Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The obituary we wish we could have printed

My sister wrote a lovely obituary, which combined statements from several sources and included exerpts from many of Daniel's writings. Since we couldn't afford to publish it in the newspaper, I wanted to include it here.

The obituary that was printed in the Monterey Herald on Sunday, may be found here.


Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes.

Daniel Rhodes Dixon—connoisseur of that which is most beautiful in life—closed his eyes last Thursday, in what was one of the few peaceful events of his restless life. The scion of two celebrated Californians, photographer Dorothea Lange and painter Maynard Dixon, Daniel was 84.

Daniel did not like standard obituaries. He found them "lifeless" and "without heartbeat." As a journalist for the Monterey County Post, in a display of his own genius, Mr. Dixon displayed witty self-deprecation in preparing his own obituary, wherein he quoted his famed mother, the late photographer, as describing her (first) son as "irregular."

Admitting as much in his autobiographical obituary, Mr. Dixon also pictured his school days persona as "an incorrigible truant who dropped out of school in the tenth grade to become a wandering delinquent...who once stole and pawned his mother's cameras."

"Even the military couldn't keep him in line…. 9 of his 12 months were spent in the stockade... he rose to the rank of private before the Army finally capitulated, allowing him to escape with an honorable discharge. Mr. Dixon then returned to the streets. Most of his days were spent in public libraries, where he was able to keep warm."

While "staying warm," he indeed received a de facto education that served him well in later years.

Daniel's life and career were marked by excellence. Mr. Dixon's career ranged from writing articles for such publications as Pageant, Life and Look Magazines to advertising products and services for agencies that included Doyle Dane Burnbach and BBD & O, later rising to creative director at both McCann Erickson and Ogilvy &Mather by the 1980s.

Among prize-winning campaigns he directed were the famed Volkswagen ads of the early to mid-60s, the billboards and TV spots which defined the bug as a charming and reliable, if eccentric, companion.

Daniel's constant companion was the English language. While courting his first wife, Mia, Daniel began writing light verse, a diversion which he continued throughout the course of his life. Indeed, to his final days he maintained a remarkable acuity of mind.

"I've seen psychiatrists in hordesBut never found a free one In view of which these few, brief words: I'd rather be than see one."

Encouraged by numerous friends, he submitted a portfolio of his freelance work to two advertising agencies. To his amazement, both of them offered him a job.
And later…

The winter's breath
Denudes the trees.
Can this be death?
I freeze. I freeze.

Naked the root and bare the limb;
Withered the fruit when days are dim.
The stones are cold
The stars are chill;
I'm growing old
But love you still.

These leaves that swirl
From branch to bough
Oh, lovely girl,
Where are you now?

During Mr. Dixon's career, he also wrote articles for such publications as Pageant, Life and Look Magazines, as well as later for the Monterey County Post.

Directing his creative talents into politics, Mr. Dixon helped shape campaigns for the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, mayor of New York and Chicago, and President of the United States.

In recognition of his genius, Mr. Dixon humorously boasted, again in his self-written obit, that he "was probably the only man ever to be offered and to turn down the job of picture editor for Playboy Magazine."

In later years, he traveled the world giving presentations and interviews about his parents' lives and work. Among his publications, Mr. Dixon wrote a memoir of his father called The Thunderbird Remembered.

Interestingly, the nonpareil qualities he so aptly illustrates of his progenitors are unique descriptions of Daniel himself. While his father was a painter with pigments, Daniel was a painter with words.

“Looking where my father looked, I couldn't see what he was able to see. I just saw a desert, but he saw a creation – colors and contours and values and relationships that remained invisible to me until his sketches disclosed them.”

It is precisely this that made Daniel's words so brilliant—his ability to bring to light the poignance of the small things—the contours, values, and colors of life and relationships.

As he described his own views of views of his mother, he called them "perhaps blurred by emotion, but unclouded by scholarship."

Among his favorite pursuits were cooking, of which he wrote, "Beats writing...Nobody dares tell you when it's lousy."

Aside from cooking, communication was his main forte. He had a unique ability with words and used them in a courting nature. He didn't like drinking water and when asked why, he replied, "because it makes me feel bilious."

Daniel loved books. Among his favorite poems, he kept this one tacked upon the wall:

The silver swan, who living had no note,
As death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.

Farewell all joys. Oh death, come close thine eyes,
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
--Orlando Gibbon, early 1600s

He also rejoiced in the company of his ukulele, which he believed had a mind and heart of its own. He was as married to the ukulele as he was to his wife, and played it proudly, entertaining all who were so fortunate to hear with his Hawaiian ditties "guaranteed to induce groans of dismay." He was certain that his old comrade would miss him when he was gone. His last work, the capstone of his life as a littérateur, is a book on the ukulele, recently completed and now in the editing process.

