Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The other man in my life
My dad celebrated a birthday today (some of you may remember him as the man with the ganja hat). I called him at home, hoping hard that he'd know who I was. So far, he hasn't forgotten, but it's possible. He has a slow-progressing yet debilitating disease that eats away at his memory and makes his hands tremble and his legs crumble beneath him.
"Hi, Daddy," I said. I still call him that sometimes. We spoke for a bit. He sounded frail, but OK. And he laughed when I told him I was going to buy him a box of Twinkies for his birthday. It's been our joke since I was a teen; he's always been a health food nut, and Twinkies are his idea of evil incarnate.
My dad's disease kicked in right around when Max was born. Over the years, I've watched him grow weaker, his muscles no longer working the way he wanted them to, as Max struggled to make his own muscles do what he wanted them to. Sometimes, seeing what my father was going through made me angry about what had happened to Max; how was it possible a little kid could grapple with the same physical problems a man in his eighties was? I've had the same thoughts over the years anytime I've heard about an elderly person having a stroke, as Max did when he was born. A stroke is what's supposed to happen when someone's lived a good part of their life, not at the start of it.
The gap between Max's abilities and my father's has widened as Max has progressed and my Dad has gotten less able-bodied. I feel lucky he is still around, and lucky to have been raised by him. He used to constantly read newspapers and clip articles he thought would interest me, and was always finding fun activities for our family to do on weekends. Once, in college, he took us all to Vegas, where he accidentally got us tickets to an ice-skating show...with topless showgirls. Try watching that with your parents sitting next to you (Dad was too cheap to waste the money and leave). They had us later in life but even in his early fifties, my dad would race me down the block—and he'd want to win.
Tonight, Max sat on his bed and read a Thomas book to Dave, Go Train Go. He knew the words "Go Train Go" on the cover and then he prattled on, flipping the pages (great use of one finger!) and articulating what he thought the book said. My dad would have been really proud.
Happy Birthday, Daddy.