Wednesday, June 13, 2012
A Post For Dad
My dad is a powerful presence with just a touch of comic relief sprinkled in - just to make him mortal and to humble him a bit, I suspect. As a little girl I remember he was long, long legs to hug when he got home from work. He was the monster who chased us through a dark house when Mom wasn't home. He was the gentle discipline - at least for me. Mom would have thrown up her hands in exasperation and Dad would be the calm listener. Now don't for an instant believe that he "got " me. Not at all. To him, I've always been the enigma, the free spirit. (The funny part is, if he thinks I'm a free spirit, he's never really met one.) But for argument's sake - and in my family most particularly - I am the free spirit. I am the artist, the dreamy idealist, the perpetual optimist. And the math dunce.
My dad is a math genius. He can add, subtract, multiply, divide, and get the square root of columns of numbers - and all in his head. He has dazzled us kids with his math parlor tricks since we were small. My brothers went on to follow in his footsteps (well, maybe not the surgeon brother, but I doubt he failed as miserably as I did) and they are at least good to brilliant in that subject. Algebra and I will never understand each other. Geometry and I don't even speak the same language. But I have other talents that my father can only try to imagine, except he has no interest in them, so I doubt he even tries to think about what it would be like to, say, hear music as it was written, or sketch a drawing. He does sing a mean "Come, Come Ye Saints" or "On The Road To Mandalay" but it wouldn't be a tune that anyone, musically inclined or otherwise, would recognize. He is hopelessly tone deaf, and gave up on all artistic pursuits decades ago.
I can remember when I was a child, though, and he would gather us all in the kitchen on Saturday mornings and whip up a batch of waffles or pancakes from scratch and no written recipe. We would all take turns dumping ingredients and stirring. In fact, one morning in the first week or so after I'd gotten married I woke up and laid there in bed sort of half asleep. And I could hear them all as if they were just downstairs in my old house: my brothers and my dad clanging bowls and stirring spoons, and conversing about nothing in a just barely inaudible level - meaning I could hear them talking to each other, but couldn't quite make out what was being said. I remember thinking that this was really odd, because I was miles away in our new apartment, wide awake at this point, and yet I could clearly hear the Saturday ritual that had been a part of my life for so many years. Being newlywed, I suppose I was a little bit homesick, and "hearing" the familiar chatter in my head was comforting.
There were other kitchen forays - the attempt to cook an actual pumpkin and make pumpkin pies from it, and the time he made biscuits with jam baked inside. Those mostly had the jam a little burned, but it was an exciting experiment in the joys of baking. I don't think he does much of that anymore - my mother likes a clean kitchen and doesn't take kindly to grand messes in her domain. But they are fun memories.
He brought home a camouflage parachute one time, and another time an empty (and clean) barrel for us to play with. We made forts, and we learned circus trick after circus trick as we taught ourselves to walk around on that barrel. He built us a sandbox to end all sandboxes, complete with a roof to climb up on with an attached ladder. We made endless sand cakes and castles, climbed up on the top and either sat looking at the view from up there or having contests jumping off.
My dad took us on a vacation every summer, and sometimes in between. We camped in Yosemite, visited my grandpa in Spanish Fork, Utah, drove down the crazy winding Lombard Street in San Francisco and rode cable cars, and saw Old Faithful. The saddest trip was when we'd just moved to the east coast, and for Thanksgiving we took a road trip up through a bit of New England. We had Thanksgiving dinner at a Howard Johnson restaurant, my poor dad trying desperately to make it jolly and fun. I feel bad about that - I could have tried harder to be happy but I was 14 and moody, and all of my friends were back in California.
The best trip was a sort of graduation from high school celebration for me - a trip to Hawaii - Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. I was beyond excited, but again - I probably wasn't as appreciative as I might have been because I was 17 and moody and self centered. And I wanted to appear independent and cool, and there were my goofy brothers dorking around. In retrospect, I was the one who was the goofy dork, but age really changes perspective, doesn't it? But I loved that vacation - every minute of it - so thanks, Dad. And even more, I love the fact that the trip was largely for me. (Right Dad? That's how I remember it, anyway, being the narcissist I am...) I felt that he knew I would be growing up and on my own soon enough, and he wanted to give me something special. He may not always understand me, but I am always his little girl.
