This time a year ago I spent a few hours of Father’s Day taking a soda (And probably some other treats, but definitely a soda.) to my dad where he lived, at Forest Ridge Health & Rehabilitation in Bremerton. If I am remembering correctly it was a gloriously sunny day, like today, and we took him outside in the facility’s shaded patio to enjoy visiting.
It wasn’t always the easiest thing to do when he finally had to have full-time care in a facility like this. He had always referred to nursing homes as “mills” or “warehouses.” At times he would talk about wishing he could go home. Nothing would have thrilled us more. But by last Father’s Day he couldn’t move his arms well enough to feed himself. We would hold the straw for the soda up to his lips and he would take a swig, take a breath, then take another one.
So fitting. When Apollo was born he was so big (12 pounds) that regular nursing wasn’t giving him enough nutrition. So I got to hold him in my arms and give him sips of formula, a father feeding his son.
I don’t know if Dad ever literally fed me, but I suspect he did. And even if he didn’t, there were so many other ways that my brothers and I were fed by my father. For many years Dad fed us his love of baseball, something all three of us continue to maintain. There were other things. Dad had a pretty strict sense of right and wrong and could display a quick temper, but he also loved to laugh and had a definite fondness for anyone who could make him do it. And none of us can forget how if he were telling a joke we would never understand the punchline, because Dad would be laughing so hard that whatever words he was saying would sound foreign.
Probably one of the biggest gifts he gave us boys was his display of how much loved our mother. Mom was wonderful, too, but there were a few years that other men might have left. Dad stayed strong. I don’t think he ever considered doing anything else.
And so spending time crafting any conversation we could last year as we sat outside at the rehab facility was no sacrifice at all. He loved it. I think his whole life his favorite times were those he could spend with us. That didn’t change when his legs could no longer support him and his arms could not successfully utilize a spoon. If anything, those moments became more valuable.
I miss him.
I really miss him.
I wouldn’t wish for him to be back in that condition. I hope for an afterlife and have faith that he is so, so happy now back with our mom and helping orchestrate whatever he can down here. But I still miss him.
As I think about those moments getting Dad sips of soda, I wonder what “full circle” will mean in my life. There could come a day in my life when my limbs fail me. That’s not something I am completely comfortable mouthing, but it’s a distinct possibility for all of us.
If that day comes and I find one of my kids raising a straw to my mouth I will certainly remember those moments with my dad during the final months of his life. I will recall how sunny and warm it was on the best of those days. And I’m guessing that in a moment like that it won’t be hard at all to relate to my dad, appreciating those moments more than almost any other. Because when it’s all about to end the things that will matter to me most won’t be those that came to me as a result of my professional ambitions, it will be those that came in those moments when I literally and symbolically fed my family.