Looking for Dad
This picture of my dad, taken when he was just under 30, captures his quintessential self – he liked to be on the couch, preferably prone. Don’t get me wrong. He worked really hard in his life. He lifted himself from the west side streets of Chicago, his father lost to early heart disease, an 8 year old who never graduated from high school, to becoming an assistant vice-president of the First National Bank of Chicago. That bank was absorbed so many times that I think it’s part of JP Morgan Chase now, just a piece of an international conglomerate. But he managed to arrive at his prestigious place, far from selling apples from a wagon after his father died, and helping his mother take care of his brother and sister.
He met my mom at 19, married before they were 20 and became a parent soon after that. Dad had a loud bark, but not much bite. Looking back, I realize that he was a very smart but also really scared kid his whole life. He was good at sizing people up but too insecure to assert himself too much. Compared to my mom, he seemed the stronger parent, but I learned long ago that wasn’t true. My timid little mom had a tough core and she was a survivor. She’d complain about dad. She’d say it drove her crazy when he said stuff like, “if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.” She wanted to go out and see and do everything, but he wanted her by his side, sitting on that couch and she wanted to be with him more than anything else. So he’d bluster about things and was a terrible teaser and she’d tell him that he could change and do things differently. But he didn’t change much. In the end, he dominated her, as had her mother before him.
However he didn’t dominate me and truly, he didn’t try very much. He recognized me for who I was, and to his credit, he encouraged me. He told me to be strong and to never take any crap from anyone. Yes, in just those words. He could see that I was a prober, always looking for an angle. He nicknamed me “weasel” which was fair. I never thought that what was in front of me was the way it had to be. I always tried to go over, around, through anything that blocked my path. I’m glad for that. Recently my grandson was watching Jurassic something or other and I realized that perhaps my real spirit animal isn’t the wise and generous dolphin, but instead the velociraptor, hunting for an edge.
That’s what I’ve always tried to do. The problem is that sometimes there is just simply no way to deal with an obstacle. I’ve always had trouble accepting that. I thought if I worked hard enough, thought hard enough, tried one option after another, I could conquer anything. Not true and hard for me to accept. In that way, I’m so like my mother. She batted her head against immovable objects her whole life. She wasn’t as aggressive as me but she’d keep going back for more tries until she was absolutely out of ideas. Dad lay still. Mom bustled. I’m a bustler too. I have long lists of chores and I bustle around every day.
But I’m ridiculous. I can’t possibly get done with the tasks I set for myself. I know that but I try anyway. I race against time. Ever since Michael died all I can think about is how short life truly is – this is not some newly discovered revelation. But it seems that reason fails me. I continue to churn away at a ridiculous clip. There is no way I could clear a weedy garden that takes up a great chunk of my 10752 square foot lot, especially after having been out of town for 21 out of the last 28 days. I actually went to Acadia and Glacier National Parks in under a month.
There will be weeds. There will be weeds. Not the end of the world. There’s only one of me to do the work two of us once managed. And I’m older. I get tired faster. And my damnable left knee is bone on bone and it’s been incredibly painful for too many years.
There’s all the rest of life to do as well. House stuff, bill stuff, family stuff, friend stuff. Expanding your intellect stuff. Political stuff. Being creative stuff and lots of thinking stuff. I need to be like dad. Dad, where’s that piece of me that can be like you on the couch and think it’s just fine? It’s misplaced. When Michael was alive, he was more laid back than me too. Being next to him was sedating. I loved it. I spiraled through all my energy at this incredibly rapid pace and then I’d just deflate like a balloon. And I could melt into him and take a break from myself. It’s relentless in here.
This nasty left knee has got to go. I remember the first time I’ve heard it creak. I was climbing down an old wooden ladder that I still have and I remember thinking, “wow, this ladder is really getting dangerous,” until I realized the sound was coming from inside my body. Long overdue.
I’m going to really miss Michael again tomorrow. That’s nothing new but it’s particularly hard on days like these when I’m going to have a procedure. I haven’t had many in my life which makes me very lucky. But I’ve spent more hours than I count sitting at other people’s bedsides, translating doctor stuff, offering ice chips, recognizing that nausea or pain was coming. I sat at Michael’s bedside many times.
As we talked our way through the years of his illness, I remember telling him that I feared I would never have the comfort of him holding my hand after I’d been through a surgery or procedure. He told me that was the saddest thing I’d ever said to him. I’m sad about it too. I would give anything to have that small comfort tomorrow morning. But I can’t. I’m angry and frustrated and I fully expect to wake up crying in post-op. That’s what happened with knee surgery number one. Stripped away defenses will leave me vulnerable. Not my favorite place to be.
Tomorrow morning as I lie on a table with my bone being sawed and then a very expensive piece of titanium being placed where that joint once was, my go-to distraction, Roger Federer, will be playing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. When I read back through my journals, I’ll find remembrances of tough times and in their midst will be the line, “but Roger won today” and that helped me. So utterly strange that this faraway individual brings me these moments of delight. I’m actually wondering whether my being unconscious might have a negative effect on his game. But then I reel myself back in and recognize that I’m going a little over the top. I am recording the match on my DVR and the first thing I do when, hopefully, I wake up, will be to watch Roger do impossibly balletic things on a grass court while some machine squeezes my leg to prevent blood clots. In the end, I guess it’s always the little things. Hopefully, I’ll be writing from the other side of knife.