survivingmyboyz

tales from a stay-at-home mom of four boys

Archive for the month “June, 2016”

My Dad’s Legacy

While sick with cancer, my father once expressed concern about how his kids would remember him when he was gone. I think he thought that some of the things we give him a hard time about were the things we were going to remember the most about him after he died. In our family the rule tends to be, if we love you, we give you a hard time. Well my dad has live 69 years and I have known him for almost 40 now which means I’ve had plenty of time to give him a hard time, but those jokes and razzings aren’t the things I’m going to remember most about my dad when he’s gone because there is so much more to him.

I’ll remember my dad traveling for work a lot when I was little and always anxiously waiting for him to get home. He’d bring me treasures like giant pencils or cheap plastic wallets purchased at airport gift shops in exotic locations like Dallas and Denver.

I’ll remember my dad for the times he’d sit on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons with us. He’d laugh louder at Bugs Bunny’s shenanigans than any of us.

I’ll remember his obsession with cleaning his car. Sometimes he’d let us help him wash it in the driveway on the weekends. Other times he’d let us ride through the local car wash with him, always waiting until we were at the sprayers and then cracking our windows just enough to get us wet. He never failed to get us, even when we knew it as coming. He’d always keep paper towels and Windex in his trunk and before any long car ride he would be sure to pull them out and clean his windows.

I’ll remember him as a fire buff. He was a member of the Boston Sparks Association and was even president at one time. He had a fire scanner blasting in almost every room of the house (it drove my mom nuts). He’d turn the volume way up to listen if there was a fire. If the fire was big enough, he’d race out the door to go to it. Sometimes he’d go with the BSA and bring their canteen truck to serve food and beverages to the fire fighters on the job (if I was lucky, I got to go with him). Other times he’d just go to watch and talk with the people there. It often seemed like my dad would talk to just about anybody. He was like a little kid when it came to the fire department. He even owned an antique fire truck with a couple of friends for several years. I loved it because we got to ride on it in parades. Plus not many kids could say their dad owned a fire truck! I’m sure it was his love for all things fire department that led to my brother becoming a fire fighter and my dad couldn’t be prouder.

I’ll remember my dad’s love for all things Boston, the city in which he grew up in. My dad would take us for special days into the city and teach us about the city’s history. He took us to places like the Boston Tea Party ship, the top of the John Hancock Building, Bunker Hill, Copps Hill, to see Old Iron Side, to walk around Castle Island, and Faneuil Hall. He made me love the city and sparked a keen interest in the revolutionary war. He also took me to my first Red Sox Game at Fenway Park when I was about 3 or 4 years old. Most of my life he had season tickets just behind third base. I spent many summer evenings there with him. We’d always park kind of far away and walk in past the Fens, grab some peanuts from the old singing peanuts and pistachio guy, enjoy some Fenway Franks and a large pretzel inside the park, and he’d tell me about all the players. He taught me that, up until the past decade or so, the one thing you could count on the Red Sox for (and all Boston area sports teams) was to get your hopes up and then let you down hard. He’d get mad when they were losing, changing to channel temporally if we were watching the game on TV at home, but he’d always come back to them.  He took me to Celtics Games too as a kid, back when Bird and Parrish played and their shorts were short. We’d sit a few rows back from the Celtic’s bench and my siblings and I would get all the players’ autographs. Despite my begging, he wouldn’t take me to a Patriot’s game (he said the crowd was too rowdy), but he taught me to love them too. Every Sunday in the fall was dedicated to football. I still remember watching most of the Patriots-Bears Super Bowl in ’86 with my dad. I knew they had lost by my dad’s disappointed shouts echoing up the stairs as I lay in bed trying to sleep.

I’ll remember my dad as the man who was known by everybody. Like I said before, he loved to talk and would talk to just about anybody. He was a member of several social groups including the BSA and the local Rotary Club. Almost every place we went my dad saw someone he knew. At the baseball games he’d always run into several people he knew, having a lobster roll up in Maine he’d run into someone he hadn’t seen in years, even all the way down in Florida at Disney World he’d run into people he knew. I will never forget the time we were parking our car in a parking garage several stories up on our way to a Celtics game, he got out of the car, looked out at the building across the way from us and there, hanging out a window trying to talk on a phone while the smoke alarm was going off in his apartment was a guy my dad knew waving at him. He knew people everywhere!

I’ll remember my dad as the man who worked hard to take care of his family. He worked hard to give us a beautiful house in which we each had our own room and a large beautiful backyard which he spent days every summer mulching. He provided us with family trips to amusement parks, Lake George, Disney World, and even a winter break at a hotel with a pool just so we could swim even though he didn’t know how to. He worked multiple jobs while I was in college to help keep me from having enormous debt in the form of student loans when I finished. He also took on the traditional role of father of the bride, despite it being an outdated custom, and paid for my amazing wedding.

I’ll remember my dad as the doting grandpa we call “Papi.” He might not have the energy to play for very long with the kids, but he loves to watch them play. He will swoop in, grab them, flip them upside-down, and tickle them, and they love it. Whenever he visits he brings them fire shirts to pass along his love for the profession. He’s also notorious for buying his grandkids donuts, even though they don’t need the extra sugar. He just loves to spoil them.

