I awoke lazily this morning. It was a luxury for which I’d been waiting…our first post-soccer season Saturday. Eric had gotten up with the girls and provided breakfast. I yawned, stretched and reached for my phone to see what time it was and get a quick sense of the news of the day. I opened my email to find the usual barrage of groupon offers, and then one email from my stepmother with the subject matter of my father’s name. That can’t be good, I say out loud to myself.
My father is in the hospital, I read. Unfortunately this is not the first occurrence with this specific health concern within the past year.
Sent at midnight, my stepmother’s email was understandably frantic. She’d had to call 911 yesterday afternoon and Dad was admitted to the hospital after 6 hours in the ER. They ran a battery of tests literally through the night. At the time of this posting Dad’s doctor had yet to draw a definitive diagnosis.
My family and I live about 3 hours away, so I called Dad as soon as I’d finished reading. He answered the phone and communicated well. I was glad for both.
We talked about me driving down to visit and he dissuaded me. I responded that I wanted to respect his wishes, but that I felt that coming was the right thing to do. We ended the call with my promise to get back to him with my plans.
By the time I called to alert him that my family would be coming together for a day trip, three hours had passed.
“You confuse me,” said Eric gently as I handled some last-minute house stuff.
I look up from kneading my sourdough to focus on his face. “How’s that?” I respond.
“It was three hours ago that you found out that your father is in the hospital, and we’re only just now about to leave.” Eric continues. “I don’t understand what’s going on with you.”
I don’t answer. After a few minutes, Eric fills in the silence.
“I was just making an observation,” he says. “I wasn’t making a judgment call.”
“Oh, I know,” I say. I think a little bit more. Indeed, I had been paralyzed by indecision. “I guess it’s my way of trying to control an uncontrollable situation.”
I look out the window as we drive south on I-35. As the fading wildflower and high prairie grass pass in a blur of organic color my mind drifts to 9 months ago when I visited my father at his home after his first hospitalization. He’d been bluntly faced with his own mortality, his language suggested, and out of that place he led us into a looking-back-on-our lives conversation.
At that point I verbally vomited onto him all that I’d been processing about my childhood pains for the past 2 years. Out came my memories of what I’d repressed. Out came my legion of questions, most of which beginning with “Why?!” Out came my recovered and redefined understanding of my childhood. I was honest, but not brutal, about the lifetime effect of emotional abandonment, physical and verbal abuse and an unrelenting standard of excellence he and my mother had wrought.
Dad looked at me, stupefied. When he did speak, he primarily asked questions. His face look pained. He would hold onto memories that he had formed of my childhood, Dad concluded. Our visit ended amicably. Both of us expressed love for one another. Of course our relationship was irrevocably changed.
When my family walked into his hospital room today, Dad’s face revealed relief and gratefulness for our presence. After my daughters lovingly greeted their Granddaddy and presented him with the get-well cards they’d made, I embraced him. He held on longer than he usually did, and I heard and felt him weeping. It meant the world to him that we made the trip, he said. And then, ever so quickly, he expressed his fear. I held his hand.
A mentor of mine recently told me about the concept of posthumous fidelity. Basically it refers to remembering things in a balanced way following a death or loss. We fool ourselves and remember with infidelity, says the theory, when we recall an event or a relationship to the extremes of either positive or negative.
As Dad and I shared that short but soft and tender moment in his hospital room, I got it. Dad and I had long suffered the loss of the daddy/daughter relationship we once had, as well as other pains that once brought us to joint counseling. My eyes now saw that I had been remembering my relationship with my father quite unfaithfully, focusing primarily on Dad’s insufficiencies and poor choices. Yes, I was subjected to pain; but he was and continues to be a good father who raised me to love and serve God and people.
My recovered memories of my traumatic childhood remain, but my uncovered anger towards my parents does not. I hold them accountable, but I understand Mom and Dad to have done the best they could with what they had at raising me.
Thanks be to God, Dad is still with us. While I’m most certainly not a doctor, I somehow have the intuition that he’ll recover. We cannot change the past; neither can we control the future. But we can live fully into each day that God gives us, bumps in our relationship and all. What a gift from God it is that like a Phoenix, love rises out of the ashes of pain.