Growing up I didn’t spend a lot of time with my father. Despite some really fun day trips, I didn’t really know him well at all.
My Mom married an incredible guy when I was in high school, and there was this love and support that was there every day. We got to know each other quickly and well.
And that’s my tale of two fathers.
Ken has been a constant in my life since I was 15. He loves me like his own, and has treated my as such, without fail, and in all things. I adore him.
Dad struggled after Vietnam, after horrors that I can only imagine. He struggled to find his way, and to find the balance. He married twice, and had three kids, then he spent 10+ years in a long relationship. He lived all over. He worked to add his charm and personality to nightclubs all over NY. He knew how to live on top of the world, and at its bottom.
Several years ago life brought him back local, and for the first time that I could remember, he wasn’t working nights. We spent more time together. He came to dance recitals and swim meets for Meghan. He came to my house for gatherings, and just to be with us. We liked having him around. All of us. Even the dogs.
I got to have two “Dads.” While one is called Ken and one was called Dad, the terms are synonymous. Two very different people. Very lucky girl.
And I used this time to catch up with Dad. We would talk on the phone a lot, about anything. Sometimes he would talk. And when he did, I listened. When he really talked about old stories I sometimes even took notes. Because I didn’t want to forget anything. I don’t think he would have loved that idea. I suspect he would have thought it wasn’t worth my time. But, it was.
Lots of times I would talk. He was a really good listener. He knew when to interject and when to stay quiet. He knew when I needed to hear advice, and when I just needed a sympathetic ear. Sometimes I get overwhelmed. And I just need to offload, without judgment or solution. I called every Friday that I grocery shopped. Sometimes we talked for hours.
And the years saw a transformation as he was being treated finally for the PTSD that had tormented his every move since the war. He didn’t talk much about it, but every once in a while… it was my turn to listen carefully. And I did. Gratefully.
Then the conversations started to include talk of him being tired. Looking for energy. Millions of excuses listed, tried, tossed. Then there was the jaundice. And the blockage. And the pancreatic cancer. And within about 10 weeks my sister and brother and I said goodbye to our Marine. “The few, the proud…” to the very end.
Dad was a philosopher. Sometimes I was right with him. Other times we didn’t quite agree. But, it never mattered.
And in the weeks before his death I became his healthcare proxy – because I do healthcare all the time. And I got his medical records,and put them in a binder, and Dad laughed because he somehow knew I would – and so did my brother and sister, and my siblings and I took him to the fancier hospital. And we asked some questions. And we talked a lot. But, it was done. In the end it was just time for it to be the end.
But I was not, and am not ready to let go. Maybe that’s unhealthy. Or maybe that’s keeping the memory alive. Whatever.
It took weeks to clean out his small apartment. I touched every paper. I read, and sorted, and filed. I made more binders, and file folders. I shredded only with great care at my own dining room table. And as I sorted I found little scraps of paper. Little random thoughts. Notes. Scribbles of Dad’s. So I gathered them all together and I taped them onto large sheets and I saved them as a PDF for my brother and sister. And I laminated the originals for me. And sometimes on quiet nights, when my mind is busy and I can’t sleep, I peek through those notes. Almost like a chat with Dad.
Tonight I flipped open to the words, “A tranquil mind is not a little gift.”
And I paused. And I smiled. Dad’s mind was not always tranquil. But in the end it was even through physical torment. He had lived enough emotional torment to know “A tranquil mind is not a little gift.”
I am a worrier. Not a shock to those who know me even a little. But, also not unfair, all things considered.
This was a light week here for doctors. Only 2 appointments and one argument with a disrespectful office manager that led to a formal complaint. Oh, and one random really large pathology bill that was clearly not done right. The appointments were fine. One was annoying in the leaving at 7 for an 8:30 to be taken at 10:40 to get home around 2, but all things considered it was smooth. The other was with the gastro doctor who wants another visit to the ENT to peek down at the esophagus. (If only I could get a scheduler to do these things…) And the fight of course was with my doctor. The office staff of a vascular surgeon for a procedure I definitely need soon. I’m in the market for a new vascular surgeon.
But since we had some time, and we were looking for some light entertainment, we replaced the bay window in the front of the house.