I’ll remember my dad for a lot of things after he is gone; for all the things he taught me, all the things he instilled in me, for all the traits I get from him, for all the things he did with and for me, and for all the love he gave me. So Dad, you don’t have to worry about the legacy you are leaving behind or how we will remember you when you are gone, because you have given us a lifetime of memories and hopefully we will have many more years to make new ones too.

Advertisements

Parenting my parents

When you are a kid your parents seem invincible. They are like superheroes, always there when you need them, seem to have eyes in the back of their head, have an answer for everything, and are strong enough to help you get through anything life can throw at you. As you get older though, you start to notice the cracks in their armor and begin to realize that your parents are people too. As a teen you might question whether your parents really know what is best and you begin to challenge their authority. When you become a parent, you see your parents in a new light, gaining a new sense of understanding and respect for your parents as well as for all they did for you growing up. Still, your parents seem pretty invincible, like they will always be there. Unfortunately, parents aren’t invincible superheroes and we all learn that at some point. The weight of this truth can feel crushing.

I can still remember the first time I saw my dad as vulnerable. I was in eighth grade, sitting upstairs in my brother’s room attempting to beat one of the early Mario brother games when I heard a strange noise downstairs. My brother and I ran downstairs to the kitchen to find my dad doing something we had never seen before, he was crying. My dad had just learned that his best friend had died of a heart attack and was grieving openly in our kitchen. We had no idea what to do or how to react. Here was our strong, unmovable father, crumpled and heart broken. This was the first time it occurred to me that my dad was human and that he too felt emotions other than joy and anger (the two most commonly expressed by him). It was hard to see and it left me with a deep sadness, but also a new view of my dad.

My view of my dad changed again, many years later, when I was an adult and a parent myself. We were at my grandfather’s wake, my father’s father, and my last living grandparent. I wasn’t super close with my dad’s parent and they had lived very long full lives, so I mostly just felt really sad for my dad because he had lost both of his parents now. The thought that struck me in that moment of standing there, watching my dad grieve again, this time for his own father, was one for panic and sadness. All my life I’d had grandparents around me, growing older, getting sick, and dying, but now there was no longer a generation between my parents and death, they were now the ones that would be getting older, sick, and dying. I felt like a clock had been started, like a countdown to their expiration date. I realized that there was only a finite amount of years left before they would be gone and I’d have to figure out how to live in a world without the two people who had always been a part of my life. This thought formed a pit in my stomach that I pushed deep down inside of me.

Years have passed since my last living grandparent died and my parents have become grandparents several more times since then. There have been health scares with my parents since then, my mom fought breast cancer, dad’s got diabetes and had a pacemaker put in, but nothing that has truly worried us about their age and mortality, until now. At the beginning of this year my dad was diagnosed with esophageal and stomach cancer. He was classified as stage 2-B and had radiation and chemo for a few months. At the beginning of last month he had part of his stomach removed in an attempt to take out whatever cancer was left. He spent two weeks in the hospital and came home on a feeding tube. I flew out to help my mom with caring for him and to give her moral support after he came home. I was able to stay and help out for a week. While I was there they found out that he has been reclassified as stage 3-B and would need to undergo 4 ½ more month of chemo, this time a much heavier duty type of chemo (the killing kind as they call it).

The week I spent at my parent’s house was very different from anything I’d ever experienced, but it seems to be an all too common experience shared by many adults around my age that I know. I was no longer the child my parent’s cared for back for a visit, instead, I had become the care taker. My parents were both in vulnerable positons, my father due to illness and my mother due to stress and exhaustion from caring for my sick father. They both needed me in a way I had never experienced before. My father was physically weak, unable to do much for himself, he was thinner than any recent memory of him, and he expressed his concern over needing more chemo almost the first moment I talked to him. He was not the dad I had known all my life. My mom was emotionally zapped. In the days leading up to my visit, she called multiple times, expressing how anxious she was for me to get there; I felt like the countdown to my arrival couldn’t move fast enough for her. She was so relieved to have help and company when I got there. Her exhaustion showed and the worry was visible on her face. I just hugged her hard and long, wanting to somehow convey that feeling that everything was going to be alright that she used to make me feel during tough situations.

Seeing my father so sick also hit home the mortality of my parents. That pit that first formed at my grandfather’s wake grew larger and began to feel more overwhelming. Despite anything my family may say about my dad and his lack of caring for his own health over the years, no matter how unhealthy or sick he might get, we are not ready to say goodbye to him. Losing a parent just isn’t something I’m ready to deal with yet, I’m not sure I’ll ever be, but it is something we all have to deal with eventually.

As our parents get older our roles tend to switch. We go from our parents caring for us, worrying about our health and safety, and planning for our future, to us being the ones taking caring of our parents in their old age, calling to check-in after ever doctor’s appointment, and worrying about a future without them. We, in a sense, become our parents’ parent.

My dad is doing better now, though still recovering. He recently had his feeding tube out, but is still on a liquid diet and he has been getting out of the house more, though he tires very easily. He has also recently made a decision about his future. After weighing his options and all the possible outcomes with his doctor, my father has made the decision that he will not undergo more chemo. So, like a good parent always does, I am supporting my father’s decision, because I only want what is best for him, but I still worry about his future. For now I will relinquish my role as parent back to him and I pray that we will get many more good years before I have to become my parents’ parent again.

Post Navigation