Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bittersweet Fathers Day

Happy Fathers Day to all of you readers who are dads. It's an old cliche, but one that still holds a ton of truth. Being a father is the most important job in the world.

Few of us ever read a book about parenting. That's a shame, because it is not a job that comes instinctively. I know this from experience (contact my children for confirmation) and if you are a father, I bet you do too. It's a job you learn from experience and the older you get, the more holes you find in your game.

Sometimes, the template we use is the one our own fathers used. Sometimes, the template we use is the very opposite one our fathers used. We learn from their mistakes.

Then we make our own mistakes; mistakes so egregious they make our fathers recoil in embarrassment at the psychological and emotional damage we caused their grandchildren. That's life. I mean, that's how it all works. They screwed us up and we screw our kids up. What a neat little package it all is! Everyone has someone to blame for their lives of woe and regrets: our dads.

Thank God for fathers! Without them we'd all have to look in the mirror and be accountable for our own actions. Who wants to do THAT??!! The blame game is easier.

My father is far from perfect. He commands a room as if he is the only person with a tongue in his mouth; the only one capable of an original thought. If you try to hold a two-way conversation with him, he ignores you and plows right past you. I like to think this has made me a better listener than my dad ever was, but I am fairly certain this genetic tic has been incorporated into my own DNA and my kids feel as I won't ever shut up in public either.

My Dad is the original Pigpen. His car looks like the bottom of a dumpster the day after the circus has left town. Tiny clouds of flotsam and debris seem to follow him around like fleas clinging to the back of a coon dog. When I get into my school office, or the small room at home where I do my writing, I see the blueprint of my father's chaos all around me. Piles of compact discs stacked on piles of books, stacked on compact disc containers. I could find you "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis in 15 seconds if you asked, but don't ask me how. My life is a mess.

This is a disease I inherited from my father. God damn him. God bless him. Which is it? I cannot say for sure. Am I blessed or cursed with a lifetime of his "ability" to be inherently disorganized and organized at the same time? I never asked for this twisted personality trait. Surely it is all his fault.

I envy friends whose homes are free of clutter. They seem to reside in a state of perpetual grace and godly neatness. Their residences are testimony to a higher realm of consciousness. Why can't my home look like their's? It must be my father's fault.

Dad was admitted to Chester County Hospital on Friday. He had been complaining to me for at least 10 days about stomach pains and loose stools. After a week of his complaining, and taking some over-the-counter medicine that didn't solve the issue, I told him to see a doctor. He finally made an appointment to see a doctor last week and was scheduled to get a CAT scan of his troublesome stomach tomorrow.

When the stomach pains persisted all day Friday and seemed to grow worse, my father thought he must be having an appendicitis. If only the prognosis were that simple. After waiting around the hospital for four or five hours, the CAT scan and a physical exam of his abdomen revealed a tumor the size of a baseball.

My dad has cancer of the large intestines and the CAT scan revealed it may have spread to other organs in his body.

Doctors will take the tumor tomorrow at noon. But in the meantime, this Fathers Day has been bittersweet to say the least. He's had a steady stream of family members and friends come visit him in Chester County Hospital most of the day. I saw flowers there from my sister and at least four or five Fathers Day cards on the serving tray next to his bed.

For someone having a lethal tumor removed from his belly at noon tomorrow, my father was in high spirits. He'd been given a pain killer that had taken away the abdominal stress. He was teasing the nurses and commanding the room as usual. But it was hard to think about the long-term prognosis or to imagine all the suffering his 84 year old body faces for the next month if he opts to fight the spreading cancer for the sake of seeing his wife and children and grandchildren for another six or nine months.

Thanks, Dad. You really know how to take the fun out of a day dedicated to celebrating all you did for us.

None of us would be here to enjoy it without you. And none of us are ready to admit this might be the last one we get to spend with you.

So we'll try to soak up every minute we can, feeling the knots in our stomachs that we might not get to have time with you next year on Fathers Day.

And so, dear reader, should you. If your fathers are still alive, be sure they know how much you appreciate all they did to screw you up.

That's what fathers do best. God bless 'em. Especially mine. Kick that tumor's ass, Dad. We'd all like to have something to complain about next year, too.

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