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For My Father June 20, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Dad, Father's Day, popular culture.
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IheartDAD02Is there another relationship that is as complex as that of a daughter and her father?  My daughter and husband have this kind of jokey, semi-obnoxious relationship with each other.  It makes for a lot of laughs, but it worries me sometimes.  After all, I tell my husband what every woman knows – that he is the yardstick by which our daughter will measure every other man that comes into her life.  What an awesome responsibility – and something that every loving father needs to keep in mind as he relates to his daughters.

My father, Albert Stockman, was a “man’s man”.  A builder by trade, I remember he smelled like sawdust and cigarettes.  I still cannot smell sawdust without being reminded of him.  He wore flannel shirts and work boots – but looked great in a suit.  He was tall and handsome and had the ruggedness of the man that works outside.  He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman – but he was devoted to my Mom and us kids.  He was smart – but never read a book that didn’t have pictures in it.  He started college after he got out of the Army but he never finished because he had a wife and children to support.  It didn’t matter.  He was well known as a talented designer and draftsman.  There are many houses and buildings around the area that are his handiwork.

My Dad and I were not really close when I was a girl.  I think I confused – and worried – him in many ways.  As a product of the 40’s and 50’s, Dad had some definite ideas about how a daughter should behave.   She should be quiet and submissive, learn the domestic arts, and make sure she married well enough to be taken care of.  Boy, I did SO not fit the bill.  I was loud and argumentative, fierce and opinionated, and managed to disappear (usually into the bathroom) when housework needed to be done.   Dad and I struck some sparks off each other, that’s for certain.

Something changed for us when I went away to college, though.  I think my father began seeing how much like my mother I was, and one thing was certain, he really loved her.  They had trouble and hard times in 49 years of marriage, but there was never any doubt that they were in love. 

Suddenly, Dad and I began to talk to each other.  We discussed life, current events, history, and politics.  That was one area where we never really saw eye to eye.  My father was as Republican as they come, and even when I was nominally Republican, we still disagreed.  He softened on a lot of his viewpoints as he got older, though.  I like to think it was because I had some influence.

I can, however, pinpoint the time I felt closest to my father.  It was when my mother was first taken to the hospital for her lung disease.  He and I were in the ICU waiting room when the doctors came in and told us the only way to save her life was to put her on a respirator.  The danger, they said, was that she may not be able to come off of it.  He did not hesitate and immediately gave his approval.  I grabbed his hand and said, “Dad, I’m really scared.”

He answered back with a reassuring squeeze.  “I am, too,” he said.

My mother’s illness was long.  Dad took care of her absolutely.  He ended up helping her wash and dress.  He pounded on her back to loosen the gunk in her lungs and made sure she took her medicine.  Later, after she had to have a tracheotomy, he put a tube down her neck and suctioned out her lungs.  He cooked, he cleaned, he did laundry.  He sat by her bedside through multiple hospitalizations.

I never thought that he’d go first.

On January 9, 2005, my sister called me at 6:30 in the morning and asked me to come and help her get my Dad to the hospital.  He fell while he was getting dressed and seemed confused.  We thought he had had a stroke.  Later, the results of the CAT scan came back.  There was a large mass covering the left half of his brain.  He was scheduled for surgery immediately.

The day of the operation, we were alone in his hospital room for some reason.  I held his hand and I told him I loved him.  He winked and said he loved me, too. 

“Dad,” I said.  “I’m scared.”

He squeezed my hand and said,  “I am, too”

We found out that Dad had managed to come down with the deadliest brain tumor possible.  The neurologist told us that even with radiation and chemotherapy, most patients died within six months.  Dad lived five.

The night he died, June 10, we gathered at my parent’s home.  Hospice had helped us keep him home – that’s where he wanted to die.  I sat with him for hours just listening to his labored breathing.  He was struggling so hard. 

I was a mess of emotion that night.  While I certainly wanted this nightmare to end for my father, I couldn’t bear to see him go.  While my parents were faithful Catholics, the best way to describe me would be as a “dubious” Catholic.  I did not have the faith they had.  But I knew that he thought he would be going to a better place, so I just tried to let go. 

I took his hand.  This time, it didn’t close around mine.  I told him that he had been a great father, that I loved him, and that I would miss him.  I whispered, “Dad, I’m so scared.”

This time, there was no answering squeeze.  This time, there was no wink and “I am, too.” 

I like to think it’s because this time, he was not.  I love you, Dad.

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