew his father, loved his grandmother, feared and loathed his wife[s], disdained his step-father and abandoned his daughter.

He was a horrible father. Which might have changed if he had had a son but he was cursed to be a man who distrusted women and then accidentally sired one. Aside, however, from being a misogynistic prick, he was a decent man. The world is probably shorter for the loss of him.


— John Quincy Adams died January 21, 2009


0 Responses to my father’s ashes

  1. Oh no, I’m so sorry. Lost mine a month before you and it kind of breaks the world.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. This is a good tribute that doesn’t color the man’s vices or virtues. It simply explains who he was in a dignified way. It’s refreshing to see.

  3. max

    I worried saying misogynistic prick might be a little too colorful but hey, you are the librarian, if you say it works it works.

  4. Stilettos

    That was the most interesting obit I’ve ever read.

  5. You’ve left me wondering what would my daughter say about me when I’m gone. I’m hoping the story of my life will read differently in her eyes.

  6. Max that was perfect. And I’m sorry.

  7. Max, this is the most incredible and interesting obituary I’ve ever read.
    And what a character!
    My life has just been reduced to a boring experience.

  8. Yes, what a character! I am very sorry for your loss, and I think you have honored him well.

  9. max

    Well. He is not a character. He is my father. And, in the grand scheme of Max Land my father is actually pretty tame. I mean, all my father did was start a riot and piss off the mob and the Shiva people and a few terrorists and, well, okay a lot of armed people, but we do have train robbers in the family tree so, you know, John just made people mad, he did not stop trains and rob them or anything. But I like that you guys felt him, reading that.

    And Mercedes, you goof, you speak multiple languages, travel across continents, and are a hot bombshell blonde. You could never, ever, be boring you goof.

    I think now I am going to write my own obituary just to make sure it is interesting and right.

    [Wait, forget right, I am going to spiff it up who will know? Max Adams climbed the Eiffel Tower on her thirteenth birthday….]

  10. I’m so sorry, Max. A father can be a bad father and still leave a hole behind where he used to be.

    May light perpetual shine upon him.

    May your heart be healed.


  11. Hey! I’ve never climbed the Eiffel Tower…

  12. Z

    Thanks for sharing, Max. Your eulogy is painfully honest, and stark, but seems to come from a place of affection, if not reluctantly.

  13. Karen (Nic)

    Max, sweet friend–
    You wrote what no one else in the world could write about your father, so it is the only true obituary of him. Love & hugs, Karen

  14. Honest tribute, Max. So sorry for your loss.

  15. Christopher Upham

    Max, a lovely memorial in words. It made feel like I knew him. My father died July 4th,and I haven’t been able to summon the words to capture his essence like you did – we too, had a difficult go – though in a more subtle (and maybe less honest) way. Be well.

  16. aj

    Very honest tribute and I am sorry for your loss, Max.

  17. I hope that I’m Eulogized as fairly and eloquently as this.

  18. Kym

    This was much better than his other obits but I still think you should say that he loved chocolate–that’s such a redeeming feature–not as good as “he was a decent man,” though. If I get that from my kids, then I won’t feel like I failed.

  19. i feel the measure of the man in your words. may he rest in peace.
    and i send you love and light.
    i’m so so sorry.

  20. sulya

    Stark, clear and vivid max. Not an easy combo to express as well as this especially at a time of loss.

    All eulogies should be this way.

    He may not have done right by you but you have done right by him.

  21. Kim

    Max, I’m proud to say that I only had to run to the dictionary once, misogynistic. I’m not sure that my sympathy to you is called for. I think I need to say that I admire you for the way you handled your loss. I certainly hope that getting rid of some of the baggage gets rid of some of the resentment. Only take your own stuff on honey- his is getting sorted out right now.

  22. Ben

    “When my father died, we put him in the ground.”
    “When my father died, a whole library
    burned down.”
    -Laurie Anderson-

  23. nancy

    This is incredibly moving and clear eyed and elegant and yet sad. I think he may have known he had an amazing daughter but he just wasn’t wired to express it to you

  24. max

    Thank you for all the really kind words and thoughts.

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  27. Max, he helped make you who you are. For that, there are sooo many of us thankful.
    p.s. I’ll share my dad if you ever need one.

  28. Max

    Aww, thanks, Debi. Hug!

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