In December of last year my father suffered a heart attack. If there’s a such thing as a freak heart attack, his was one. My dad is no Jack Lalane, but despite his penchant for fried chicken wings and bacon, he’s a pretty fit dude according to his doctors. Up until that morning, he had been a truck driver for all the years I’ve ever known him, hopping on and from the rigs, strapping down loads, all with a little less loading and unloading in recent years. The attack caused minimal damage, no blockages and despite sounding breathy for a few days, he’s fared well. (And yes, he has found his way back to a big rig too, but only for sporadic trips).
The year before he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, whose tail he summarily beat. If you are my friend and think, why, she never told me this, you’re right. I never talked about it. And I didn’t remember it until I just began writing this. Which serves to illustrate: both diagnoses were blows to me that affected me so subtly I wasn’t sure they’d affected me at all. I’m nobody’s optimist, and can only imagine that I must’ve considered them both flukes—not at all representative of the strong man Daddy is or has been all my life.
A month ago, one of his good buddies made his transition. Uncle Billy and my aunt, my mom’s sister, were married around 35 years. They divorced so late in life and without any real warning (much like my dad’s health issues) that no one—not even the two of them I’d surmise—has been able to see the situation as more than a fluke. Daddy introduced Uncle Billy to truck driving; they had breakfasts together; they were boys. I worried about my cousins who are as close to their father as I am to mine, and I worried over Daddy’s emotional state as much. They were boys.
Last week, Aunt Virginia, Daddy’s oldest sister, walked on. If I told you she was 5 feet and 80 pounds with a prosthetic leg, you’d picture the wrong person. She was those things, but her personality was way bigger; physically she was way stronger; and there had been little indication that she would leave us when she did.
The year Daddy has seen makes me anxious. Not just because I want him to be well. I do. If for no other reason than because he is my dad and I love him. It makes me anxious for me.
I see no cracks in the façade. And you already know the danger isn’t in the crumbling—after all, that happens with time. Then I decide blindness doesn’t have to be an affliction, I suppose, until or unless it restricts or immobilizes the “afflicted.”
A friend who had never met Daddy asked me to describe him. I asked my friend his height, seeking to compare him to my dad. When he told me he was 6 feet tall, I had to laugh at myself before answering. My father, is 5’6—maybe 5’7 on tiptoes. I was just about to tell him, He’s your height when I was forced to realize that for all these years, I have seen my dad as a virtual giant. At probably a dripping wet 165, he had the biggest muscles because he could make “the frog jump” in his biceps, or so I believed as a kid.
This isn’t a coded reflection on mortality. I could do that in fewer words. It is a reflection on what I don’t just perceive but know to be my father’s strength. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that he is a child of the Jim Crow south, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and is sometimes a fickle, flawed, maybe even melancholy man because of them all. Those may be the cracks in his façade, and being able to see them I hope means I am not blind at all. And if I am may I be so in the way of the artist who sees both the bruises and blushes equally, simultaneously, objectively; ultimately transformatively.