Tag Archives: my dad

Eclipse

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My dad and I had a problematic relationship.

He wanted a son, and I was a daughter. When I tried to do boy things to please him, he thought I should act more like a lady. I imagine he was torn. I imagine he would have liked to share auto mechanics and woodworking with me, but didn’t want to turn me into a lesbian.

My father was an angry man throughout my childhood. After he and God became buddies, he liked to say I never spanked you kids, but the reality was he never spanked my sibling who cried easily and rebelled in quiet, subtle ways unlike my loud-mouthed sassy backtalk. I was spanked more than once with a wooden paddle that came in my Christmas stocking, a ball tethered to it with elastic. When the elastic snapped and the ball was lost, my toy became my torment.

Even when my dad wasn’t spanking, he yelled, and if any of us complained, he’d get even louder and shout, You want to hear yelling? None of us did.

As an adult, I once asked him why he’d been so angry during my childhood. He told me he didn’t even know. I suspect it was some combination of an abusive mother, a teasing father, a child-molesting brother, unfulfilled potential, and over-abundance of testosterone.

My dad liked to tease, to “pick at” as we called it back then, like his father before him. Nothing was too embarrassing for my father to joke about. Once when I was 12 or 13, he mortified me in front of my cooler older cousins by saying the reasons I had pimples was because I used my wash cloth down there (he mimed washing his crotch) before I used it up here (he mimed washing his face). My cousin Larry, bless his heart, came to my defense and calmly reminded my father that most kids my age had zits.

My dad was a conservative while I was a liberal, then a radical. I was a feminist while my dad was the patriarchy. I wanted to be free, while my dad wanted to “protect” me (suppress me) into being a good little Catholic girl.

But sometimes my dad got things right.

He taught me to ride the banana seat, hand-me-down bike his boss’ daughter had outgrown. He ran behind me holding the back of the seat to keep me from losing my balance and falling. He made sure I knew how to roller skate in time to attend a skating party I’d won an invitation to by selling a ridiculous number of boxes of Girl Scout cookies. When all the other girls (Kristi and Angel and Yvette) were wearing necklaces with their names on them, he went to the mall and got one specially made with my name.  And when I was in seventh grade, he showed me the eclipse.

I was in U.S. history class when it happened.

The teacher was an old bat still wearing  a 1960s bouffant style hairdo even though we were living in the 80s. Sometimes she’d stick a pencil into that pouf of hair to scratch her scalp. She didn’t treat her students very nicely. She yelled a lot and berated kids and ruled the classroom with an iron fist. I made good grades and kept my mouth shut, so I wasn’t one of her individual targets, but her classroom was not a pleasant learning environment.

The crackle of the intercom interrupted the day’s lecture. The disembodied voice of the school secretary called me to the office, but said I should leave my books in the classroom.

eclipse

illustration from http://www.public-domain-photos.com/free-cliparts/computer/applications/eclipse-1324.htm

I walked over to the office and found my father standing there holding a yardstick with an index card attached to it. He said he’d taken me out of class so we could see the eclipse.

He explained we shouldn’t look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, so he had assembled a viewer. How did it work? Did we stand with our backs to the sun, extend the yardstick in front of us and watch the shadow of sun shrink? Were there two index cards, one with a hole punched in it for the sun to shine through, the second on which the shadow was cast? I don’t remember that part clearly. What I do remember was my dad took time out of his life to assemble this apparatus, then came to my school and got me out of class so we could watch the eclipse together.

After we looked at the eclipse, my father escorted me back to the classroom where he performed an amazing feat. He introduced himself to my old bat of a teacher and charmed her into letting her students go out with my dad one row at a time and look at the eclipse. My dad got to explain the apparatus and how he made it and why it worked. He got to tell all the kids why it was dangerous to look directly at the sun. Best of all, he let each of us escape U.S. history and the mean teacher for a few precious minutes.

This was my dad at his finest.

C. diff

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I didn’t write this post with Father’s Day in mind, but today seems like an appropriate day to share it.

I was at the village library on a Saturday afternoon. The regular library worker–a soft-spoken, helpful woman in her 60s–had the day off. The woman working the desk had a loud voice and a pronouned Southern accent. The library is tiny–children’s area on one side of the small building, books for adults and public access computers on the other–so I could clearly hear everything she said as her voice carried through the place. She wasn’t the normal Saturday worker. The normal Saturday worker was sick, as was her son and husband. The three of them were vommitting, had diarrhea, so the lady with the Southern accent had been called in.

