“I take morphine now, you know,” my dad said.
I let that sit with me for a bit before I tried to play it cool and said, “It probably, helps, right. How many times? Two times? Three?”
“Seven times a day,” he said.
“Does it help?”
“Sure, I guess,” he said as he rubbed his chest and shut his eyes.
If someone had told me when I was nineteen that I would be hanging out with my dad, I would have told them they were fucking crazy. My first year at Howard, I was so pissed at him, that any mention of him would set me off. When in my freshman year, my college girlfriend asked me about my dad, I made it clear as day that I had a huge family, most of whom were totally nuts, sure, but also totally lovable, but as for my dad, well, as far as I was concerned, he was the biggest asshole I knew. And that was saying a lot, because I knew quite a few.
But yesterday there I was, sitting in his cramped room in his crazy-house-building, making sure he ate, and sitting with him as the cancer fucked with him bigtime.
I could say that he and I had a beautiful reconciliation when I got back from college, that he apologized for the missing years, and that we embraced in some Lifetime-movie hug, a hug that made everything alright. I could say that, but I would be lying if I did.
After I graduated and returned to New York, an aunt made me feel so bad for him since his second wife died as a result of AIDs, that I attended some AA meetings with him. It was there that I learned loads of shit about alcoholism being a disease and all. This helped a bit, I suppose. I also spent lots of time with his mother, the woman my maternal grandmother, the grandmother who raised me, told me was a bitch. Being with her and hearing her story up-close, minus the version my other grandmother had told me, also helped me understand who my dad was and also who he wasn’t. Add to all of this the other stories family members were telling me at the time, many of them overly enthused to bring my dad and I together, and piece by piece I was getting an image of not only who he was as a man, but more importantly, why he was the kind of man he was.
But throughout it all, I never connected with him in the way I figured dads and sons should be connected. Never once in the time I hung with him, did I feel a need to ask him for advice, to unload some deep secret to him or to share some awesome news with him. He seemed like a nice guy and all once he was totally sober and clean, but that was all he seemed like to me, a nice guy.
Maybe it would have been different for me if he was the kind of man I felt I could go to for help if I needed it, but two things prevented this from happening. The first is that I have a problem in general with asking anyone for help for anything. A therapist told me that this makes perfect sense when one considers that my father, the man most sons look to for help on a wide array of issues, from learning how to fix a carburetor to learning how to become a man, is the most helpless man I know. And this brings me to the second issue… My dad is the most helpless man I know.
I don’t remember a time when my father wasn’t asking me for money. This alone is tough, but what is real tough, is that when he became clean, and I was older than the little boy he had once abandoned, every time we hung out together, he had this look in his eyes that spoke to his need for my forgiveness. Asking for money is one thing, but asking for something I wasn’t sure I had it in me to give, was something else entirely!
And this is where the little boy in me comes out.. The little boy who has a long list of grievances toward this man that was lying in front of me yesterday with morphine running in his veins and cancer eating away at his organs. They are all cliche of course… championship games where he was nowhere to be found… Track meets that he never saw.. Or better yet, never even knew I was running in…. Scholarships I received he never congratulated me about… Colleges I got into he never even knew I applied for… etc….
And yet, there I was, sitting near him so he wouldn’t be alone in this process. I could blame me spending time with my dying father, who was never my father when he was more alive than he is now, on all my family members who have made it their mission to tell me how much they love my father and what kind of man he used to be before the alcohol and the drugs became too much. I could even blame me spending time with him on all the sponsees my father has who tell me, “That if not for your father, I wouldn’t even be alive today….” But I won’t blame them, not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t.
I often wonder if my family members and my dad’s sponsees don’t see the irony in telling me of all people what a great impact my dad had on their lives. There are many times I want to desperately shake the hell out of them and tell them that of all the people in the world, perhaps I should be the last person they share their stories with about my dad. But they look so desperate to let me know that despite all the reasons in the world I have to not love this sick man, I should love him just because he has given them so much of his own love.
I want to say it would be easy to just let my dad die alone, to just let him lie in his room with his hand on his chest and his eyes shut as the cancer slowly beats back the morphine and his will to live. Why wouldn’t it be easy? Just because you are related to someone by blood doesn’t mean your spirit is connected to them, right? Also, why love someone who, as far as you can recall, has never shown you any love, or at least never showed it to you when you feel you needed it to be shown? Maybe, if I walked away, I would be healthier for it. God knows there are Sundays I don’t go to see my dad because I find the whole experience too fucking draining on too many fucking levels to count. But then I always seem to come back.
Yesterday, I was at his front door about to turn away when something in me made me knock on it. I don’t know what that something is and I am not sure I want to know. The funny thing though is that once I was in his room, sitting on his one chair, looking at him eat the pepperoni slice I brought him, he did this little thing that, once I left his room, made me cry like a fucking child.
He poured some soda, from the bottle I bought him, into his one clean cup and then gave me back the bottle half full.
He then closed his eyes again and said, “Here you go, Sean. This is for you.”
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