I was 33 before I spent any significant amount of time alone with my father. We had a pretty strained relationship when I was a kid, but he did teach me five things: how to tie my shoes, the notes on the piano (when teaching me to play “Heart and Soul”), how to smoke (to butch me up when I was twelve), and how to change the oil on a car… oh, wait… six things…he taught me that all the animosity, neglect and abuse that we may endure in a relationship can be made meaningless simply by knowing that love is a very real thing.
Dad didn’t like how emotional I could be at times. I was four or five, watching “The Wizard of Oz” and began to cry because Dorothy couldn’t get home and he was angry at me for crying, lecturing me on the fact that it was a movie and none of it was real and there was no reason to be so upset as to be crying. Really the only kind of emotional outburst he never told me to contain was hilarity and his hard ass attitude often could be put at bay with a good laugh if we were lucky enough to tickle his funny bone. I never did learn to suppress the urge to cry at movies, when reading books or watching a TV commercial for foreign exchange programs, as a matter of fact I like to cry and I hope you don’t mind crying, because what you’re about to read will make you cry.
When Dad went to hospice his condition deteriorated pretty quickly and after two and a half weeks the staff informed my mother that his body was shutting down and most likely he would live for an hour or two longer. This was a Thursday night around 7:30 and two and a half days later as I sat up overnight with him his nurse came into the room, remarking that the staff had never seen anyone hold on for so long, then asking if he had some unfinished business or if he could be waiting for someone to come there. Immediately I knew what it was, and began to weep, then after she left the room I asked him
“Dad, the staff here thinks you may be holding on for something” then I took his hand saying “I think it’s Yolanda. If I’m right squeeze my hand.”
This man who couldn’t have weighed 85lbs, who had barely moved for days, just having lain in his bed drawn up into a wretched form stradling agony and death, this man squeezed my hand so hard I was shocked.
Yolanda is my sister and at the time was estranged from everyone in the family (father, mother,and two brothers) except me. Without going into details I will tell you that she hadn’t been informed of Dad’s condition and it would likely have caused an ugly scene to bring her into hospice so I called her on the telephone, explaining where I was and what had just transpired then told her I was going to hold the phone to his ear. As soon as he heard her voice his body began to relax. I don’t know how long she spoke to him or what she said because I was crying so hard it took every last bit of strength I had to hold the phone to his ear, but when I couldn’t hear her any longer I held the phone to my ear, told her that I love her then hung up.
Nothing I could ever do could possibly have more meaning. My father, whom I had hated most of my life and just barely gotten to a point where we were friendly with one another, without trying, had in the moment where he was seemingly less powerful than any human being could be, made me witness to the the fact that love is where all strength originates. I saw in that moment that love is real. Shortly after that he passed. In writing this, ten years after his death, I am overcome with tears, but they are tears of joy and love.