“All I want is to have my family around me.”
I was giving my father a therapeutic touch treatment to help ease his pain. His suffering was relentless in his last years.
“I guess they’re all too busy for their old Dad.”
“You didn’t exactly teach us how to be around you, Dad.” I didn’t want to be unkind, but he needed to hear the truth. When I was too young to understand about his ‘needs’, I thought we were an inconvenience to him. Mom would whisk us off to bed before he got home from work, so we’d be out of the way. Later, when his secret was out, we would have to call ahead to make sure it was okay to come home. When I moved out and became a parent, Dad would visit for ten or fifteen minutes before he had to leave.
“I suppose that’s true.” Were those tears in his eyes? “I lived a very selfish existence.”
“Yes, you did. You just have to be patient with us, and give us time to see that you have changed.”
He caught my hand in mid-motion and gave it a squeeze. “I always loved you, though.”
“I know that now, Dad. But there were many times when I didn’t. I could never compete with sports.” Sports were Dad’s excuse for everything: I can’t come see your play, because the game’s on; or: I’d love to spend time with my grandchildren, but this is the deciding match. Trouble is, there was always some sporting event on.
“Silly, isn’t it?”
“You missed out on a lot.”
“I know. I know.”
My father had changed. We never could have had this conversation years ago. He was too intimidating, and never open to criticism. Something in him had softened. Mom said he cried regularly over all the things he had done to us throughout the years. Still, I wasn’t totally convinced.
“It’s ironic how the tables have turned. It was always Mom who suffered with so much pain, and now it’s you.”
Isn’t that the truth, Dad’s face said. “I wasn’t very sympathetic either,” he confessed. “Serves me right, I guess.”
I didn’t say anything. Dad had never understood Mom’s suffering; he couldn’t tolerate weakness. Now he depended on oxygen to breathe, and didn’t go out much because his immune system was so compromised. His life was reduced to pain medication and ointments. Mom seldom left his side.
“I messed up, didn’t I Squeegie?” It was his nickname for me when I was little.
“You certainly had your trials, Dad. No one can imagine what it was like to be you. I guess you did the best you knew how.”
He squeezed my hand again. “You’re a good kid.”
“I wish I could take your pain away, Dad,” I responded.
In the back of my mind, I was remembering something my father had always preached:
You get out of life what you put into it.