Monday, December 26, 2005

Tread Gently...

My father is strong. As an indigent child growing up in a fatherless immigrant family (7 boys, one very unfortunate girl), he was riddled with disease, had no teeth and was taunted for being a ‘menuvel’ – a Yiddish word which makes ‘ugly’ seem like a compliment. When he was 12 he realised the only way to escape the ‘menuvel’ jeers (which, incidentally, also came from his own mother) was to be tougher, bigger, quicker. He took up boxing. From that day on he exercised every day of his life, doing gym, weights, running. He adhered to a menacingly strict diet. No salt, no sugar, no fun. My father, unlike my portly self, has literally never had an inch of fat on his body.

Also unlike my dad, I grew up in an incredibly secure environment. (Emotionally secure, that is. The fact that I slept with a panic button in my hand had more to do with apartheid politics than my family dynamics). I knew that if I ever got myself into some terrible situation, my tough, strong, clever father would extract me from it. This is a very spoilt position to be in. It gives one the freedom to behave like a dilettante. At fourteen, I hitch-hiked home from clubs in dangerous areas wearing short skirts. I went on holidays with friends without organising anywhere to stay (what eighteen year old boy refuses a few eager fourteen year old girls his spare bed?). I drank and smoked and swore at policemen and felt invincible. Having a granite-solid father means you never have to grow up.

Today, I walk through the horribly familiar hospital ward, searching through the hacking, spluttering patients for my dad. I thought children’s hospitals were tough. In the cardio ward of an adult hospital there are no colourful paintings, no visiting clowns, no outward signs of hope. My dad is hard to recognise. He is small and frail and has a series of gashing stitches down his chest and on his neck. He survived the six-hour operation, something we were all secretly fearing he may not. So there is relief. The doctors are happy with him – being in such general good health will definitely help his recovery. But there is no simple three-act structure here. He is not heading back to the gym any time soon to a cheering audience. Rehabilitation will be long. And boring. And tediously difficult. And right now as I kiss my dad’s leathery face he looks harrowed. And I want to ask him what I could do about the ligament pain I’m getting. And discuss his thoughts on whether we should take a house we’ve seen in a suburb we’re not sure about. And speak to him about trying to help me get an earlier appointment for O’s renal scan. But suddenly I am forced to find the answers myself. And instead I ask him if he would like some cold water and if I can massage his stiff shoulders and whether he wants me to read him The New York Review of Books. And he nods, tired.

Everyone told me that the moment I became a parent I would be forced to grow up. This year, of a baby with physiological problems and a twin pregnancy and hospitals and doctors and hospitals and doctors and tests and tests and tests has been my year of growing up. I’ve resisted it. I’ve resented it. I’ve tried hard to rail against it. But now, as I bend to kiss my father on his head, I am suddenly an adult.

My father grew up when he was 12. I’ve been allowed the luxury of waiting until I’m 33.
But is still hurts the same. Like a deep, open pit of pain that no-one can rescue me from but myself. But there’s something else as well. A freedom. A growth. A feeling that from now on in, I’m going to hold my own hand.


Blogger LJ said...

The hated phrase, "I don't know what to say" is all that comes to mind. Because the more affected I am by something, the more I become unable to express a coherent thought on it.

This is a wonderful entry.

2:31 am  
Blogger Lin said...

Beautiful. He made it through the toughest part for his audience, but the easiest part for him. Now the hard slog really begins for him. But he made it and he is a strong man and even though you are all grown up now, he will be there again for you to lean on and love. He's your Pa and I am overjoyed that this major hurdle has been cleared.

4:51 am  
Blogger Teri said...

So glad dad's okay.

5:08 am  
Blogger Urban Chick said...

this is a beautiful post and your dad sounds like a wonderful man

an 'extended childhood' is something i enjoyed too and i recognise it as an immense privilege to have felt so cossetted from the world's ills for so long, but like you say, when you yourself grow up, there is also a sense of liberation

i'm so glad to hear that the surgery went well and wish him a steady recovery

happy hanukkah, btw!


9:22 am  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

what a blessing your Dad has been for you. He sounds wonderful. I'm glad you appreciate him and can help him through this trial.

2:27 pm  
Blogger mattmartinez0301 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:15 am  
Blogger Papercollector said...

Bless you and your family --- I hope the new year brings more wonder, more joy, and a break in growing up... hope health and happiness, dont forget to play a few games for silliness in between. j

4:43 am  
Blogger Koru's Daughter said...

"A feeling that from now on in, I’m going to hold my own hand. Tight."

What a great line! You are a terrific writer. Thank you for posting this.

My thoughts and prayers for you, your dad, and your whole family.

4:20 am  
Blogger Calliope said...

will be thinking of your Father. He sounds like he is still a champion. Your life & your strength at this moment is a tribute to him.

1:35 am  
Blogger mig bardsley said...

This is a lovely tribute.
Good wishes to you and your Dad.

1:58 pm  

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