I’m showing my dad my new laptop.
“What should I write about, Dad?”
“Life. Love. How to be with other people,” he says.
He goes on to repeat some of his favorite altruisms.
“I believe it is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
“Two wrongs do not make a right.”
“Kill them with kindness.”
“Respect everybody’s opinion.”
Three weeks ago, he had a massive stroke, and I thought for sure I’d lost the dad I knew forever. But that was not in his plans. After a week in the hospital, drooling and unable to use his left side, then a week in rehab, bitching endlessly about the injustice of having to be there, my dad made an impressive recovery. Three weeks ago he could barely remember who I was, and now he’s going to work in his van.
It’s not perfect though. He still forgets things and gets lost. Previous to showing up at my door, he had called thinking it was Monday, 2:30pm, and we had a doctor’s appointment. But it was Saturday, 11am, and we had no plans. So he came over to visit Margot, my aggressive dog who loves only him.
He is still my dad; gentle, curious, melancholic, as well as darkly pessimistic and full of performative affection. “You are my oxygen,” he says, roughly a dozen times a day. “You are my life, my love, my reason for living,” he repeats for the thousandth time. The love is real, but I believe he has an undiagnosed, untreated case of serious OCD, which manifests as a stream of repetitive phrases and habits. Evidence of the treadmill his mind is forever walking.
The most troubling part at the moment is his stubborn determination to keep driving, even though he does not entirely know how to use his phone anymore, or what day it is.
If, god forbid, he is in an accident, it will be on me, who didn’t have the fortitude to steal his keys and take away his independence. This has become a constant source of anxiety.
My dad is a workaholic, completely incapable of relaxing for more than a few minutes. His signature calling card is the white van he has been driving variations of for the last 45 years. That rattling, smoke-filled van is an extension of himself; his escape, his office and his bag of tricks. His handyman tagline used to be, “The only thing I can’t fix is a broken heart.” And whatever you need to fix all other things is inside that white van, the one he shouldn’t be driving anymore.
Having escaped death multiple times, from heart attacks, motorcycle accidents and multiple strokes, I like to think my dad has a pretty large entourage of guardian angels. I’m relying on them now to protect him and anybody else in his path.
Later that night, my dad and I are sitting on barstools in his kitchen, and I’m sipping a hot tea he made in anticipation of my arrival. I’m impressed that he remembered how much sugar I take. His hair looks like a halo in the light from an overhead lamp. I’ve come to deliver sleeping pills and a chair for his shower. A chair that was once mine, when a surgery temporarily broke my balance.
Have you ever sat in a chair in the shower? It feels very luxurious.
I get out my phone and point it at him, lowering the exposure to make the overhead light look like a beam from heaven. He doesn’t realize I’ve just taken a dozen pictures of him, waiting for the moment he isn’t making a weird face or scratching his head. Then he hits his cigarette.
He wore nicotine patches the entire time he was in the hospital, and then in rehab. For a bit I thought he might actually quit. But when he finally bummed a cigarette from my sister, we didn’t give him a hard time. It’s no secret that sometimes the things you enjoy can kill you. We just want him to enjoy something.
Frequently I’m irritated by the burden of being needed by people. And just as often I’m crushed by the heaviness of the love I feel for people who need me.
“I’m so lucky to have you,” he says. And I know I’m lucky too.