Father’s Day: Why do those who have given so much get so little?
As I think about my lifelong heroes, people whom I have admired, people who have moved me, inspired me, there are only a few. Heroism should be that select. Jesus Christ, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon. Some would call that a fairly esoteric mix. But not really.
The possession of absolute divine power belongs only to Christ, but Muhammad Ali and John Lennon were modern day martyrs of their beliefs, their professions. They fought societal influence, and pushed back on armies of disbelievers, and still touched the sky as they walked their own walk. But to me, at the top of that individualized Mount Rushmore of heroes is my father. My Dad. My “Dahdo” as I called him when I was less than 3 (so I’m told).
He is forever my hero. My own in-person Jesus in so many ways. You’ve heard me mention him before. He is a 70-year-old man who looked and moved like a 50-year-old just three years ago. Now, Parkinson’s has him chained and restrained like a lame thoroughbred lying motionless in a stable.
As I’m writing down the words of this column on a notepad at home, it is 11:19 p.m., and my daughter Leah is calling me. My wife was already sleeping. “Daddy, when are you coming upstairs?” She knows something is wrong. She can hear. She can hear me. She can hear me, hardly audible, cutting through the blankets of darkness and walls of silence in our house with sounds that cannot be suppressed. She can hear me as I gulp, sniffle and breath hard as I write down these words under the confined yellowy light of our microwave overhead counter. I felt weak. As the words flowed from the channels of my thoughts to the ink rushes of my pen, I couldn’t help it. I felt like my heart was bursting. The words being spelled out so quickly could not compete with my silent rain of tears. My words were no longer a column as intended. They became a prayer. A prayer for my Dad.
The prayer then became more pronounced. More defined.
I beg you, Lord, help him. Help him. This is a man who would do for others before he thought of himself. This is a man who loved others before he would realize how much he was loved. This is a man who gave to others, and never, ever thought of what he would receive in return. He expected nothing and wanted nothing back. Nothing. Nothing in return, except the love of his family. That was all. Just the love of his family. Please, oh Lord, help him.
But then my prayer became overtaken by anger. I thought, Is this it? Is this what it’s all about? An innocent, all-loving man who can no longer do what he loves, and yet still loves what he loves and who he loves. He worked so hard all of his life for his family. Sometimes two or three jobs. Little pay. But a lot of work. And he did it for us. His family.
So what was the gift? Just two years after he retired, the disease started to snake its way through him. He can’t even hold a pencil in his hand anymore. When I saw him earlier this year trying to eat French fries with a hand that is now twisted and shaky, I found my own food so very hard to swallow. Almost impossible to swallow. When I hug him, he loses his balance. He moves very slowly, no longer able to do the activities he enjoyed all of his life. I can’t even take him out for a small glass of beer anymore. So this is what it’s all about? This is what being a good person gets you? This is what we hope and pray for?
I know … I wear my heart on my sleeve, which means it is there out in the open as a showcase of expression, or to be used against me by those who are quick to puncture a free thought.
I see some people who live long lives and they are miserable. They make others around them miserable. They may have money. They may not. But they have no life. They just live. Exist. We’ve all seen them. And then I wonder what is keeping them alive and well? Why is it that bad things never seem to happen to them? Why just good people? Seems cruel to think that, doesn’t it?
I know. You’re right. But you know what? When it comes to comparing the lives of my family to the likes of the wretched old crows I mentioned, I do think that way, and will continue to think that way. Just like when a loved one dies, and you hear, “Well, he is in a better place now.” Or, “She is at peace now.” Or, “They are in Heaven now.” Sorry, those thoughts aren’t for me. I’m far too selfish to allow those thoughts to make a comforting difference when faced with the imminent death of loved ones.
You tell me it’s not true. You tell me that that is not what you would think and already have thought. The power of the mind may be strong, but the attachment to the flesh is magnetic. It is here. We are here. This is now. This is life, and what is really real. And that has nothing to do with faith. My faith is strong, but I also believe in what I see and feel now, here, and before me.
Then I stopped. I put down my pen. I took a deep breath. A very deep breath. I rested my forehead in my hand and thought once more. Several minutes passed. I picked up my pen, and I concluded my column that had become a prayer.
Oh Lord, please help my father on this day and always as I put down my pained thoughts, my bleeding words, with my heart on my sleeve exposed to be stabbed and damaged. And I watch it bleed. I watch it bleed for my truest hero. The hero I have watched. The hero I have looked up to. The hero who has moved me. The hero who was with me and stayed by me since I was born.
My hero. My father. My Dad. My “Dahdo.” My heart breaks for him as one who gave it all, and received so little in return. So little. So very little for giving so much. As my heart breaks, so do the waters from my eyes as they burst into a falls and crash down on the reef of this psalm, this homage, this prayer.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads, for they should be thought of as being truly special; and to those fathers who have left this life, we raise a glass held high, and remember the days when they were here, in this life. Part of your life. Amen.
n John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.