Knowing another Father’s day is nearly here and I no longer have anyone on whom I may shower gifts and appreciation, it’s fitting that my earliest inspiration of the day was to write about my relationship with my father, gone now for about 13 years.
So many memories come flooding into view, but the impetus to write this came from one of my most recent ones – helping to care for him shortly before we lost him. The moment was one that still brings tears to my eyes.
Pop was my hero when I was small. He was a loud, blustery, boastful American-born man of Greek descent but had an intensely soft core under all his pontifications.
He could remember jokes as if he had a replay mode in his head and began laughing at the punch line nearly before he revealed it to whoever was listening. It was an infectious laughter – one I can still hear reverberating. He was an army officer during World War II, a member of the OSS (precursor to today’s CIA) — an intrepid self-made business owner and one who adored the thrill of travel, something with which he infected his children mercilessly.
As the only girl and the youngest of three, I have to admit I received special treatment when I was very small. I was invited to snuggle against my father in bed, all cozy and warm, while I smugly noticed my brothers were not quite so lucky. When that stopped, however, I felt somewhat confused. Parents never explain why they stop engaging in some rituals with their small children when they deem it inappropriate by a certain age, and as their offspring we sometimes don’t digest their reasoning until we have children of our own. All I know is that I was sad at the age of three when I was robbed of this special cuddle-time.
After we lost Mom, Pop aged quickly. I believe the trips he planned (mostly with my brothers) were his only real joys, no doubt because he was removed for a short time from all tangible reminders of the woman with whom he spent 50 years of life. But the time came when travel ceased. My oldest brother quit his job and became the caretaker, monitoring Pop’s food intake, medications and frequent doctor visits. My brother made milkshakes with protein-rich elixirs so that Pop didn’t detect the flavor of something he would never have ingested separately. I frequently drove the hundred miles to help out, wracked with the guilt of a daughter who did not live closer to help out more. On a few occasions my purpose was merely to give my brother a break from his 24-hour vigils – an opportunity for him to get out of town and decompress from his heavy duties.
It was during one such caretaking opportunity my father and I re-bonded as if the years had disappeared, despite his half-aware states of confusion and mild dementia at the age of 83. He was having a tough time sleeping for more than an hour at a time, his body wracked with pain from his illness that no medication seemed to subdue.
He would call down to me in the wee hours of the morning asking to change locations — from the bed to the easy chair, from the easy chair to the couch, and then it would start all over again. I felt nothing could help and I grew ashamed of my irritation in not being able to get him settled for long enough to get some rest on my own. We eventually set up an adjustable hospital bed in the family room so that these treks became less troublesome.
One such late-night visit found me sitting vigil by his bed, reading to him. I couldn’t tell if he was paying attention when he looked over he made a request. “Will you cuddle with me?” he asked, his elfin-like eyes with a pleading glint in them.
I realized at that point that it had been literally years since he had felt the warmth of a companion next to him. Between my mother’s illnesses and my father’s worsening health, a void of physical affection had grown wider with each passing year. Suddenly he needed someone next to him.
I climbed atop the bedding as my father opened his arms to surround me, his bed clothes and blankets caught up between us. I looked up to see a rare smile cross his face, his eyes glistening. He called me a name he hadn’t used since I was tiny and I basked in the warmth of feeling like someone’s little girl again. We stayed there for a while, as he nodded off for another round of fitful sleep.
And instead of going back to the downstairs room I had been sleeping, in, I stayed nearby, just in case he needed me again.
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