March 31, 2009

Don't Die Dad

I won't ever forget the day I got the call from my mother. She and my father had flown out to the east coast for the bris of one of my nephews. She and my father were on their way to the emergency room.

I asked to speak with him and she put him on the phone. The conversation was awkward and strange and it was clear that he wasn't right. Mom took the phone again and told me that she would call me when she knew more.

A short time later she called to let me know that they had placed him on a ventilator and that they didn't know much, but that it was very serious. At some point she must have passed the phone to my brother-in-law, the doctor. I asked him to tell me if my father was going to die and he said that he couldn't guarantee it, but that it was highly probable.

When we hung up the phone I sat there in shock. I was almost 35, but it was clear to me that I still thought of my father as being the strongest man I knew. He couldn't be that sick, he couldn't be close to dying. It was just impossible.

At some point I realized that no matter how hard it was to fathom, my father had lost his status as immortal and become a man like all the rest. I suppose that sounds ridiculous, but it is how I thought of him and I have stories to back it up.

We got lucky because in spite of everything the docs told us he made it. He beat the odds. Two days before my daughter was born he underwent a triple bypass and now almost five years later I am ever so grateful to have him.

But I'd be lying if I said that it didn't have a profound impact upon me. Those six months changed me in a lot of ways, but it took a while for me to recognize and realize just what some of those changes have been.

It gave me a much deeper appreciation for the loss that some of my friends and family have experienced. And it made me far more nervous about his health. In the time since that period he has been hospitalized a number of different times, some of them more serious than others.

For the first year or so after the bypass I'd estimate that not a day went by when I didn't worry about him. As more time has passed I grew a bit more comfortable, but I never completely lost that fear.

I worry about him. I do. I try not to focus upon it. I am not kidding when I say that I am grateful, but dammit, he is my father and I am just not ready. Maybe I don't think of him as being immortal, but he is so very important.

He makes me crazy. Few people can push my buttons the way that he can. I don't need or ask for his approval but I'd be lying if I said that I don't want it. It took years to reach this place, but I think that we have developed a friendship.

After all this time there is a lot that I understand about him that I didn't. Some of it required life experience. I got married and had a family. I spent years being the sole breadwinner and learned what it meant to carry that weight.

Spent more than a few nights agonizing over various decisions. Made some good calls and some stupid ones. And so many times as I sat there mulling over what to do I could hear his voice in my head.

Not so long ago he and I sat at the kitchen table in my parent's house talking about this and that. Dad started talking about his father and I saw him a bit differently. The man sitting at the head might have been my father but for a moment I think that he was closer to the 12 year old boy who was reminiscing about a trip his father had taken him and his brother on.

If there had been any doubt in my mind that we are never really ready to say goodbye to our parents that moment at the table fixed it. I miss my grandfather terribly, but not like my father misses his father.

We may all grow up and live our lives, but some people stay with us forever.

2 comments:

rutimizrachi said...

Jack, this is a remarkable and beautiful tribute to the man who helped to start your life, and continues to enrich same.

Enjoy having him in your world; and be sure to carry on his mesorah of "being there" for his children. I suspect he will keep doing that, even after his time in this world expires, after 120 years -- because you are the sort of son who will cause him to continue for generations.

Jack said...

Hi Ruti,

Thank you for your very kind words, I appreciate it.