Last night, during dinner with my boyfriend, I found myself laughing uncontrollably as the absurdity of my current situation hit me full in the face, for what felt like the very first time. Since June 20th, my dad has gone from having a broken leg, to having stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, and is currently in the ICU after having a severe reaction to an antibiotic. 4 months ago, my dad was wearing a boot and complaining about not being able to work; yesterday, the doctors were discussing potential brain damage - we don't know yet, we just have to wait and see.
My dad is a man with whom I have a complicated relationship, who sometimes I feel I know as well as myself, and just as often feel like I don’t know at all. We were close when I was growing up, and we shared a strong affinity for our faith. On Saturday nights, we traveled with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue would travel between homes for a week at a time, and during that week the hosts would have people over to say the rosary each night. It was something that we looked forward to doing every week, but it wasn't the only thing that we shared.
My dad once picked me up from a slumber party and refused to tell me where we were going. I was positive that I was in trouble for something, and was mightily relieved when he took me to a lecture given by Tom Skilling on inclement, dangerous weather. That year I was doing my science project on tornadoes. My dad thought it would be a really exciting and interesting event for us to go to together. Of course, since it was a surprise, I didn't bring my glasses. But my dad patiently took notes the entire time. He also built the demo himself, and wouldn't let me help because he had to use a saw (read: was having too much fun).
But as time went on we struggled, it was as though my dad was comfortable with me as a little girl, or even teenager, but as an adult woman we couldn't seem to bridge the gap. My parents' contentious divorce and my advanced age (9 years older than my sister, and 12 years older than my brother) put me in the position of third responsible adult. I took over driving the kids to school and picking them up, making their lunches and dinners, monitoring homework and showers, and getting them ready for bed. I even served as field trip chaperone on a couple occasions. My dad was working full time and my mom had moved out of state, and what was originally me picking up the slack became a point of contention between my parents. I bore their resentment for what had to be done, because they were fighting too much to do it themselves. It was also right around this time that I was assaulted, and I remember how much our relationship changed after. It was like he couldn't see past what had happened, and how he felt that I had failed to protect myself, or how he had failed to protect me.
I’ve always held this belief, this dream, that someday, my dad and I could have the kind of relationship that we used to have. Like when I was younger and we would drive to 9 pm mass on Sunday, and he would explain what all the lyrics in "American Pie" meant. Or when the Beatles Anthology was on TV and we watched every episode together in the kitchen, crying for John Lennon before we even got to that part. It was just that as I got older, our relationship got more difficult.
Maybe it's because my dad has never been effusively emotional; for instance, my dad has a friend who is always hugging and kissing his kids, squeezing them close and telling him that he loves them. My dad once told me that he wished that he could be that way. I was so confused, I asked him if it wasn’t as easy as just BEING THAT WAY. If you want to do something, you just do it right?
The truth is, my dad tells us that he loves us a lot. When I was little, I used to wake up before he left for work in the morning and go sleep on the couch, because I knew that if he saw me on the couch he would make a little cross on my head. A kind of father’s blessing. My brother, sister, and I have taken over making those little blessings, before we leave the hospital each morning, as we’ve been sleeping there most nights, or in the evening when one of us goes home. We try to reach him through the fog of drugs and fitful, restless, sedative-induced sleep, we bless him the way he blessed us as kids, and on a couple of occasions as adults, when he thought we were sound asleep.
I don’t know what happens on that day when I don’t have a dad anymore. I dread the idea of never having that chance to reconnect with him, as I have always hoped that it was possible. However, as each day passes, and he stays the same or gets a little worse, or a little better and then a little worse, it’s hard to keep trying to see the bright side. I keep trying to keep my hopes up, but my hopes feel so limiting and selfish, because I see how uncomfortable he is, and I see that he is miserable. And I don’t know what to want in this situation except peace for him, just for him to be at peace.
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