My father will die any day now. Maybe in a matter of hours. I’m not with him at this moment; I spent most of yesterday in his company. It’s 6:00 AM on a Sunday and I’ll be heading back in a few hours. He may pass before I get back to him, but I’m at peace with that. We’ve said all the things that needed to be said to finish well.
Like many fathers and sons our relationship has had it’s rocky moments over the decades. We had a period where we didn’t speak to each other. Looking back we both could have done things better. Then again, what part of your life couldn’t you handle smoother with hindsight as your guide?
The rocky crevasses that dotted our relationship were always bridged by our common love for sports. It’s the gift that my dad gave me that I have given to my children. In fact, it’s one of the many things that drew my wife and me close over thirty years ago. The role of sports in our society is amazing and probably a bit warped. As a consumer of this drug, I wouldn’t change a thing. I think of Doris Goodwin’s memoir and the movie A Field of Dreams.
Today will be the last time we watch a game together. It’s a football game. I prefer baseball, but it’s October and our team didn’t make it to the playoffs this year. I say we’re going to watch the game, but he is fading fast and probably won’t even be conscious during the proceedings. It’s a meaningless mid-season NFL game that may soon be forgotten. Our team, the Detroit Lions, will be playing against the New Orleans Saints. I’m not sure what to make of that irony – a dying man and his son rooting for the Lions against the Saints. I can only wonder if God will forgive us. Did He forgive the Romans?
I have spent the last few days oscillating between eagerness and dread regarding this game. I would like a good memory to hold on to – a bittersweet sound bite of our fifty-plus-year-relationship. I’m not sure I’ve been a good enough son to ask for that. Will I be able to maintain my composure? Will I lie to my father and tell him our team won if God does back his namesake team? He’ll be seeing our Maker sooner than me and will find out if I lied. I hope He and he see my need to lie as the act of a loving son.
Should I even be concerning myself with the game considering the gravity of what is transpiring? Do I even have a choice? Am I just using this so I don’t have to deal with the grief that is standing outside my door? My head is spinning and kickoff is approaching. A coach would be yelling at me to get my head in the game. I’m not sure I can. All I know is that I’m going to suit up and show up.
Dad wasn’t able to talk but the nurse swore that he could hear us. Although there was no proof, I chose to believe her. The day before we had moved a hospital bed in front of the TV. My youngest brother and my son joined me sitting around Dad’s bed to watch the game. When I apologized for the cheesy bonding event, the hospice nurse, a wonderful lady who showed my father great love throughout his final moments, told me that this was perfect. She also mentioned that her father-in-law was a Saints fan and she would be rooting for the Lions too.
The game was rough for us to watch. Dad’s breathing was labored and it was difficult to focus on the game. Dad was rolled away from the TV screen for the first half, but the nurse said we should roll him on his other side for his comfort. His breathing got more labored as the nurse predicted. The game remained close. The conversation amongst the men in the room focused on football and what our team needed to do. Okay, my son and I bashed the referees, but damn it they deserved it. My father was dying and even now they couldn’t get the calls right!
During a commercial break I spoke quietly with the nurse. She said that my father was actively dying now. I wasn’t sure what that meant – aren’t we all actively dying from the moment we’re born? I called my sister and the other non-football fans in the family. They were at the mall, having been banished from this male-bonding event. (They had left only because none of us knew how close Dad was to passing on.)
The game was coming to a close, under five minutes left, when the rest of the family arrived. The Lions were down by two scores and there was no way they would come back – especially with those devil-spawned referees! We hit the pause on the DVR and loved on each other for a few minutes. There was a lot of love and strength in the room.
Several minutes had passed when I asked my brother quietly how badly the Lions had lost. He quickly checked on his phone and found that the Lions had scored and were driving in for another score that would give them the lead. What the hell? We all hurried to the TV set for the remaining two minutes of the game. We were just in time to see the Lions score the lead changing touchdown. There was little time left on the clock and our team’s defense ran out on the field. By now, I knew that God would have none of these phony-Saints and the satanic officials! Today was our day. God granted us a win in this meaningless football game so my father and his boys could enjoy a final moment together.
My father passed away quietly about an hour after the game. I didn’t have to lie to him. Our team won. Both he and the Lions finished strong.
I love you Dad.
Let me start off by saying that I like people, most days. I’m an engineer by profession and as a rule interacting with other life forms is not one of our best traits. I would judge that I’m a bit off the engineering-norm here in that I generally do well talking to others and don’t even mind the occasional public speaking chore thrown my way.
But there are those days. The days where people let me down. It comes in waves. The folks touching my life are suddenly too human and consistently fail to meet my expectations for a peaceful existence. I have a drama limit, don’t we all? Unexpectedly these other life forms start sharing an abundance of their drama with me. Am I giving off signs that show I desire this type of interaction? That’s probably a longer discussion.
I had a couple of these dark days this week. They’re draining and eventually I know I’ll slip and be “blunt”. That’s my code word for telling other humans I would be happier if they took their need to exist on this planet outside of my environmental perimeters. Generally my previous blunt moments haven’t been good for family, friends or career.
For a portion of my early career I wrote software. It was the perfect occupation on those dark days. It was professionally and socially acceptable to go in my office (work cube), turn off the phone, and just code away. Bang on the keys, develop some elegant code that solved a problem, and at the end of the day come out refreshed and ready to deal with life again. Then I had to leave that world.
Long distance running became the new escape. For the next two decades I could just slip on the running shoes and hit the road. I’d come back tired but recharged. And then I got older. Running hurts now. Old age sucks. I needed a new solution.
Along came writing. You get to be by yourself, punch the keys, create something you hope is elegant, and come back refreshed. Of course, other people will feel the need to judge the effectiveness of your writing. But if that gets to be too much, you just go back into isolation and write some more.
It must be working because these days whenever I feel myself edging toward bluntness, my wife always asks me, “Do you need to write?” I can’t figure out if that’s love she’s showing me or merely self-preservation.
My first book is due out in a few weeks. Like any new author, I dream that my work will be successful. It’s not the money or fame I’m chasing. It’s the chance to have a blunt-free life. I think that my family and friends are rooting for this too. They should be.