So after a slightly tumultuous, but altogether fun trip to Disney, we returned very late Tuesday, slept most of Wednesday. Did lots of laundry, sent my husband to help out at my sister’s on Thursday, and Friday got ready for the new window.
Not that we WANTED a new window. We just bought the other one 14 years ago when we moved into the house. But about 2 years ago there was this little black spot that kept growing. And we called the company to look at it, but it turned out there was a class action lawsuit we had to participate in and I filled out miles of paper and it took almost a year to get someone to the house. By the time they came the little black spot was large and clearly water related. So the nice man took pictures and the conversation was about replacing the center of the window. Until they called the next day and said the black spot was in the wrong places, and the window would have to be replaced. But since the window was over 10 years old we’d get a percentage off the cost for the window and installation. Um, well that price was so wild we bought the window ourselves. And Ken and Felix and his friend John got it to our house, and finally Saturday all the planets aligned to put it in.
It was supposed to be a half day job. It was supposed to fit right in. And Felix, and Ken, and John, and Bobby, and Brendan worked their bottoms off. But, there was some cutting of walls, and by the time it was all back together on the outside it was well past 11 pm. That wasn’t the inside.
I like the house neat. Actually I need the house neat. And you can tell me whatever you want about how it doesn’t always happen like that, or I have to give it up. But I can’t and I won’t. Because it’s a control thing. I know it. I’ll own it. I can not control Cowden’s Syndrome, or any aspect of why Meghan feels cruddy so much of the time. I can not control random illnesses or natural disasters, or unscheduled hospitalizations and surgeries, or any other obstacle that is going to come into my way. But, through much experience I have found it markedly easier to handle every single crisis with a clean house. Something about having order in the home, gives me some sense of peace when the waters are very rocky.
So, at 11 on Saturday night I looked around and began to freak a bit. That’s when we decided to paint. It was time anyway, and the house was on its ear so to speak. So I prepped the room and there was paint. And the living room and dining room are back together, but the hall needs a coat too… and you get the idea.
Not to mention that a few weeks ago Meghan began the move from her room on our floor to the upstairs of our cape. There are two rooms with that peaked roof and lots of floor space. (There have to be some perks to being an only!) She has a bedroom, and a room with a desk, and all the things she loves. It has taken 4 weeks to clean out and move her, but we finished today. And as I sat in her room I cried a little. I remember distinctly being 9 months pregnant and crying in that room (see a pattern?) I was so scared. I was right to be scared. Some scary things have happened in the last 11 years. This time I know the move upstairs will be far less painful than the one she’s sure to make just a few short summers from now.
It was a good time to move. Junior High starts in just a few days really. A whole new school. A new chapter. Turning point. And as she decided what to keep, toss, and donate, her personality began to shine through. With just a few pictures left to hang, she has created an atmosphere that is representative of her. Now to keep it clean and clutter free… 🙂
But nothing is without event, and there is no time when I am fully at rest, as I frantically tossed my flip-flops off when I heard her cry out,” I NEED YOU!” I arrived at the top of the stairs to find her crouched over grabbing a leg that has been giving her trouble for days. One too many trips up the stairs, or on the floor sorting things? Who knows. Just like the headache that’s been around one day too many. Sinuses, allergies? God, I hope so.
At some point I’ll have to go to sleep tonight. And tomorrow will be for more appointment making, and dealing with random bills. The side of the house is littered with trash. There are 10 bags being donated Saturday morning. The clutter and dirt are disappearing simultaneously – with LOTS and LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of work. But my sanity is being restored.
And while this is far from how I would have chosen to spend this week – so close to the end of summer, Meghan got some time in with some friends so it was in fact a success.
So much flux. Moving Dads things in earlier in the year jostled the basement. Moving Meghan upstairs caused some purging. And slowly everything is coming together as it always seems to.
I think of how many times I would have called my Dad this week. The number is too high to count. I miss him every day.
He told me once to keep writing, to just keep letting it all out no matter what I thought of it. So I do. And I think about how he would have respected my need for order, while encouraging me not to sweat the small stuff.
Tonight I think calls for a glass of wine, and some reflection. Gratitude for an almost “normal” week with largely “normal” problems. Feeling grateful that my mind, while always a flutter, is somewhat tranquil, and…
“A tranquil mind is not a little gift…”
Thanks for the chat Dad. I miss you. A whole lot.