On My Dad’s Birthday

Dad ProfileIf my father were alive, he would have celebrated his 89th birthday with his wife of 65 years, two of his daughters, one son-in-law, and his only grandson. Dad would have eaten cheese ravioli with meatballs. For dessert, he would have tasted fresh baked coffee cake ridged with white icing and walnut pieces. He would chased the cake with sips of Starbucks Gold Coast coffee served in a white china teacup with blue decorations all around it and on its plate.

Today my Dad would have laughed when my mom told the story of an excerpt from the book Lady from the Longboat Key by Edith Barr Dunn. Ms. Dunn successfully bought and sold real estate in Longboat Key, Florida. One of her businesses was a beauty salon wherein she employed two gay men and a female impersonator. One day, she came into the office to find the office refrigerator filled with different kinds of fruit. Frustrated, she asked the employees:

“What are all these fruit doing here?”
One of the men replied: “What do you mean? There’s only three of us here.”

My Dad would have been there when we used Facetime to talk to my sister M, her husband J, and their son J2  who are currently in Southern California to celebrate my brother-in-laws’ 50th birthday during J2’s winter school break. I can imagine his face lighting up like a shining star, mouth in a wide open smile, cheeks bunching up, and laughing just to be able to see his grandson on the screen and wish him a great vacation. My Dad would have wished them all a great time despite feeling nauseous and in pain from a growing, too-large spleen.

After the meal, my Dad would have turned slowly around in this chair to grab his walker, pull himself up, and take slow, steady steps. He would have retreated to the empillowed chair and selected a classic movie while he napped there. My family and I would have sat around, laughed, and talked.

We would ask my Dad how he felt, but the answer was the same as the answer the last time you asked. He was feeling, more or less, chronically nauseous and often unable to keep food down. He was in pain when he needed to bend or move because the spleen had grown so large that it was pushing on other organs. If it was a particularly bad day, my Dad would tell you that he prayed for God to take him. My mother would beg him to stay.

“I need you, Joe.”

The last four years after my Dad’s stroke were extremely hard on him. A robust, healthy, hard-working, construction manager who spent his days outdoors became a man too ill to enjoy his life, bathe by himself, or walk steadily unaided.  He often had difficulty swallowing and would choke on food. Whatever was happening to his body, his mind remained clear. He was a chronic insomniac who could never escape his body, the ultimate prison.

My father remembered living a happy life.

“When I was on the farm and worked outdoors, I was happy.”
“When I had no shoes because we were too poor, I was happy.”
“When all I had to eat was honey on a piece of bread, I was happy.”

I have seen pictures of my Dad when he was younger. My Dad was a man with a big smile, glistening teeth, and a hearty laugh. The man I see in those pictures is not the man I remember. I remember the old, sick man who wished to die because his body’s ailments took away his life’s pleasures. He stopped eating ice cream because it made him too cold. When that happens, life has gotten pretty bad.

My wish for you is that, whatever happens, you relish your desire to eat ice cream.

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