In listing his surviving family members, whom he categorized as "certified eccentrics," Mr. Dixon described his wife as "his greatest joy and comfort in or out of this world." In his own words, "He is only temporarily separated from his wife Dixie. Mr. Dixon did not know whether or not he believed in God, but he did believe that this marriage would last forever, even after death."

Daniel is also survived by his daughter, screenwriter Leslie Dixon of San Francisco and Beverly Hills; a younger brother John who lives in Orinda; his grandson Thomas, three stepchildren, 9 step-grandchildren, a niece, and two nephews.

At the request of Daniel, no memorial services will be held. A smile upon his memory may be given in a moment of quiet reflection upon his words:

"From somewhere out yonder, Mr. Dixon says 'Hello!' Nobody there ever says goodbye."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes.

"Daniel" - Elton John

We lost another very dear family member and the boys lost another grandfather. Though the boys still have two grandfathers (my father and grandfather), Daniel, so far, was the only grandfather the boys have ever met. Daniel was there to meet the boys in the hospital when they were first born. He spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. Though he loved both boys dearly, he had a special fondness for William, because William had a special fondness for him. When he was just a day old, William seemingly loved staring at Daniel. William smiled every time he saw him, smiled and squealed in delight, even when he was just weeks old. At Christmas Daniel said he was sad that he wouldn't get to see William grow up, to see the man he would become. At Daniel's bedside on Wednesday night I asked Daniel to be William's special guardian angel, and to watch over him.


Last Tuesday morning my mom called me to tell me that her husband Daniel was in the ER with a brain-bleed. She said he'll have some tests and then will be admitted to the ICU. I knew it must be bad.

I'm not so portable now with the boys. It took me about 24 hours to get everything ready for the 80-mile trip, packing for at least a 3-day stay and hoping for the best. When I arrived I was trying to tell myself I was there to help support Daniel through a recovery and rehabilitation process. When I saw him, I put on my best smile and told him my theory on time, that all he has to do is let time keep ticking and soon enough he'll be back home again. When I said "back home" I knew, deep down, that it wasn't going to happen.

He was beautiful lying in that bed, though I could tell he was absolutely miserable. He couldn't speak and anyone who knew Daniel, knew that aside from cooking, communication was his main forte. He had an amazing talent with words. He didn't like drinking water and when asked why, he replied, "because it makes me feel bilious." Among the words he taught me, "virago" is my favorite.

He lived life with a flair nobody could match except for my mother. The two were/are a perfect pair (I hate speaking in the past-tense of anyone who has passed on since I believe they are still with us, just in a different form). The inability to communicate was killing him.

They had to tie him down because he kept pulling out all the tubes and needles they had hooked all over him. This was Daniel's worst nightmare. I could see it in his eyes. His eyes were telling me that he was glad to see me, but that he was embarrassed at being seen that way. His eyes were saying, "please, don't let me live like this!" He struggled against the wrist straps and tried to get comfortable in the bed, though it seemed it was his own skin that was his enemy this time, not the hospital, not the tubes, and not the bed. It seemed that he was stuck in an uncooperative shell.

The doctor said he was beyond comprehension but none of us who saw him believed it. When he was squirming I asked if he was itchy. He nodded and hummed his assent. I rubbed his feet, first the left and then the right, but he pulled his right foot away. I asked if that made him uncomfortable and he again hummed his agreement. I put a pillow under his left leg and he relaxed a little and I asked if that was better. He nodded. Yes, he was able to understand and he had some ability of communicating. He was also able to squeeze hands, gently, in answer to some questions.

The boys and I spent the next few hours in the ICU waiting room while my mom and some family friends took turns visiting Daniel. We went to my mom's house at around 7 o'clock for the boys' dinner, bath, and bed, which is their normal night routine but started quite late. I heard my phone beeping when I was in the middle of giving them bottles and struggling with them to get them to drink; they were very confused by the different surroundings and upset of their schedule. I tried to let it go but curiosity and fear got the best of me. I took a break and checked my phone. It was a text from my mom, "Daniel's not going to make it. My phone battery is going and I need my charger." I called her immediately and fearing losing the last of her battery I simply asked, "where is your charger" knowing that we'll cover the rest when I got to the hospital.

I gathered the boys up as quickly as possible, grabbed the nearest 2 blankets, their bottles, my mom's phone charger and the diaper bag and was out the door. I was severely unprepared for the night ahead, unprepared in every way.

