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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dad

Father's Day. I know it's a made-up Greeting-card-company holiday. I don't care. I'm glad there's at least one day a year when people are forced to acknowledge their Fathers. I have mixed up feelings towards my Dad. He's not doing well. I called him this morning. He sounded so hoarse and frail over the phone. More than anything else, this upcoming trip to New York is about me and the kids seeing my Dad. Because I don't know how many more opportunities they'll have to see him. After today's call, I started to wonder if we would get there soon enough. I have to get rid of all these pessimistic thoughts.

I suppose like most men, I have spent the majority of my adult life simultaneously trying to be like and avoid becoming my Dad. It's easy to remember the good things. The bad things hit me when I find myself behaving like my Dad, falling into patterns and habits that become familiar to me as I see his reflection in my mirror. Then I say to myself "Stop! You are not going to do that! You are not going to follow that path!" Sometimes it works. Other times I feel powerless to change. "Well, maybe this is who I am," I tell myself. "How can I fight genetics?"

I've probably made many unconscious choices over the years that separate me from him. Did I have my kids call me "Abba" instead of "Dad" to be different? Do I dig myself in, paint myself into corners, or do I give in more? Take a nap, or play with the kids? I see the seeds there...but I'm sometimes too weak to try to uproot them. What a day for reflection.

My Dad truely is a remarkable person. A collection of pardoxes. A man who never spent a day in Hebrew School, who never had a Bar Mitzvah, and yet spent the bulk of his income on Jewish education for his kids. Someone who never had a pair of tfillin, and yet surprised me one day in 8th grade when he showed up to the school minyan wearing a pair. A person who worked on Saturdays, and who I know for a fact was very uncomfortable in a Shul, who nevertheless started coming to Saturday morning services because I, the Yeshiva-educated son, wouldn't go without him.

I also see that much of what I value in myself came from him. "No excuses" was one of his favorite sayings. He said that to me right before he was about to fire me from a summer job working in his store. "You think because you're my son you'll get special treatment. You'd be fired by now if you weren't. But I expect you to do a good job. No excuses." I shaped up. I think. "Honesty is the best policy." I never heard him lie, even when it might cost him money. He taught me that my reputation is everything.

He is also stubborn as an ox. This led to a horrible falling out almost 20 years ago. The relationship has been patched up. But it's never been the same. And so I'm determined to learn from this lifetime of experience with my Dad, and apply the lessons to my relationship with my own kids. And my guess is that I'm in denial over how much of my Dad is still in me.

Diabetes is wreaking havoc on my Father's frail body. Once my size and weight, he's down to 120 pounds. He can barely walk. He has trouble staying awake. He used to hate my beard...now he has one of his own. It's too hard to shave. I've made suggestions to him, my Mom, their doctors...to no avail. It's hard being a long-distance son, especially if you're a doctor.

To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure if he's looking forward to our visit. I think it will be very hard on him. The house is small, and we're a noisy bunch. But I'm hoping he will enjoy seeing the kids. My oldest son looks just like him. And I just have to get this horrible feeling out of my head that this will be the last time.

6 comments:

Mirty said...

That's a pretty intense post. I appreciate your honesty. My father is not in good health either. We'll be seeing him in a month or so. I can't bring myself to think in terms of this being near the "last time," but I know we don't have many years left. I'm glad you and your father patched things up, at least to the degree you could.

tuesdaywishes said...

No one knows how many minutes they have left. Make him as happy as you can, and bury the past. I hope he and your mom can enjoy the visit.

As for spending time with your kids, no one says on his deathbed "I wish I had spent more time at the office."

Stacey said...

This was so moving, Mark. I am so glad you will be up there soon to visit him.

I am sorry your father is in failing health. I hope his condition improves and I hope this visit with him won't be your last.

dilbert said...

well put and well said. No one can say you dont care. He is incredibly lucky to have a son like you, and I bet he knows it.

Doctor Bean said...

Wow, PT. Very poignant.

The timing of your fallout with your dad hints at what may have been the cause. In any case, it's painful.

My relationship with my dad has always been complex as well. I guess the challenge is finding where to set limits and draw boundaries between your lives, and where to blur the boundaries for the sake of honoring him and making him happy (whether or not he's earned it or makes you happy).

torontopearl said...

Yes, you made me shed a few tears with this post...
Your father is more than lucky to have you and your wife and children in his life, and you are equally lucky to have him in your life, if even mostly from a distance.
I wish you both continued strength to meet life's challenges together.