All posts tagged: Father

Taking Care of the Strongest Man I Ever Knew

My father asked me, “How long does it take?” I felt all the sound, light, air — everything — leave the room; only the weight of those words remained. I was standing at the side of his bed, lightly stroking his forehead. Mom was exhausted, slumped in a chair in a dark corner. He was dying and wanted to know when it would be over. He had seen so much life and death on the farm — animal life and death — for 40 years, he knew when death was near and he was ready for it. But for him to ask me… that took me a minute. I was the youngest and a girl. You didn’t reveal this kind of vulnerability to your youngest daughter. Four months earlier, I’d come home for a visit and it had been clear to me: Dad was not going to make it. It was upsetting to see him so much thinner and weaker than just a month ago. It was before the dialysis. Before the hospitalization. That January afternoon, he sat …

Their Father’s Daughters: Four Sisters Come Together to Say Goodbye

I am the eldest of four girls, a number that felt ever-so-slightly obscene. Like, couldn’t we have stopped at three? But no, we couldn’t, because numbers 3 and 4 were identical twins. Prior to their conception, Mom had read an article about how to conceive a boy. She followed it to the letter: eat this; do that; have sex at this time of the month; stand on your head and clap three times, chant a Tibetan prayer, who knows what it said? I never read it. But I have always wondered how many other babies born in 1972 have that article to thank for either their twins or their vaginas. Each sister, in our own time, were supposed to have been named Jeffrey Scott. Instead we were Deborah Elizabeth, Jennifer Robin, Laura Suzanne, and Julie Michelle. We literally used up all the innocuous girl names. When my eldest was born, 21 years ago, my dad rushed into the hospital room to meet his first grandchild. “I don’t believe it!” he said. He ripped open the …

This Is What the American Dream Actually Looks Like

My late father-in-law was an immigrant. He was also one of the most American guys I ever met — if you believe that what defines our national character is a willingness to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, a love of family and community, a thirst for knowledge and, of course, a really green lawn. Boen Tong — known as “Tong” or “BT” to his wife and friends, “Dad” and “Grandpa” to his kids and grandkids and “Tom” to the slightly deaf old Jewish ladies with whom he played bridge in his later years — was born in Indonesia in 1919. He spent his childhood working in the family batik business, pedaling his bike through the Javanese jungle to pick up the beautifully dyed cloth for which Indonesia is known. He spoke Malay and Javanese, but when his parents sent him to study at Dutch schools, Dutch became the first of four foreign languages in which he would eventually become fluent. By age 19, BT showed signs of grit and determination that would put a …

Even When Dad Was Dying, We Kept Laughing

I am one of the lucky ones whose parents, through a combination of good genes and good living and good luck, were still around when I was in my 40s. When I thought about losing either one of them, which I did rarely and fleetingly, I pictured myself sobbing next to a hospital bed, drained faces, the gaping abyss that would come with the loss of someone who had loved me unconditionally from my first breath. Then my dad got sick in June this year and died in July. And I realized I’d left out an important facet of the process of losing them: laughter. Admittedly, mine is a family where a quick wit was prized and prodded to higher purpose. A sense of humor was as important growing up in my home as was the ability to work hard, tell the truth and clean the rabbit cage without being nagged to do it. I don’t believe we were special that way; the proprietary humor that can thrive between family members is part of the …

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My Daughter, Our Amazing Grace

I have always had an extremely irregular menstrual cycle, and a few years before I married, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital had told me that I would never get pregnant on my own. So after my husband and I had been married for a year and a half, and we were starting to think about having a baby, I made an appointment with a fertility acupuncturist as the first step in what I imagined would be a long process: February 16, 2002. But on Valentine’s Day, my husband’s father, John, was diagnosed with a rare and deadly disease, cardiac amyloidosis, which has a grim prognosis: it was likely he would be dead within a year or two. The next morning, still in shock from the news, I grudgingly did the pregnancy test for the fertility acupuncturist. It turned out I never saw the acupuncturist because that morning I saw two lines instead. And that afternoon, we told my father-in-law that I was pregnant. I had been against telling him (I was nervous and still …

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Flowers Before My Father’s Funeral

I opened the front door to let the yard guy in. “Come on,” I said. “Talk to my daddy.” He walked a few steps behind me as I headed toward the TV room where Daddy sits every day in his brown leather Barcalounger. “Daddy, this is… wait, tell me your name again?” “Austin.” “Right. Daddy, this is Austin. He just finished clearing out the gutters and stuff outside.” “How much do we owe you, sir?” Daddy asked. “A hundred and fifty dollars,” Austin answered. Then, as Daddy begins writing out the check, Austin said, “Are you a veteran, sir?” “That’s what they tell me,” Daddy said. “Well, thank you for your service,” Austin replied. He paused, and then, “What you watching there?” At this point, Austin, who looks like he’s in his thirties, was nearly yelling. He was following my lead, I suppose, since I, too, had been loudly shout-talking with my 85-year-old father even though I was just a couple feet away from him. But now that Austin was in on it — doing …