It’s a date that always sneaks up on me. Oh, two days after Valentine’s Day, so not like I don’t have a few clues, what with all the flowers and red hearts in all the stores and giving my sweetie some presents, and getting a few presents in return. I was writing today’s date on something at work. Oh, yeah, February 16.
But, it’s a day that still surprises me. Dad was born on this date, back in 1913. He’d be 97 today, and if he hadn’t died so young at 60 with a bad heart, I’m not sure he’d be making it to his 97th. But, maybe he would. It would be nice, real nice. I still miss him. There’s some things we need to talk about, stuff I’d like him to know, and stuff I’d like to find out. We could drag out that bottle of whiskey he kept stashed in the bedroom.
Yet, he still is around, in so many ways. I look in the mirror and brush my teeth and trim my moustache, and I see his face. All that gray hair, the wrinkles in the face, just like him. And, I thought he was kinda old back then, back when I was a teenager and getting ready to run off to college. And, now that face in the mirror that looks like him is really me.
I remember how he was like around people, soft spoken and gentle, and asking questions about their health and welfare. And, he really meant it. Other people remember, too, and people still come up to me to show me how their thumb works so well, after they’d nearly cut it off and he sewed it up for them. One guy even wanted me to feel how the joint worked, like he was getting a check up again, after all these years.
The other day, I took a seventeen year old boy over to the health department. He’d shown up in court, because he hadn’t been in school this year, and said he was in a lot of pain. He looked it, too. It wasn’t just a story to get out of a ticket. There was more going on than a painful rib. He was needing a lot. So, I sent him over to the clinic to make an appointment. He was pretty scared and I said I’d go with him to see the doc, if he wanted.
Well, he did. And, the nurse did too. She called me up when he made his appointment and said I should come, too. The boy needed a dad person there, someone who could ask some of the tough questions, the ones about depression and suicide and domestic violence. The questions that really needed to get asked.
So, I went. I’d promised, and anyway, this kid needed someone to care for him. His mom had shown up in court, too, but she didn’t say a word and didn’t know where the clinic was, either. She had a lot of pain in her face, the pain that wasn’t just medical.
Well, his face lit up when I walked in the door, and he had me help him fill out the paperwork. He couldn’t read very well, and he could barely print his first name, so we got through the paperwork and went back to the little exam room. He pulled off his shirt, and all his ribs stuck out of his thin little chest, and he was pale and winced with the effort of taking off his shirt.
The doctor asked a question or two, but he looked to me for the answers. So, I stepped up to the plate and asked the questions the doctor wanted to know, and he started telling me about the pain, and the injury he got in PE class two years ago. The doctor slipped me the depression scan questions and away I went, changing the big words to little words and asking him everything, in a quiet, kind voice.
And, as we were going through the list, and checking his blood pressure and doing all the medical work, I heard my dad again. I heard his kindness, and his persistence, as he calmed people down and got them to tell him things, the things that had been on their minds, and all their worries and concerns. The doctor was taking notes and started doing the physical exam. But, she was a woman, and he couldn’t really talk to her too well. She knew that, and I knew that, and so the judge became the doctor, for the few minutes we had.
He kept looking at me, and so I’d do the talking and the listening. And, he started to relax and started telling us his story, and told us of the pain, and missing school and not getting enough to eat, and wanting to stay home and look after his mom. It was just the two of them, and life was pretty tough.
And, pretty soon, he was laughing and we cracked some jokes about it all. He got to be a boy then, having a guy there with him, and a doctor, too. People who actually cared about him, worried about his pain and him not going to school.
His mom was there, too, but she hid in the corner, not making a sound, and looking down at her feet, not saying a word. Dad would understand her, too, and would make her feel at ease. He had that way about him.
The doctor wanted him to get an x-ray, over at the hospital, and the poor kid didn’t know where the hospital was. He’d lived here for five years, and had driven by it a lot, out to visit his buddy in Netarts, but hadn’t noticed the hospital. I felt a tear run down my face, at the life this kid leads.
We talked a bit more, and he thanked me for being there. His words came from his heart. And, when I told him it was my pleasure to be there with him, I heard my dad’s voice, once again. And, I felt pretty good, sitting there with him, in that exam room at the clinic. Dad was there, too, and I felt right at home.
Happy birthday, dad.
Neal Lemery 2/16/2010