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My Dad

November 10, 2012

My dad is dying. It does not matter that he is 85. It does not matter that he was a terrible parent whose narcissism, anger, and control scarred the lives of his seven children, his three wives, his three stepdaughters, and the lovers and spouses who have loved all of them through the past half-century.

He is still my father.

He has never been seriously ill, and enjoyed good health in spite of himself. He was addicted to Valium for ten years (way before drug addiction was common, before rehab was the norm). He has had diabetes for 20 years, but just took pills and suffered no major ill effects. He never smoked, drank, or exercised. His weight stayed the same healthy 180. He had promised his current wife, who is 32 years younger, that he would live to 118. And he planned to, this man for whom control was etched in the pulsing blood vessel in his forehead as he moved his children out of his life, changed wives, yet was a beloved  college philosophy professor and author of the best selling philosophy textbook in history.

So when he was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma six months ago, he didn’t believe it. Cancer is not part of my family’s history. Three of my grandparents, including his mom and dad, died in their early nineties, all rather suddenly. Cancer is quite insidious in that you often feel healthy when you are diagnosed. I went through breast cancer two years ago. (I was smack in the middle of training for a half marathon and breast cancer was not part of the training plan!) I understood Dad’s reluctance to get on the cancer treatment train, but stage 4 is not a place you want to be.

So he had several Interleukin 2 treatments (chemo for melanoma) which damaged his organs, and the decline has been slow but steady. The cancer made it into his lungs and his bones, but he still thinks if he does what the doctors tell him to do he will be able to keep the cancer at bay.

The latest from his wife  Lori was that the doctors said they would do radiation to try to keep the cancer at bay. That was on Halloween, and there has been no further word. I live 1500 miles away so have had to rely on her for information, but as he declines and the caregiving becomes more intense and harder, I understand she has to focus on him. He will not allow anyone else to help him, so the onus has fallen on her. I so appreciate that she loves him and has displayed compassion and considerable courage as she loses her husband.

So I send cards and pictures and have made it known that if he wants to see me, I will be on the next plane. But I suspect all I will get is a phone call telling me he is gone.

As the oldest child I got the most from him. It wasn’t that much.  He has had a very interesting life but his children were a side note. Several of his children came to his 80th birthday bash. It was interesting to find out how few of his former students and colleagues knew he even had children.

I spent a week with him over this past Labor Day. Well, actually, I spent more time with Lori than him. Hanging out with Dad is not something you do. He was in a rehab place, and was his normal ornery self (refused to use a walker, refused to eat the food, etc.). One evening I came to his room and he was reading a book. He asked me what I was doing there, and  after my response of  “just to say hi” he told me he needed “some alone time.” The child in me could only kiss his forehead goodbye and leave as I held back my tears until I was out in the hall.

We each die our own way, just like we live our own way. My dad isn’t dying any differently than he lived – his way. The challenge for me has been to understand what his way looks like. That has meant reassessing not only my relationship with him but realizing that those deathbed scenes with the family gathered around while tears stream down faces with the dying one saying loving final words isn’t happening.

Whatever it looks like, he is still my dad. No matter the color of the story, he still gave me life. It has always been up to me to decide the color of that life.

6 Comments
  1. Yup – family dynamics are not what Norman Rockwell portrays. You’re in a good place and you’re a strong, thoughtful woman. XXXOOO

    • Thanks, Nancy. I know this is normal behavior for most families, but still …. damn! Thanks for your love :))

  2. My dear friend Cathy,

    I have tears streaming down my face.
    Thank you for writing such a beautifully honest piece about your father.
    Your fierce bravery to look reality and death in the face
    and tell the truth about them is so very powerful.

    Yes, you are so very right.
    No matter what the circumstances of our birth or our parenting,
    it is still up to us to decide the color, the direction, of our lives.

    You have found joy and have created a great life for yourself.
    I admire you and love you deeply for that.

    You shine brightly, and the choices you’ve made are a Light for all.

    Thank you, for all you do, and are.

    Love,
    Mary Ellen

    • Mary Ellen, Your comments made me cry. I am so fortunate to have a friend who is so open and loving and sharing of herself. See you Thursday!

  3. You’re so wise to recognize that your dad has his own (possibly incomprehensible) reasons for living and dying as he does, and it’s not something to be taken personally (hard to do). We’ve talked about this–how you have to do what feels right for you, because when he’s gone you don’t want to wish you’d done things differently. Losing a parent is hard no matter what your relationship … because part of your life dies, too. Stay strong and know we’re thinking about you!

    • D’Arcy, I just saw this and now understand your comment today! Thank you for being part of my support that keeps me strong, and for reminding me to do what is necessary not to have regrets.

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