My dad has always been kind of larger than life to me. Smart, strong, capable. Solver of problems. But he is also someone who will walk miles at Lake Powell with a peach pit in his shoe, and only at the end of the day will he say "My foot is KILLING me," take off his shoe, and see that peach pit roll out.
I've never known anyone else who will walk outside barefoot at night and then come inside whining that "I cut my foot on a snail shell!" He rarely laughs really hard, but when he does it goes on for a REALLY LONG TIME. His eyes squinch shut and he just shakes, laughing silently and hysterically for several minutes. It used to scare us when we were little. We would cry and beg him to stop. "Stop Daddy... please stop!"
So he is DAD - smart and strong - and yet he is really funny without trying to be. He is a small town Utah boy transplanted to the big city.
Fast forward to Monday. He was going to Hoag Hospital for a fairly routine outpatient procedure. Home by noon. Well, things didn't go as planned, and there was swelling and pain, and a mass of tissue extracted that was sent to the lab for analysis. He ended up spending the night in the hospital, alone and (probably) scared.
I went yesterday morning with my mom to pick him up, and he was in rare form. Barking at the nurses that he was ready to go home, and where were they - had they forgotten all about him? He is a complete stranger to hospitals and indeed, sickness in general. He and aspirin are not even on speaking terms. He's had maybe 2 headaches in his life. He has had prostate cancer for the last 20 years or so, however. His levels are still ok, but I understand they are slowly on the rise. He stays fit by going to the gym and by staying semi-active in his company (Larry's Thunderbird & Mustang Parts!) and by reading copious amounts of books. My mother (the fitness bulldog) makes sure his weight stays down, and that he eats healthy foods. (And he does, except when he goes with my brother to the local Snarf and Barf smorgasbord by their work, and, away from my mother's watchful eyes, he can gorge on bad macaroni and cheese, and whatever else takes his fancy, including one of every dessert.) He and my brother have always loved quantity more than quality - they just can't resist a "bargain." Boys...
But back to the hospital - he was grouchy and more than ready to blast out of there. And I understand the feeling - hospital stays are no fun at all. You just want your own bed and a little privacy. We got him home, and fed him a bunch of Tylenol PM tablets, followed by a sandwich. He fell asleep right after that and I went home.
He was very worried about whether the lab was going to return a diagnosis of further cancer found in that mass of tissue, and I could feel dark fear grabbing at me. So I prayed. I prayed for my dad. I prayed for my mom. And I prayed for me. Because I can't imagine life without my dad here. I'm not ready for that. (Are we ever?) He still has more babies to love, and more children to play with and influence. More big events to attend and be part of.
And he has a cruise to Alaska to go on, for heaven's sake! So last night my husband and one of my brothers went down and gave him a blessing. It's something we do in our church, and it's very special to feel our Heavenly Father's hand comforting and blessing us. Sometimes we get what we're hoping for, sometimes not, but it's a time when we have done all that we can, and we now place it in our Father's care. It's a bit of a private spiritual experience so I'll just say that we were assured that dad would heal from the surgery and that the mass removed would not prove to be a problem - and also that he should place confidence in his doctors and their advice. I just talked to him, and he will go back to the doctor this afternoon for the official results.
I realize that this is all a bit personal for a lot of you, but I wanted to be able to give the account to family members who are out of state. I'm hoping that all of them will either give Dad a personal call or write him a little message here in comments, and I'll be sure he reads it. For those of you who are not family, but are friends and interested parties, I welcome all prayers and encouraging messages from you as well. I think Dad would enjoy reading messages from any and all of the nice people who stop by my blog. Even though I've not met many of you in reality, we've all traveled some real life roads together through our blogs, and it's been lovely to be able to have these little chats. So feel free to comment and send him your encouragement. That is your writing assignment today.
So to my Dad: Rest up, and feel better soon. I know it's hard for someone like you to be down - even temporarily - but mind your doctors and Mom, and you'll be a regular terror in no time. And Happy Father's Day. I know it's early, but there's never a wrong day to be thankful for your Dad and for the many examples of courage and unconditional love you've exhibited for me down through the years. And Dad - when I get back from Denver we'll have a big old BBQ in your honor. I know how you love to eat good home cooking. Love you, Dad.