In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
My dad died last year, but that’s not the funny part.
Phone calls in the middle of the night are always interesting. I used to get worried when the phone rang at night, but now I’ve gotten used to them, most of them are dumb.
One night it was a wrong number of some drunk guy asking why I had called him. His “wife,” also drunk, got on the line and cursed us both out. My final words to him were “Be careful out there, man.” “Yeah, I will.”
There’s this guy at church who calls me at strange times. I’m not opposed to that, he feels comfortable doing it. Most of the time it’s just to talk about something that’s worrying him. I don’t mind him, but when the phone rings at a strange time I assume its him and don’t get scared.
“Hi. Jeff.” Sobs. It was my sister. This couldn’t be good. “Dad just went in for surgery. He has a hole in his colon. It might not go too well. Are you there?”
“Yeah.” My dad found out he had cancer three months ago, he was given 12-18 months. He went through radiation fine and was five weeks into chemo at the time of the operation.
“They don’t think his body will be able to recover from it, but if he doesn’t have it he will die. Mom brought him in last night around 10. He’s going in for surgery now. Are you hearing what I’m saying?”
“Yeah. He has a hole in his colon? What’s that from?” We talked a bit more, me trying to cut through the early morning haze of my mind to understand what was going on in a situation where no one really understood what was going on.
I managed to get a few more hours of sleep before I was up for good. I wasn’t totally sure if things were good or what. I didn’t really understand what was going on. The surgery was supposed to take an hour or two. It should be done by now. I tried going about the usual business of the day with Dad right below the surface of my inner conversation.
It was Monday, pastor’s unofficial day off. I decided to work on a writing project I thought up. I shared it with my dad because I thought it was hilarious and brilliant and my dad likes hilarious and brilliant. I thought maybe I could get it finished and published by the time he died. In fact, the day before I decided to try and do it and see if I couldn’t get it done for Christmas. I was struggling trying to figure out what to do for my dad for his last Christmas. What better gift than my hilarious brilliance?
The phone rang. It was my mom this time. Dad made it through the surgery. They did a colostomy, took out his appendix and cleaned out the gunk floating around his innards. His white blood count was low, he may not be able to fight off the infection. “You might want to think about coming down. If this is it you’ll want to be here.”
I had been thinking of going down already, but to hear it like that. I spent the next few hours arranging to get out of church duties and figuring out how to get down there as soon as possible. We decided on Tuesday morning.
I have three kids, 5 and 4-year old girls and a 2-year old boy. They were excited to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Kids are great in some ways. They can be so happy. Their ignorance truly is bliss.
The trip down was like most others. We did it in 6 hours. Ate lunch at McDonald’s. While paying the toll at the exit to my parent’s, I asked the girls. “You know why we’re here right? Grandpa is really sick.”
“Oh yeah, mom already told us.”
“OK, well, you probably won’t see Grandpa. He’s in the hospital. I want you guys to be calm while we’re here.” Yeah, that’ll work.
My Grandmother met us at my mom’s house. She hugged us, told us that the rest of the family was at the hospital. She had been staying with my mom since Sunday.
I don’t much like hospitals. I get ill in them. I mean physically ill. I throw up. I get light headed and faint. I have ever since I was a kid. I’m not sure what the deal is but it’s happened numerous times. Even as a mature caring pastor I have nearly fainted while visiting people in the hospital. It’s just what I do.
I dreaded going to see my dad. He just shaved off his mustache last week. I had seen a picture, it looked nothing like him really. He had his mustache for 27 years, which means I was 4 when he last didn’t have one. My mom already warned me that he had tubes coming out of him and was in bad shape. He was on oxygen and you could barely understand what he was saying. Everyone entering his room had to put on masks and sterilize their hands. I was not looking forward to this. There’s no way I’d be able to face this and not puke.
I went in his room after putting my mask on. My sister showed me how to sterilize my hands as I walked past my dad on his bed. “Hey Dad.” Was all I managed to get out. I washed my hands, made a joke about the automatic paper towel dispenser that wasn’t so automatic, put on the sterilizing lotion and shook my dad’s hand. “Hey boy.” Tears welled up in my eyes.
I remember playing football in the backyard with a fiend of mine. My dad and his buddy visiting us came out and my friend and I decided to take on the men in tackle football. We were about 10. It was silly really. My friend and I kept getting hit and it hurt. We’d pop up, huddle up and make wincing faces, gearing up for the next play. Our efforts were futile and our anger built. The more angry we got, the faster we ran and the harder they had to hit us. We quit.
My dad would die if I hit him now.
I’m not much for words in normal situations, I’m even less for words in a situation like this. I can’t talk when tears are coming. If I open my mouth I know I’ll just explode in tears. So I keep my mouth shut. Then I began to get light headed. Oh no. Here’s my dad dying and he knows I puke in hospitals, how’s this going to make him glad I came? He’s going to feel bad about making me sick. Suck it up man. But I couldn’t. My mom saw me shifting on my feet, “Why don’t you go for a walk Jeff.”
“Yeah, OK. I’ll be back Dad. I love you.”
“I love you to.” I escaped to the hall and cried. This was ridiculous. It shouldn’t be happening like this. That’s my dad in there. It’s just not right. It’s too weird. It makes no sense.