Yesterday I was walking past a Dad with his children. They were taking turns and jumping onto and swinging from his forearms like he was a living jungle gym. There was laughter and love and a gentle reprimand to one of his other children to not run through the halls because we were in a building that isn’t really a playground. In that moment I felt so much tenderness for a person I have never met. He reminded me of my Dad and the times I could run at him like he could take all I could dish. I thought of the times I was on all fours with my children on my back and wrestling with them the way my Dad used to do with me. I walked away remembering the times I would spar with my Dad and he would teach me to block a punch and his love for “tiger claw,” which was fierce with his long talon like nails.
I remember as a little girl, sitting on the toilet seat and watching my Dad shave his face. He used to have a mug with soap in it, and use a brush to lather the soap up and slather it on his face. He would stretch and pull his face in different ways to get a clean shave and I would watch every time. He would rub Aqua Velva or Old Spice between his hands then slap and smear it on his face and neck. Then I’d watch him button up his shirt and wrap and tie his tie around his neck.
As I’ve gotten older, the ideal Dad I imagined gave way to the one I have. I stopped trying to place the image in my head on top of him. I realised he has always done what he felt was best for us and he’s always shown love, even if it wasn’t in the ways I wanted him to. It was my need to put a premium on the love I gave that dictated the value I saw in what I received. That sounds vague.
I have learned that the ways in which I saw my Dad as not what I wanted are the ways in which his PTSD have shown up as he’s struggled with it my whole life and I could see the outward expression of his inner demons. I can no longer hold him accountable for the way his survival looks.
I get my bravery and courage from my Dad. He has moments of posturing and trying to assert his dominance. He does it with any man that wants to spend time with the women in our family. He says it when he feels the need to meet and approve of any men we might be dating. It shows up as the choices he makes and the ways we live those choices out.
Yesterday he had heart surgery. In his 7th decade of lapping our sun, it’s his first and he’s doing really well considering how epicurean his tastes are. I was trying to figure out how to be present for him while also living in my authenticity. I realised I couldn’t sacrifice myself for him because I wouldn’t be engaged with him. I would be torn. I had an office party on Thursday that I went to. I had a great time. Once I left, I picked up a few things for my Dad and went to visit him.
He wanted to shave and insisted he could stand over the sink and do it himself. I saw his gown was stained and helped him change out of it. He was surprised at my understanding of easing him out of and into a new gown but I reminded him I was hospitalized for a month with the twins I carried as a surrogate mother. I was upside down in the trendelenburg position for a week, eating meals and going to the bathroom in this 45 degree, feet above my head position. Two years later I was hospitalized again for pulmonary embolisms. I understood his discomfort and how to get him dressed, taking advantage of the way the gowns are created. I brought him a basin and washcloths and watched him shave.
He relies on a mirror far less than he used to, familiar with the stretch and pull of his face and the ways his skin folds with the wrinkles offered to him through time. He handed me his razor to swish and shake through the basin of water. He tried washing his hand in the water, and I showed him how effective a damp washcloth could be. When he was done, I used a fresh, damp washcloth to wipe his face gently. We talked. I encouraged him. He encouraged me. He wanted donuts but I only carry suckers and I left without one, once I got approval from his nurse. He wanted me to go to work and not wait for him during surgery but visit him after he was out. He knows my job doesn’t pay me when I’m not there to work and he knows I need to care for his grandsons.
During his surgery I was having a hard time focusing on work. I was present. I was engaged, but it was easy to rabbit trail my thoughts else where. I hoped the boys could have stayed with their Dad so I could spend more time with mine, but they couldn’t and in accepting the situation I was in, I saw that this forced my visit to last exactly as long as it needed to for my Dad’s post op. I checked on my kids, and picked up my sister to go see our Dad.
He was tilted in the way he needed to be. He was starved and able to eat but only in that position, so I fed him. Bite by bite, I have to admit it was more satisfying than feeding a baby that is learning with solid foods. I helped him find his things as he was moved and had no control over where his belongings were. He was on really good drugs and not really aware of his limitations or why he needed to have them. I helped him get situated and after a short while we left.
There was something so humbling about helping him because I have always seen him as a powerful man. It was a moment of being able to give him my love in a way that was an offering and not a request of his. It felt like a gift to be able to offer my love through service and have it received so completely.
While life still happens at the speed of existence, I was still able to jump from conversation to conversation with catfish and real men alike. I was able to paper tiger through work orders and purchase orders in the magic that is my pre-invoice. Facing and correcting errors created during my training. I was able to be mom and sister and daughter, and I was gifted with being able to support the man who has made me the woman I am today. I’m often asked how I’m doing because that is how we reach out to others with minimal risk. It was a great day to be me, and this is what it looks like.