(I wondered how the regular Saturday worker would feel about her replacement telling anyone who cared to listen–as well as those of us who didn’t care to listen–the personal details of her family’s sickness.)

The replacement worker announced how she’d set off the library’s alarm when she’d unlocked the door. She’d called 9-1-1 to let them know she wasn’t a burglar, but the dispatcher told the library lady of course a burglar would call 9-1-1 to say s/he wasn’t a burglar if the arlarm went off. Thankfully, an early partron had helped her disarm the alarm. She was still waiting for the security company to call and ask her for the code.

All of the above information was broadcast across the library from the main desk near the front door. I heard it as clearly as if the library lady had been talking directly to me.

I hadn’t been in my seat long, my laptop barely connected to the internet when someone asked the library lady how her husband was doing.

Not good, she said. He’d been sick.

He has clostridium difficile, she said. They call it C. diff.

Oh, shit! I thought. That’s what killed dad!

The library lady went on to give her willing and unwilling listerns details about C. diff. Most people got it in the hospital. (I was unclear on whether or not her husband had been in the hospital.) The C. diff bacteria is resistant to antibiotics. The bacteria lives in the digestive tract and kills off parts of the large intestines. The dead parts of the large inststines have to be bypasses. (To read what WebMD has to say about C. diff, go here: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/clostridium-difficile-colitis#1.)

That’s what killed my father! I wanted to shout, but I kept my mouth shut. It was clear the library lady was worried–had been worrying–about her husband. Surely she knew C. diff can and does kill. Surely she had contemplated losing her husband. I doubted she wanted to hear some stranger talk about how C. diff had killed a family member.

I was surprised to find hearing about C. diff upset me.  I wasn’t crying or freaking out big time, but overhearing the libray lady’s C. diff litany certainly made me uncomfortable. I do not want to hear this! I wanted to shout.

I haven’t spent a lot of time and energy missing my dad. We weren’t in touch very often before he died, so mostly I don’t remember that he’s dead. When I do remember, it’s a small blow, a small pain of recollection. Sometimes I want to ask him for advice about the van, then I remember I can’t. Earlier this year, when I came up short on screws and reused some I’d saved, I wanted to tell him how frugal and smart I’d been. I felt sad when I realized I could never tell him the story. And now this lady in the library was talking about C. diff and I had to remember, Oh yeah. That’s what killed my dad.

My relationship with my dad has gotten better since he died. He can’t do new things to piss me off now. He can no longer tease and bait me. He can’t purposely push my buttons. Now I can think about his good qualities, remember nice times we had together, think of him fondly.

Later that afternoon, my sibing and I were messaging on Facebook. I told my sibling about the loud library lady and her C. diff husband.

Did you yell out yell out, “C. diff killed my father! You are freaking me out and making me sad with all the C. diff talk! Shut the fuck up!!!”

I told my sibling, I didn’t tell her it killed my dad or to shut up or anything. I just ignored her.

We agreed my sitting there quietly was probably for the best.

Then we listed back and forth all the things that killed our father. The C. diff took him out, but he probably should have been more upfront with his doctor about his lack of bowel action. (I’m still unclear as to whether or not his doctor knew Dad had gone many days without a bowel movement. If the doctor knew and did nothing, I’ll lay some blame on him too.) We also blame worker’s comp because Dad got jerked around for months before he was approved for the sugery his doctor said he needed. Let’s not forget the workers and managers at the big box store who let pieces of plastic sit on the floor for hours until my dad came along and slipped on the plastic, falling and causing the back injury that forced him to live his last months in pain, the reason he needed surgery in the first place. While we were at it, my sibling blamed the poorly made washing machine returned to the store and spilling the broken plastic on the floor. And how about we place a little blame on the Chinese worker(s) responsible for the defective washing machine? Also responsible for my dad’s death? The system of capitalism that required a 70-year-old man to hold a full-time job in order to pay his bills.

In reality, all the blame in the world isn’t going to bring my dad back, so why bother with it?

How’s the library lady’s husband doing? Better. He was on a 10-day dose of antibiotics costing $1,600, but he was getting better. That day he drove 30 miles to town by himself, the first time he’d been able to do something like that in a long time. He was getting better.

My dad didn’t beat C. diff, but I hope the library lady’s husband does.