A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I would be leaving this weekend to return to the CityOfMyBirth to visit my family. It's almost Wednesday, and I've done neither washing of the laundry, nor the packing such a trip entails. It's not like we'll be gone forever, but I do have to put some thought into it, which is why I suspect that it has remained undone.
My father, grandmother, and assorted aunts and uncles all still live in CityofMyBirth. We moved a state away when I was a year old, due to a job opportunity my father got. When my parents divorced after 20 years of marriage and my father was badly burned in an industrial accident, he returned home to live with his mother so he could have a 24-hour caretaker.
My relationship with my father has changed a lot over the years. When I was small, I was the apple of his eye. When my brother was born, four years later, his real "dadness" kicked in. He had someone to coach in sports, someone to roughhouse with, and someone with whom he could bond with while peeing upright. I was more or less my mother's child. I didn't really resent it because that's all I knew. I wasn't interested in sports anyway, so it was kind of a relief that he could pour all of his love for that into my brother. We existed in the same sphere of influence, but it was like two single parents, each with their own children, sharing a home.
In high school, I was hopeless in math. As an engineer, my father railed that a child of his should be terrible in math. That's when things started to get really uncomfortable. I never felt that I measured up, that I was always lacking. My brother wasn't any better at school than I was -- in fact he even dropped out of high school at one point. I felt like there was nothing I was good at, no place that I really belonged. And when my parents divorced, my mother made me run interference. I had to go beg my father for the support check, I had to hear the lectures from both parents about how hard it was, divorce, while I lived in it. Divorce truly was the best path for them, but I so hated being caught in the middle. I hated going to beg my father for money, and my mother resented any time we spent with him.
And then Dad got hurt. He was burned so badly in the accident that the doctors were afraid he wouldn't survive the hour-long helicopter ride to the Trauma Burn Unit. They underestimated my father. His stubbornness is legendary. He died several times, and the doctors always managed to bring him back. He stayed in the ICU for months, with us making the three hour drive to the Burn Unit as often as we could. We had to wear the whole suit to go in and see him -- booties, hat, gown, gloves, face mask. There was very little of him visible -- just this blackened face staring out from an entire body swathed in bandages.
The first time I went in to see him, Dad wasn't conscious. The doctor didn't want to let me go in, but Dad had been asking for us, and since my brother was far too young to handle it, I was the de facto Chosen One. I suited up, and went to stand by the bedside of the pitiful remnant that was my father. The nurse came to stand at my side, and explained some of the equipment that Dad was hooked up to. I just nodded at her, feeling sort of numbed by the whole experience. Dad began to stir. He reached for his morphine drip to ease his pain, but he caught sight of me standing by the bed. He started to grunt, trying to make me understand him. The nurse explained that he had a trach tube in, and couldn't talk. She could read lips, and would pass on any message that he had to give me. She looked at Dad for a minute, and then turned to me. She looked me dead in the eyes, and said, "He says he's sorry. He wants you to forgive him. Do you know what he's talking about?"
Yeah, I knew what he was talking about. He may not have been the best father in the past, but he was getting a second chance. *We* were getting a second chance. It was up to me whether or not I could make the most of the second chance. I told him, "Yes. Yes, I forgive you." He sighed, and laid back on the pillow, falling asleep. The nurse said, "Sometimes, they only hold on long enough to give these final messages. He'll fight for all he's worth. Your fight is just beginning. If you truly do forgive him, you need to let whatever it is go."
Ever since the accident, my father's been a different person. He told me once that I never needed to be afraid when I died -- he'd been there, and there was nothing to be scared of. He's never elaborated more upon that, and I've been curious ever since. I don't press for details, and he remains mute on the subject. My father and I talk more now that we live an entire state away from each other than we did when we lived within the same walls. He enjoys life now, where he just seemed to be marking time before. He never remarried, mostly because in his heart, he's still married to my mother. He's happier, more carefree, and more demonstrative than he ever was during my teen years. Our relationship is polar opposite of what it used to be -- we can joke, and we can talk and I like him much better as a person now. What he makes of me, I'm not sure, but I hear the words, "I love you," more than ever before.
He adores his granddaughter. His one real complaint is that he doesn't see her as often as he'd like. He'll get his chance this weekend. Thank God for second chances.
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