Hope everyone who celebrates it has had a good one. My own father has been very much on my mind this weekend; not only because of Father’s Day today, but yesterday would have been his birthday as well.
Each year, I try to come up with some sort of random anecdote about him. I think by now, I’ve used up my best ones, but I can usually remember something or another.
When Dad was younger, he was larger than life, kind of arrogant, loved to pontificate and overstate. In his later years, however, he grew much more understated and didn’t like talking about himself at all. He certainly didn’t like discussing any health problems. So I was pretty much left in the dark as far as any of his issues were concerned.
In May 1995 during one of our dinners out, he casually mentioned that he was “having a little bit of work done.” The way he tossed it off almost as an afterthought, I figured perhaps it was something elective and minor. Not quite — turned out it was triple-bypass heart surgery. If he was concerned, he didn’t let on to me. Aside from telling me the date and the hospital, he refused to share any details with me. I knew very little about open-heart surgery and what it entailed.
The following month, he had the procedure. He came through it beautifully, was out of Intensive Care in record time and back in a regular room. I went to visit him, bringing flowers, and was pleased to see how alert he was, sitting up and struggling with a rather tough piece of meat, talking with his visitors. Again, he told me nothing of the care he’d receive once he left the hospital, just said not to worry, it was all handled.
Part of me was relieved, but I was curious and concerned nonetheless. C’mon, Dad. I’m a big girl. You can tell me what’s going on with you.
Once he was back home, we talked regularly and when he was ready to go out to eat again, he had me come over to pick him up. He seemed like his old self, maybe a little thinner, and I took him to one of his favorite places, The Daily Grill. He still didn’t tell me any details. I thought perhaps during dinner, I’d ask him, see if I could get him to open up a little.
I ordered the double breast of garlic-broiled chicken, and was quite surprised when my plate came. I’d expected two small fillets, but got an enormous butterflied portion of chicken that filled the plate, the two breasts still anchored by the breastbone. There was no way I could eat all that, so I figured OK, I’ll eat half and take the other half home. I picked up the large serrated knife they’d provided and sawed heartily through the chicken, crunching down the length of the breastbone.
My father watched me carve away as he pierced the crust of his chicken pot pie, letting the steam escape. After I was done, I picked up my fork and speared a bite of chicken. “So, Dad,” I said, as casually as if I were asking about the weather, “what exactly did they do to you?”
Dad nonchalantly took a bite of his food, took a beat and then replied, “Pretty much what you just did to that chicken.”
He always did have spectacular timing. I tossed my fork and knife onto my plate, pretending I’d lost my appetite. Well, I’d asked.
Nearly three years later, he made light of his physical condition once again. When his kidneys failed, he joked about having a new part-time job, three days a week. The job? Going for dialysis. Unfortunately, his humor wasn’t enough to get him through this time.
Miss you, Dad. Love you always and forever.