Of colons and men; and learning by contrast
When my husband sends me a Google calendar invite for Colonoscopy @ Thu Apr 12, I shrug and accept.
"What did you do, book us the Couple's Colonoscopy Suite?" I say. "I'm imagining luxurious sheets, our tables side-by-side, the scent of lavender."
"I knew you were going to give me a hard time about that one," he says.
Perhaps I shouldn't. My husband's father has been in the hospital these last couple months; after several surgeries, most of his colon has now been removed.
Through this fluke of legalese, you can designate Power of Attorney to someone without their necessarily wanting it. Sean is not particularly close to his father. And yet his father lives a rather isolated life and it seems there wasn't anyone else.
For a period, the hospital was calling him multiple times each day. Sean's father was in a coma and, without the two of them ever having talked about such things in advance, Sean was suddenly thrust into having to make decisions about surgeries and other medical care.
One morning my husband called me from work. He was crying into the phone. "I feel like whether he lives or dies is in my hands," he said to me. "And I don't know what to do."
"You're not God," I said. "His life is in no way in your hands. Your job is to guess at what decisions your dad would make for himself. That's all power of attorney is. The rest is up to the surgeon—and to God."
I'm not going to tell Sean's story, what's passed (or not) between him and his father.
But I know for myself what it feels like that his father didn't come to our wedding. No visits over summer break. No holidays together.
We are blessed in that my parents have stepped into this void, in ways that are generous and continue to amaze me. They have embraced their role as grandparents to A and Z (even though it was hard, I know, for my mom to accept that I'd decided to not give birth to children of my own). My mom cries when she hears "Puff the Magic Dragon" and thinks about Z growing up. And they are stepping up for A as she goes to battle against adolescence.
Sean calls them "Papa Bear" and "Momma Bear". He says what's happening now with his father makes him see what a gift the Bears have given us four kids by having their affairs in order: My parents had a book, I'm Dead, Now What? out on their kitchen counter the last time I visited.
"Well something could happen and your dad and I could die at any moment," says my mother. She's full of comforting and practical little phrases like this one.
Over the past couple years, I've come to some kind of peace with Sean's dad not acknowledging our marriage. But with Sean driving to Boise and back twice in the last month and all the rest of it, it's brought my hurt back to the surface.
I can only imagine what it feels like for Sean to hold both an authentic commitment to doing the right thing and caring for his dad—while also having painful reminders at every turn of how much his father did not do for him.
How many times does Sean bring up his dad when we're talking about our kids? As in, "Do you think Z appreciates I drove down to see his basketball game? My dad never did that kind of thing."
What I hope for Sean is that he can find his way toward being the father he wants to be, for himself, rather than limiting himself to the contours of negative space left by his father's specter.
"I know you're disappointed your dad didn't measure up to the ideal you wanted," I said to my husband recently. "But one day your kids are also going to be in therapy because of you, because you didn't measure up to the ideal they wanted."
"No they're not," he said, enunciating every word. "I'm nothing like my dad."
I also hope for Sean—and for myself—that we can unplug from blaming our parents for...whatever...and accept that they did the best they could and the rest is up to us.
I will drive Sean to his upcoming colonoscopy appointment. And when the nurses wheel him out in a chair and he beams up at me with a lop-sided grin, as he did the last time he started to wake up from full-body anesthesia, shaking a styrofoam cup of ice and Mountain Dew in one hand and calling out, "Cocktail??" I will bring him home.
I love my husband. It's not easy to be forced to remember that empty place-setting at our wedding table. But if his dad had been a different father he would have raised a different son. And so may I learn love the lineage my husband came from.
(Photo: Mike Olliver)