“I’m going to have to ask you to step outside to the waiting room for a few moments.”
My heart sank. As much as I wanted to stand my ground and be there to see what would happen next, I knew they wouldn’t let me. I took one more look and walked through the door, closing it behind me.
As I did, a tidal wave of thoughts crashed into my mind. At first, it started with what the nurses were doing to him: ‘what needles were they puncturing his skin with’...’ were they acting with compassion’…’ how agonizing is the pain’…’ is this finally it?’
Then, the scene changed to the encounters I had with my dad over the course of the last 2 weeks. It was an awful lot of silence mixed with moments of sighs of enduring pain with a couple of questions about what he wanted to try to eat.
In a flash, I saw the timeline of my life with my dad in it. When I was younger, he was always busy working, fixing up door thresholds, windows, home exteriors, electrical wiring, who knows what else? We were much closer years ago. To me, he could literally fix anything and I aspired to be as smart as him.
He was a tough guy, and that’s to be expected of someone who risks their health to keep the houses and lives of others in order. What I think really made him stand out was the fact that he really cared. My dad always went the extra mile to make sure things were in proper order, that his clients were safe and that ultimately, his family was supported and happy as well.
When I try to remember what happened in that 20+ year gap from then and now, all the memories just blend together like an oil painting: shades of going to school, scenes leaving and not being in the house enough, going to college, focused on my own life, eventually meeting my wife and settling down. I was so into my own time passing, that I completely forgot my father’s time was passing, too.
It was around my teenage years when I became less interested in spending time with him. It’s not that I didn’t care about him when I was younger; it was just the time to be around friends more, flirt with girls, figure out who I was and what I want to do, just teenage things.
I matured a lot more in college but still didn’t see enough of my dad especially since I was out of state. The older you get, it feels like there’s so much to do and get done. Responsibilities increase, families, happen, this is a part of life, isn’t it?
The sad but true thing is, during those 20 years, we never really got to spend more than a couple minutes at a time to talk, connect, and live that father-son relationship people talk about. We never really went fishing together, out into nature, or built something together (though I helped him paint a few times, but that was at home and I just barely put on a base coat.) In a way, I never got to know my father better. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever actually hugged.
When you’re younger, you don’t always realize that time is fleeting for everyone until years pass and you have a wife and kids while facing your father on a hospital bed with leukemia. That’s when your mind automatically turns inward and startings connecting imaginary dots that create a surge of overwhelming emotions.
My heart was beating out of my chest and no amount of deep breaths was going to help.
“You can go back in now…” and the nurse walked away.
I calmly paced inside and closed the door. My dad was lying in his bed with his eyes closed. Looks like they just changed his IV and took a blood sample. I wanted to say something, but I just couldn’t get the words out, it didn’t feel right to speak.
“What did they do? Are you feeling okay?” Pretty automatic response but I had to say something and I was concerned. My dad wore that familiar stoic face that he always donned ever since I knew him. Amazing that even after 2 weeks of bed rest, he could still look this strong. Maybe it was all just on the outside, we really didn’t know how he was feeling about things.
I’ve seen him smile, get angry, look disappointed, and a host of emotions on the outside, yet I could never tell what he was really thinking; what was really going on in his mysterious head.
“It stings a little, but I’m okay…”
He then asked for some water and I quickly went to fetch it. As I handed it to him, I had to break the awkward silence with a question or something, but I wanted it to mean something and lead somewhere besides another long pause.
For a moment, my dad looked away and deeply exhaled. From 20 years ago until now, that stoic face has never changed. I wonder if I have this same stoic face with my kids…
I don’t remember the exact words he said, but that single question was enough to go down a rabbit hole of memories and emotions. Of course, he was scared, but all he could think about was mom, what life would be like without him, how I would stay connected, and take care of her if anything happened. It got too real for me, and we ended up talking about his work, some funny stories from work and went down nostalgia lane. I also shared some news and updates about his grandchildren.
This may have been the first time in years we shared stories and laughs. In between, those laughs and stories, we were both fighting bittersweet emotions. Why couldn’t this have happened earlier in a happier setting, like our backyard patio or on the couch in front of the game? Did it really take something so serious to bring us together?
Pushing back tears, I had to embrace him, like this emotional magnetic force knew time was almost up. They say strong men don’t show emotions, but is it really worth being ‘a strong man’ if it means I can’t give my own father a hug? We never had a bad relationship, but it wasn’t as robust as a parent and child could be. I wouldn’t be able to hug him again in the afterlife.
I also had to reflect on my own children: was this going to be a repeat situation for me? Would my own kids end up living their own lives and stay in relationship limbo with me, until one day I had to go to the hospital and THEN we finally get the chance to connect?
The relationship between a father and their children is unique from any other blood relative. Women and children are much more direct in displaying their love, yet men have a strange way of showing their affection. More importantly, the father-child relationship dynamic in a family influences future generations.
I’m grateful that my father was mine, he taught me so much about being a strong individual and how to take care of others with a smile. I also learned from him that it’s important to stay connected to my own children and make sure the way they relate with their families continues to improve. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.