It was just about twelve and a half years ago that I got the first of many phone calls. That phone call would begin to redirect my life. I was working at what would end up being a very brief job at a Honda dealer. We had a two year old daughter as well. The call that began the redirection of the next dozen years came in.
My dad was in the hospital. He had a major heart attack. During the night while waiting to be moved to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis he had several more heart attacks. I spent the next few days at the hospital.
Before the story continues you need to know a few things about my dad. First of all, he is not my biological father. He married my mom when I was a year old. He adopted me shortly thereafter. He raised me as if I were his own son from that point on. If my mom hadn’t told me he wasn’t my biological father, I never would have known based on how I was treated. Additionally my dad was a very hard worker. He always had a job, no matter how difficult or how much he hated it. The one time he was let go from a job, he looked non-stop and when he couldn’t find a job in the construction field he took an entry level job at a retail store to take responsibility for the family.
The other end is that my dad lives for today. He does the things he enjoys without a lot of thought about the long term effects. If he wants something and it is immediately attainable, he gets it. This way of living has benefits. There are a lot of things you enjoy living this way. There aren’t as many moments of “I wish I had”. Unfortunately some of those things have long term effects, and some of those things affect other people.
Over the last twelve and a half years the calls have kept coming. At first a couple of times a year, then every few months. Dad was in the hospital. Something was wrong. He was having a procedure done. His health continued to decline and the calls kept coming. Each time I wondered if this was the ONE call, or how much longer before that call would come.
Three and a half years ago, the week before the week of Thanksgiving, Dad went to the VA hospital to have a brain aneurysm repaired. This was his second such surgery. I had to work so I wasn’t at the surgery. Something went wrong. Dad went into a coma. Our family went and spent the better part of the weekend at the hospital. We had planned a trip to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. My in-laws took the kids and Krista and I stayed at a hotel in Indianapolis and spent four days at the hospital with Mom and Dad. Dad was unconscious, just starting to wake up for a few moments at a time the last day we were there.
This was very hard for me. I felt horrible for Dad, seeing him there helpless. I felt horrible for Mom staying at the hospital. But I also felt angry, frustrated, hurt. Dad had started smoking again a couple of years earlier. Despite his heart problems and diabetes, he ate whatever he wanted. The neurologist basically told us the way he took care of himself was the largest contributor to what happened in his surgery and the struggle with his recovery. Had he done this to himself?
Dad spent the next few weeks in a rehab center relearning to walk, use his hands, etc. It turns out he had a stroke during the surgery and possibly at least one more during recovery. He came home a couple of days before Christmas.
That Christmas with Dad home should have been one of the best Christmases of my life. It wasn’t. I hugged Dad when he walked in and he smelled like an ashtray. Half an hour later he went out to smoke a cigarette. You see, I thought with all that had happened and with him being hospitalized and not smoking for a month, surely he would have taken things seriously and at least quit smoking. Maybe even decided to eat healthier. Seeing him right back to doing the same things that put him in that situation made me sick. I don’t think I spoke more than a dozen words the rest of Christmas day.
The stroke has diminished Dad’s mental capacity. He did quit smoking much later, I’d like to think because of the pleading of my now 11 year old daughter who was always making suggestions and giving him information on quitting. He has continued to eat without regard to his health. His health has continued to diminish, much more rapidly now. The calls keep coming, more frequently. I am now more certain that the ONE call will be sooner rather than later. We have gotten two calls in the last two weeks, and by the looks of things I keep the phone near by.
I have also been watching my Mom’s health deteriorate, not because of her bad decision making so much as because she has dedicated her life to caring for her husband. There hasn’t been much time left to care for herself. She has carried the stress and burden on her shoulders. As much as this has burdened me, it is a fraction of what she has carried. Maybe that is where a lot of the anger and frustration comes from. Because seeing someone hurt your Mom naturally makes you angry, even when that someone is your Dad.
To be clear, I love my Dad very much. I am largely who I am because of Him. My wife often jokes about genetic characteristics we share, knowing full well that I am adopted by him. It is hard to be angry at one of the greatest men you have ever known. It is hard to love a man and resent what he has done to himself and his family all at the same time.
If you are reading this to find inspiration, I apologize. I am still working through this, and I don’t have the answers. This may be more raw and honest than what should be posted on the Internet, but sometimes it is healthy to get it out there.