Monday, December 6, 2010

I Feared My Father Weak

I Feared My Father Weak
- Craig Bidiman

When Dad told me he wasn’t afraid to die, I was fixing my bike. The brakes were giving me a lot of trouble that day and I was in the middle of hunting down a crescent wrench. My right pedal had fallen off on my way to work and I was almost hit by a car. So when I get this call from Dad I almost laughed. Not at what he said, but at the irony of what almost happened to me that day. We continued talking, and I could tell he was serious.

“Son, I just wanted to call and tell you that I love you,” he said over the phone.

I could hear a tear falling from his cheek into the receiver. This was the first time I ever heard him cry. Dad doesn’t cry.

He didn’t cry after the first heart attack, the second or even the third. No tears were shed when he encountered lung cancer, survived it, and then had to make this call prompting his break down because it might be back…again.

Mom had to tell me the news because dad had gotten off the phone by then, and I told her to shut up. I dropped my wrench, threw my bike down and started to pace in the parking lot. I didn’t want to believe her. I thought Shonna and Kasey were exaggerating. I told them they were full of shit.

They hung up.

“Your father is the only man I have ever kissed,” mom told me when I broke up with my last girlfriend. She wanted to prove a point to me — a point that I didn’t need to spend my life searching. “If patience is a virtue, I prefer trying things on my own,” I told her. Dad spoke up and laughingly told us mom certainly wasn’t the only woman he’d ever kissed. She took offense to it — as she always does. Can’t be perfect, I suppose.

But mom told me of how he treated her when they first got together — a blind date — her fresh and new to the area, he fresh from a three-year tour in the Army. Dad took her on dates, car rides — they loved car rides together. And the way they held hands — Mom didn’t need to say anything else for me to understand its magnificence.

But that isn’t why they are still together.
No, not at all.

It was a bond they made when they got married to always stand by one another. Dad worked graveyard for many years during their first years of marriage while mom worked days. But they knew if there was to ever be a family, the work needed to continue. And it did. Dad worked for a number of truck shops — the ones that sell parts for 18-wheelers — while smoking a couple packs a day just to get by.

This is the job that made dad who he is today: a bitter, tired, racist.

Standing everyday began to displace stress from his large upper body onto his legs, causing many issues to form including Deep Vein Thrombosis — an ailment he still deals with today. Moving caused more pain to the point where after 30 or so years, he needed medical attention. Never once did he miss a day of work. Or complain about the pain. The clotting in his legs had become quite perfuse which caused many black splotches to form, taking shape of a Rorschach — but in skin.

One day I came home from school to hear him yelling from the shower. No one else was home. I ran back to his room to find him standing there naked. He was also bleeding from his right leg. This wasn’t the way blood dripped, like when we would get pricked hunting golf balls in the blackberry bushes around hole three of Cottonwood Golf Course.

No, this was Tarantino blood.

Streams of scarlet squirted in a straight line from his tattered, black skin. I reached for anything to cover up the bleeding, seeing as the shock on his face told me he couldn’t do it on his own. Grabbing a towel he told me the clots were very sensitive. The slightest prick of his jeans — and, in this case, the shower curtain — could open one up. He had to wear special socks to ensure all precautions were taken and I never thought I would be the one to deal with the first eruption. He gave me a naked hug and told me he was proud of me for reacting so fast.

I called mom and the siblings and we wept.

“Mom and Dad don’t love each other. I mean, come on, look at ‘em!” Kasey said a few weeks before her second weeding. I’m not saying what she said isn’t true; I’m only going to put forth the case that when you love someone, you will do some crazy things — even if it means sacrificing over 46 years of your life to fight for them. Throughout the years I learned my parents cared for one another in an utmost respectful manner.

Mom may have waited for the perfect man, but as time wears on you, nothing remains perfect.

They have turned rigid, cold and mocking toward one another, at times. Even though mom has walked out on us on at least three occasions, leaving me alone in my room contemplating where I would run, she has always stayed with us. And he has always stayed with her. It’s proof of devotion to life and to family. One we never saw in front of closed doors, but never wanted to think about what went on behind them. After this long into the marriage it is still surprising to see mom and dad kiss — I have, to this day, only counted seven times since I was about nine years old and started keeping count. But dad was never afraid to kiss us kids. On our cheeks, heads, hands and Kasey was lucky enough to dance with him.

Kasey’s wedding day was the first time I feared my father weak.

“Dad’s getting his tux on. Can you go help him?” Shonna asked me while I was playing with the ladle in the punchbowl. I walked to a back room at the church and found dad struggling to pull his vest on. His eyes were bloodshot, hair a mess and sweat was collecting at his neck line like a rim on a soda can. I asked him how he was doing and he lied, saying he was fine, as he always did. I walked over to him and saw how warm he was, as if he had just finished playing a pickup basketball game. My heart sank as I helped him tuck his shirt into his freshly ironed pants.

I had never seen dad as frail as I saw him that day.

Sure, his weight had become an issue throughout his life, but he didn’t let it limit him even though his health would beg to differ. I helped him pull the tailored fabric around him, fasten the five buttons and draw his impressive coat around him. He asked for a glass of water and I made sure to fetch one quickly. When I returned to the room Kasey was asking dad if he would be okay enough to share a dance with her.

“Of course I will, sweetheart,” Dad said.
Sweetheart, his name for all of his children.

Since Dad told me he didn’t fear death I wondered what he really meant. It made me hate being young — unable to relate. Unable to relate to a man who narrowly missed going to Vietnam, had an alcoholic father and has had to deal with my Mom for 46 years. A man who can honestly say he’s seen it all. A man I can never picture dying. Every kid wants to think of their dad as a big, strong man who can take away all of the earth’s problems when there’s nowhere else to turn.

However, I am not blind to reality. I know dad isn’t going to stop a hundred bank robbers or solve any world issue; but I couldn't give a shit about that.

What matters is what I’ve learned from him.

When Dad taught me how to ride a bike, we were in the backyard. “Learning to ride on grass,” he said, “will make it easier when you get onto the concrete.” I figured I was learning back there because mom feared me being near the streets. I picked up on it fast—as I tended to, growing up — and he told me he was proud. He took the training wheels off and told me to keep riding. Dad said he wasn’t always going to be able to help me ride. So I had do it all on my own sooner than later. I trusted his judgment and rode on all by myself.

Then I crashed. I crashed hard into the big tree in the yard.
The brakes had locked up on my training bike.
Dad said he’d fix them and I hugged him around the legs.

Word Count: 1,536.