Mudty Relationships: An Essay in Closure - Part 1

This post is part of an 11-part essay that I have written in memory of my father, Tod “Mudty” Eaton, who passed away in August 2018. On this blog, I had previously shared the eulogy I gave at his Celebration of Life, which I think was a meaningful public goodbye to him.  This essay though is a bit more complex and nuanced in drawing out the final days of my father’s passing and how I reconciled his life, his death, and our relationship.  It’s a deeply personal essay that I have spent many hours on for the past year and with the encouragement of kind friends, have chosen to share.  

Additionally, if you feel so moved, I would encourage you to donate to my fundraiser for Care Dimensions, the hospice home that made his final days more comfortable for all of us.  

Part 1: Splitting

Tod, Lance, and Paula Eaton at Lance's 1997 graduation.
Tod, Paula, and Lance Eaton at 1997 Graduation
“Well, I think you should drop dead!” I said, storming out the door. My father, the recipient of my thoughts, caught up with me some twenty yards from the house. He trotted backwards in bare feet, trying to talk to me, but I wasn’t having it. My mix-tape and headphones silenced his words while I fought back tears, staring beyond him. I rounded the street corner and ran past him. He stopped and returned home.

Moments before, I told my father that I wouldn’t being playing football for my final two high school years. He coerced me to for six years, but I was done. On every level, the experience generated hatred and self-loathing. My previous two suicide attempts stemmed from the alienation and low self-esteem, which were inextricably linked to playing football.

I initiated this spat but it had been ongoing for a few weeks, with tense conversations, angry asides, and even bribes to play. But today, I needed him to understand the seriousness of the pain. I told him, “If you make me play football this year, I will kill myself. I won’t do it anymore.”

I had my exit plan; it involved a car and a cliff.[1]

His response to the threat to kill his son: “I think you’re going to ruin your life if you don’t play.” And that’s when I told him to drop dead.

Some teens rebel by smoking, others get arrested; my rebellion involved reducing the chance of head-trauma and opening up other avenues of social and intellectual pursuit. The thing is, my father was just as much an intellectual as he was a sports junkie. He taught me to play chess while watching and keeping score of our answers on Jeopardy. But he assumed that orange juice and toothpaste were healthy, and the reality is, toothpaste is, while we just pretend orange juice is.

All parent-child relationships are complex and I share this part of our relationship, not to shame my father (especially with Mudty, his self-proclaimed nickname, unable to defend his side of the experience), but to illustrate that complexity. To do anything less, is to erase my father and if I’m the person I am today, I owe him the ugly, complicated truth.

Some 23 years after this confrontation, on a very similar August day, my father died. This is the story of his death, accepting his dying and death with love, and reconciling the nadir of our relationship.

[1] Articulating suicide plans can have harmful effects on people who may be may be wrestling with their own suicidal thoughts. If you find yourself thinking about harming yourself in any way, I encourage you to reach out to the National Suicide Hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255 or through their chatline: 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  If you haven't read the essay in full or have missed previous parts, feel free to navigate to other parts from the links below:

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