I was at the hospital about 20 minutes later and arrived at the same time that my mom and Daniel's dear friend Steve Mortensen arrived. He helped me with the boys and we went straight to the ICU where we all spent the rest of the night. My mom was there to hold Daniel's hand and we were there to hold hers.

I said my farewell to Daniel and spent the rest of the night in the ICU waiting room. The boys fell asleep around 10 on the baby blankets we spread on the floor. At some point a nurse sent me a couple of warm blankets to put on the boys. The a/c was on and I was freezing, but I wanted the boys to be warm so I shivered in a chair while I hoped the boys slept comfortably on the floor. Ronan kept scooching forward off the blankets and slept a lot of the night curled up under a chair. I kept readjusting the blankets so he could stay warm. Around 2am I couldn't handle it any longer so I laid down on the floor next to the boys and fell asleep with them. At around 3am a very kind orderly brought me a lot of blankets and a couple of pillows. William woke at his usual 4am time to nurse but it wasn't enough. I'd gone all day without pumping and my blouse was drenched with milk. Fortunately I was wearing a blouse with a paisley print and it wasn't noticeable, though I certainly felt it. After that night I haven't been producing much milk at all. I don't know if this may have led to the end of breastmilk for the boys. While pumping the other night my left breast bled as much as it milked, leaving what was in the jar a bright pink.

At around 6 or 7am Daniel stopped breathing 7 times. He stopped for a good few minutes each time, each time turning a little blue, each time convincing my mom that it was over, then he'd start breathing again. Each death tore her up a little more. She stayed right there with him through the night and morning, leaving only twice to go to the bathroom. The last time, at around 10:15 Thursday morning, he stopped breathing and she told him not to breathe again, to go on and that everything would be fine. Daniel moved on.

I took the boys back to the house at about 8am to get them dressed and fed. I was getting ready to go back to the hospital when I heard Daniel's voice greet me. I turned around quickly and saw nobody there. This was at about 10:30. I got the call about 10 minutes later that Daniel had passed on.

Dave came down that day and we spent the rest of the weekend doing what we could for my mom. The boys were amazing and they helped us all through our grief, reminding us that life continues. Their constant need to have their schedule kept, feedings done at the right times, diapers changed, naps taken, and cuddles given, kept us busy and gave us joy when we would have otherwise been breaking.

Daniel was loved by hundreds, perhaps thousands. As the son of two brilliant and famous artists, Dorothea Lange and Maynard Dixon, he traveled the world giving presentations and interviews about his parents' lives and work. He was a successful writer and in advertising. He was as married to the ukulele as he was to my mother, and played it proudly entertaining us with his cute songs. His last work, a book on the ukulele, was recently finished and he was starting the editing and rewriting process. When my mom called the ambulance for him last week, he didn't want to go to the hospital because he had an important memo to write. My mom finished the memo for him later that day. His daughter, Leslie, my mom, I, and many of his friends are determined to see his ukulele project through to fruition.

He and my mom married 13 years ago. Their marriage was a perfect fusion of talent and love. They met at the Mission Ranch, which is owned by Clint Eastwood. To hear Daniel tell the tale, you'd believe that the earth shook when it happened so that all the world could feel it. Daniel so believed this was one of the earth's most notable historic moments that he once asked Clint Eastwood if he could put engraved plates on the bottoms of two barstools at the bar to commemorate the event. "Daniel Dixon met Dixie Dixon right here on _____, 1994."

When Dave and I were married in 2003 Daniel asked what the wedding color scheme was. I told him light blue and lavender. He came very well dressed in a grey suit with a light blue shirt and lavender tie. He knew something I didn't. I was still living in a fantasy where I believed my dad would actually make it to the event since my dad actually flew in and was staying in a local hotel. The wedding was to start at 4pm. At 4:15 the wedding planners told me he and his wife and boys were here and that they pinned flowers on them and we were ready to go. I asked where he was, they described him to me and I realized that wasn't my father. To this day I don't know who accidentally got pinned with the flowers. At 4:30 my dad called to tell me he was lost. I tried to give him directions to the wedding but he said he still had to go to his hotel to get on his suit. We only had the wedding venue until 5pm. I started to shake and cry. Our photographer who later became our dear friend, Jack Wasserbach was there for me. He took the phone from me and got my mom. Jack, my mom, and friends were there to console me and help me redo my makeup so we could go on with the wedding without my father. Daniel knew this would happen, though he hoped it wouldn't. He was ready and proud to walk me down the aisle in my father's stead. Thank you, Daniel. I love you!

We love you, Daniel, and miss you terribly! Rest in peace, dear father.

Tempus fugit.