Today is Father’s Day, the day when we laugh about the gifts of bad ties and ugly sweaters. For many of us, it is a day when we remember days gone by, days when our own fathers were still alive. My own father, Jerry, has been dead for many years but the pain of his loss is still there. Overriding it, however, is the love I had for him and the love he had for me, a love he never let me forget.
My dad grew up in Oklahoma. He was a child during the Depression. One of six full blood siblings and two half-brothers, he was the quiet child, the one who didn’t quite fit in. As an adult, he was a quiet man who loved having a good time. He had one problem, however, he internalized everything. Maybe it was because of his upbringing — I loved my grandmother but I didn’t like how she raised her kids, especially not my father and one of my aunts. Perhaps because they were the middle children, perhaps because they were the studious ones, whatever the reason, my grandmother left them with the attitude that they couldn’t show their anger or frustration with what anyone did to them — but he developed some medical problems in my late teens.
Basically, Daddy didn’t get his anger and frustration out. He loved good food, the greasier and fatter the better. He was never overweight — or even close to it — but the damage was done. Two weeks into my first semester at college, he started having chest pain while driving back to Dallas from dropping me off at Baylor in Waco. Three days later, I was called home. He’d had a heart attack and was in the hospital.
Now, Daddy being Daddy, he didn’t do things the way most people did. Oh no. He’d ignored the chest pains for three days, putting them down to his gall bladder or some such problem. Then, on September 22nd (my parents’ anniversary), he left the office at lunch to go to a nearby mall to buy Mom’s gift. (Dad never did anything a moment sooner than necessary.) He had started walking across the parking lot toward his car when he finally realized there might be something more wrong with him than a gall bladder or ulcer attack. So he turned around and went back upstairs to his office. There he asked his boss’ secretary to come into his office. He told her to call Mom and tell her that she, the secretary, was driving Daddy to Baylor Hospital (Mom worked there). Oh, and she was to tell Mom he thought he was having a heart attack.
Now, my mom’s a pretty calm customer. It takes a lot to rattle her. But waiting in the drive outside of the ER and seeing my dad get out of Jean’s car, cigarette in hand, strolling down the drive to the ER entrance wasn’t meant for calm. She called for help and then lit into Daddy. Not because he hadn’t called an ambulance but because he was smoking.
Anyway, we were lucky. Not only did he get to the hospital without incident but he was there when, less than a week later, he suffered a myocardial infarction. We came damn close to losing him and would have if he hadn’t already been in the hospital. They had, in fact, just moved him out of the cardiac unit and he was on telemetry. So they saw the moment it started.
We were lucky again because he had a thoracic surgeon who wasn’t afraid to try something knew. At that point, the inner-aortic balloon had been in use for some time but only for post-op patients. Daddy’s surgeon used the balloon on Dad before he did bypass surgery on him. That wouldn’t happen for more than six months. But by using the balloon when he did, the surgeon saved Dad’s life. The balloon helped his heart pump even as it healed from the damage caused by the initial heart attack and then by the major MI he suffered.
We were lucky in another way. That action gave us my dad for 8 more years, years we probably shouldn’t have had him. Yes, there were bad times when he was back in the hospital — some of them because of Daddy’s own stubborn ways, some because the damage had been done. I’d not trade anything for those years. My dad got to know me as an adult, see me graduate from not only college but law school as well. My only regret is he didn’t live long enough to hold his grandson. But I know he is with us even now. As long as we remember him, he is a part of us and Mom and I have done our best to pass his love on to my son.
Through it all, through the frustrations when we knew he had just gone outside to sneak a smoke or when he refused to eat properly, we loved him and knew he loved us. I may have been a Daddy’s girl but he also taught me to go after my dreams. He was the first to tell me not to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do something I was qualified to do.
As I sit here on Father’s Day morning, I have so many good memories and a few sad ones. But, strangely enough, it is his funeral I remember most. Even then, my father had to have the last word. From our very Cajun neighbor proclaiming in what I’m sure she thought was her “inside” voice during the middle of the funeral mass that our Episcopal church was more Catholic than the Catholic church they attended to another neighbor looking heavenward and raising a fist to shake it (she later said she was cursing my dad who had promised he would find a way to get her back in church and that was a hell of a way for him to do it), the service was everything Daddy wanted. At the graveside service, the heavens opened up with rain and hail — not that we realized it at first. Our only warning was the look of panic on Father Crary’s face as he recited the prayers, speaking faster and faster with each passing moment. Then, with the final “Amen”, there was a single clap of thunder and just like that, the sun was out and it was as if it had never rained. Daddy had never liked long, drawn out graveside services and he was making sure his didn’t turn into one.
You see, my daddy loved having the last word. So I’ll give it to him now by asking you to do something he loved the most. Go spend time with your own families — be they blood families or the family you chose — today. Tell those you care for how you feel. Never let a day pass without knowing how lucky you are to have someone in your life who means something to you.
Daddy, I miss you. I love you. I thank you for helping make me into the woman I am today.