My dad had knee replacement surgery this past Thursday. Seventy-nine years old, the cartilage in his left knee was gone and his knee was just bone rubbing on bone. Dad has always had a very high pain threshold; never complaining, the kind of man who would just tough it out. He always kind of reminded me of Clint Eastwood in the sense of being very much an honorable, strong man, but warmer and funnier than the Clint of the old spaghetti westerns.
After work Thursday night, I drove the hour-plus to visit him in the hospital. His wife had just left for the day; my brother and sister-in-law had been by earlier. At a little past 7pm, it was just him and I. I love the times that he and I get to spend together with no one else around. We gab and gab and laugh and gab and laugh some more. The conversation always flows, no awkward pauses or anything, just a natural flow of conversation. We connect so naturally, so fluidly. He needed some pain meds that first night, so I used the button that dispenses .2mg into his IV and showed him how he could do it himself.
My mom was the sort of person that everyone naturally loved and gravitated to. She was friendly, lively, gregarious and could tell stories better than anyone I know. Dad was always a bit more shy and reserved; he was content to let her be the center at gatherings. But he has a wickedly funny sense of humor. Often at family events, I'd be in the background with him and he would absolutely have me in stitches until we were both doubled over in laughter, tucked away in some corner of the party.
He always worked two jobs when we were growing up, a full-time day job and then a part-time night job, always rising early even though he'd worked late into the night. I had ballet lessons and piano lessons due to his hard work. Every time I play the piano now, I say a blessing for both him and my mom.
After mom crossed over, my daughter and I spent a lot of time with him, doing laundry at his house every Thursday, sometimes meeting for Sunday breakfast. For a couple of years, the three of us all volunteered at a soup kitchen every Saturday. He and my daughter/his granddaughter often sat on the sofa with her snuggled up against him, his arm wrapped lovingly around her as they watched TV or talked. So comfortable and cozy with one another. He gave her away when she married.
After he remarried, he took on a new family with his new wife and her grandkids who came to live with them. He devoted himself to them just as he'd devoted himself to us as we grew up, but it meant, too, that we saw less of him, and it was rare that we spent time with him alone. I call him every week, though, and it's wonderful to just have that time with him.
In the past year, two uncles on my mom's side crossed over (Uncle Alfred and Uncle Art), several months apart. I drove Dad with me to their funerals and there we were again, talking and laughing, enjoying the presence of one another, so comfortable, so very happy together. The first man that I ever loved, the one who sets the standard for me of a man's dignity and honor, of faith and devotion, of family and love.
I went to the hospital again on Saturday, staying from 5 until after 11pm. His wife and her family all left the hospital around 7, so it was just him and me in the evening. I absolutely love doing things for him, but I also know he doesn't like to be fussed over; not because he doesn't enjoy it, but because he never wants to impose his own needs on others. Nonetheless, I had the opportunity to help him with little things: getting him water, talking with the nurses and with the doctor about his condition and needs, strapping on the booties after he'd visited the restroom, tucking his blankets ... just little things to help make him comfortable.
And we talked and talked, laughing and talking. We talked about politics, news, the economy, our new president-elect; about jobs he'd had, memories we share, about things I didn't know from the past. I'd printed out a few things that I thought he might enjoy: some e-mail funnies, my Veteran's Day blog post and an article about his old Naval ship, the Ernest G. Small. I brought him a Newsweek; we've always discussed politics in our family and this issue had some great in-depth reporting on the recent presidential campaigns that I knew he'd appreciate. We watched Cops together, amazed at the criminals' behaviors and excuses, respectful of the jobs the officers have to do. Dad had wanted to be a police officer at one point in his life and has an abundance of respect for the work.
He's doing really well after the surgery; he took a walk in the corridor today with a therapist using a walker. He had no pain at all when I spoke to him earlier this evening. I asked him if he'd like for me to come up tonight. (It's an hour's drive from my house to the hospital.) But in his usual, thoughtful way, he said "No, no. You need your rest. You have to go to work in the morning. But thank you. And thank you for staying so long with me last night."
I'll go again to visit him on Tuesday night after work, hoping selfishly that it can be just him and I again, talking and laughing together, sharing the love of a father and his only daughter. I'm abundantly blessed by having him as my father, and I never take this gift for granted. Thank you, God.
Photo: Dad and I on my wedding day, 1974