I’m a lucky girl. I have an incredibly patient, loving husband, a sweet daughter who brings me joy, and sweet kisses, every day, and a set of parents who have shared their best qualities with me. I’m sure there will be space in this blog to talk about my mom at some point in the future–she’s my best friend, after all–but I want to dedicate some space to my dad.
When I was in high school, a boy made me cry. I was on a non-date with a boy who had a pretty serious crush on me, and when he found out I wasn’t over another boy, he got mean. So he drove me home, and I was so mad and hurt, I opened the front door and burst into tears before I knew my dad was waiting up, sitting on the couch, reading some thriller. I sat next to him and he let me cry and sniffle all over his polo shirt. In a classic Dad response to my tearfulness, he asked if he needed to get a gun. He was serious.
I worked as a lifeguard in Lorton, Virginia, about 20 minutes from my home in Alexandria, one summer during high school. The apartment complex was not exactly the nicest place to live, much less work, but it was good money, and I got lots of hours. Unfortunately, the clientele wasn’t always the best. One day, a prospective tenant came to the pool and decided to take interest in a young woman with special needs. I was protective, as the man was clearly taking advantage. When I contacted the rental office, they told me to call the police if he showed up again. When he came back the next day, with trembling fingers, I called 911 for the first time in my life. My next call was to my mom and dad: both picked up lines in their different spots in the house, and when I haltingly, tearfully told my story, I don’t think my dad even hung up the phone before grabbing the driver from his golf bag and snatching up his keys. He tore down Telegraph Road in his Pontiac Grand Prix, making the drive in a ridiculously short, ridiculously fast trip. Fortunately, the police showed up before my dad did or they might have had a messier situation to resolve. As it was, Dad put the car in park in the middle of the road, got out of the car with his driver in hand, talking to the police with that threatening look of a father whose little girl was upset.
My dad is a lot of things: ornery, loving, generous, sentimental, protective, grouchy. He picks up the phone whenever I call and tolerates my rambling stories of my daily adventures, only complaining a little that it takes me forever to get to the point. He’s not perfect: he doesn’t always take my sides in arguments when I want him to and he uses lots of bad words (he’s better about that now that Cari’s around and listening). But he’s an awesome dad and friend to me, even now. He cares enough to know weird little details like who my principal was five years ago, and to invest his time showing an interest in my projects like my novel and my blog.
I’m not trying to pretend there haven’t been dark parts of our relationship, too, but those might not be suited for this space.
But my dad is dying. In 2008, he had to undergo a double bypass (while my mom was in the hospital in need of a quintuple bypass herself… that’s a story for another time). It took months for my dad to recover from the procedure. He stayed in ICU for days on the ventilator because his damaged lungs wouldn’t cooperate and start functioning on their own again. That might be the one of the worst experiences of my life–visiting my sedated dad in ICU, watching as his chest rose and fell artificially, forced, almost erratically, by the ventilator. When he finally recovered enough to be taken off the ventilator, it was months before he could come home. He’s never been the same since. More recently, his health has been deteriorating further, leading his doctors to suggest that he start making preparations.
I’ve known for a long time that Dad wasn’t going to endure forever. He has never been shy to talk with me about it; even when he wasn’t sick, Dad made sure I knew what his wishes were. But in 2008, when my parents gave me Power of Attorney, sitting in a bright hospital room the day before my parents went into surgery, the reality of their mortality struck me in a most painful, abrupt way. I guess I’m lucky to have some warning. I’m able to value the relationship I have with my dad. I try not to say things I’ll regret. I take the time to really talk with him, even if that means sitting in the car long after I’ve gotten home from school. I read his blog, which is his way of coping with the inevitability of death. Mostly, I try to cultivate a relationship with him that I can remember when he’s gone.
This one’s a little moody, sorry about that. Thanks for reading!