My dad was trying to tell me something a few days before he died. I don’t know what it was. As it did with my mom, the cancer wore down my dad’s body until he could no longer form words.
My sister held the phone for him as he made noises. I could hear an urgency in the tones, as well a the effort he was making to be understood. It didn’t change anything. The sounds that came through to me weren’t quite grunts, but sad little staccatos that were nowhere near what he wanted to convey.
“Dad,” I said when he paused, “I’m going to fly home this weekend, okay? I’ll see you in just a couple of days, but if you can’t wait, it’s okay to let go.”
At the time, I thought I was saying the right thing. I guess I would say it again, if I had to do that moment over. I mean, it’s not like I could -- should -- tell him what I eventually realized: “Please don’t leave me.”
But, you know, I think my dad knew that I would feel that. How could he not know? His own mom died when he was just a toddler. He never stopped missing her. He never stopped thinking about how different his life would have been if only she’d been in it for awhile longer.
I’m lucky that I had my dad in my life for as long as I did. Even though I’ll never know what he actually meant to say, I can guess based on what I know about him and our relationship.
He was probably trying to tell me to be strong for my baby.
That’s the short version. The long version would be that no matter how awful I felt, no matter how much I might want to grieve and “go to the old watering hole” (geez, I spend a few years of my early 20s clubbing and he never let me forget it), my child’s needs had to come first. I no longer had the luxury to think all about me; I had to think all about my baby.
I’d like to think that my dad would be pleased if he could see the type of mother I am. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of the definition. I just have a single goal: to work towards being the mom my dad always wished he had, which I recently realized was exactly the kind of parent he was to me.
I occasionally tell my son the same thing that my dad told me: that as long as I’m alive, he’ll always have a place to return and call home. Once -- and only once -- I also managed to add that I would stand between him and the world, to give him a chance to grow up, so that one day when I’m no longer around? He’d be able to continue without me.
“But I don’t want to do that,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m not exactly cool with it, either, but the point is that I can keep going on my own, you know? Grandpa loved me so much and he made sure that I’d have time to grow big and strong. I’m buying that time for you, too, okay?”
I think I’m doing alright. I might not be able to bring my dad back, nor change his past, but I can make sure that my little boy never has to wonder what it would be like to have a parent who was always on his side, who could and would stand up for him. I can make sure that legacy of loneliness doesn’t continue, at least not through me.
Originally posted at Breath. Smiles. Tears.
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