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The Morning Rant: J.V. Edition | Main | It Begins? Former Teen Actor Accuses Talent Agent of Sexual Abuse
October 20, 2017

In the End, It's Their Quirks That We Love [Warden]

My wife and I are approaching the outskirts of my hometown when she receives the text. My 79 year old father, who we're supposed to meet with his girlfriend at the county fair in a half an hour, has been admitted to the ER with chest pains.

Both of my boys, ages 11 and 6, are in the backseat, bored from the hour and a half drive, but eager to watch the demolition derby that is the final destination of this all-day fall road trip.

I curse under my breath, then promptly miss my exit and begin raging at the cars around me as I look for an alternative route to the hospital. Anger is almost always my reaction when I'm scared or upset.

My wife tries to soothe me. I calm down for the sake of my boys, but I can't get the worst case scenario out of my mind. My dad had undergone a quadruple bypass just a few years prior, and he just hasn't been the same man since.

By the time we arrive at the hospital, my dad's girlfriend has texted again. They've moved him to observation and she is with him. I relax upon hearing the news.

We check in at the front desk. A curmudgeonly old hospital worker shows us how to find his room.

"Just follow the brown acorns. All the different sections are some sort of nature theme I guess," he says with casual disdain.

"Damned hippies!" I snarl dramatically.

He either doesn't get it or finds it unworthy of even a polite chuckle. I wink at my older son. Mocking hippies is a running gag between us. One of his favorite stories is how I once punched one in the face.

We turn a corner and I catch a glimpse of my dad through a room curtain. As soon as I see him, I know everything is okay. He's talking animatedly with someone hidden from view. When he sees me, he smiles.

"How are you?" I ask.

He informs me that he's fine. The EKG was normal and he'd taken an enzyme test that had turned up negative, which means that he hasn't had a heart attack.

"Okay, first things first," I say. "Does Mom and, oh I don't know, YOUR OTHER SON WHO LIVES 5 MINUTES AWAY know you're here?"

Dad's girlfriend informs us that she called the two of them a few minutes ago. It's 6:15 pm. My dad checked in three hours ago and had only recently gotten around to telling anyone.

Honestly, I'm surprised that he'd done even that. The last time he'd been in the ER, he hadn't told anyone until the day after he'd been released.

I look down. "I see you thought to bring a book, though."

Dad usually has a paperback somewhere either on his person or in his car. Always bring a book so you'll never be bored, he once told me.

Dad nods proudly. "I grabbed it on the way out."

"You drove?"


"Jesus. Really?"

The nurse starts going through Dad's medical history with him. "I see you have numbness in your left hand?" she asks.

Dad acknowledges that he'd had surgery, but it hadn't corrected the problem. Then he makes sure to point out that he can still do five chin-ups.

"Wow," says the nurse politely.

Dad tells her that he could do 12 up until a few years ago, which I can personally verify given that he once did them on a Disney bus during a family vacation in order to show up some punk kids near us who were having a chin-up contest using the grab bar.

I see my older son giggling. I poke him in the stomach and give him an eye roll. "Chin-ups!" he whispers.

Another inside joke. Every single time my dad visits our home, he has the same conversation with my son. It goes like this:

"You like playing football?"

"Uh uh."

"You gotta be strong for football. You work out? You do chins? You chin yourself?"

"I work out sometimes. I don't do chin-ups."

"Chin-ups are the BEST way to build strength. Tell your dad to get you a chin-up bar so you can chin yourself, okay?"

"Okay, Papa."

I'm tempted to tell my kid to lie and say he has a chin up bar just to get my old man off his ass, but worry that my dishonesty will be exposed when Dad wants to challenge him to a chin-up contest.

I look back at my dad as the nurse approaches the bed and tries to lift him to an upright seated position. He waves her off.

"Hold my feet," he commands gruffly.

She looks befuddled, but complies. What other choice does she have?

And then, I shit you not, my dad puts his hands behind his head, inhales dramatically, and does a sit-up like he's in gym class, beaming proudly as he reaches the top.

Oh my God! mouths my embarrassed wife from the other side of the bed, her panicked eyes simultaneously looking everywhere and nowhere.

My wife adores my father, but has also told me that my most important job is to not turn into him when I get older. Now she looks like she can't decide whether to hide or run.

"I do crunches every morning," Dad informs the nurse. Now it's my eyes that are on the move, sliding stealthily over to his bemused girlfriend.

Later, I would tell this story on Twitter and receive a great many comments about what a slick ladies man my dad is.

But he's not. He might be the most clueless man I've ever met when it comes to dealing with women. He doesn't even know how to flirt.

His actual intention is making sure everyone in the room knows that he's not some goddamned candy ass, as he would put it. This is important to him. I get it. I'm not much different. I just do my signalling in less obvious ways.

I shake my head slightly and smile in solidarity with his girlfriend. I feel like I'm in a Seinfeld episode. Every year my dad becomes a more distilled version of his essential self and this is entire sequence of events is him to a T: recklessly independent, obliviously earnest, tough, proud and stubborn.

His not a candy ass bona fides now established, Dad decides that this would be a good time for a lesson on Latin roots. He turns to my 6 year old. "Do you know what spect means. The root, spect?"

My younger one is whip smart. He can do two digit subtraction in his head and reads at a 2nd grade level, despite only having started kindergarten two months ago. He does not, however, know what the hell a Latin root is. Age appropriateness is not something my father has mastered. This would explain his decision to take me to see the movie, Animal House, when I was seven-years-old, along with many other odd events from my childhood.

My son shakes his head at the question. I can tell that he's happy to receive his grandpa's attention, but is already sensing that this is veering off into a decidedly not fun place.

"Spect means to see," the lecture continues. "Now, can you think of any words that have 'spect' in them?"

Another head shake. We'd promised him a demolition derby. This was not a demolition derby.

"IN-spect means to look within. SPECT-acle means a big sight. RE-spect means to look back. PRO-spect means to look forward."

"Okay," chirps my younger one, his feigned interest bolstered by the hopeful realization that the lesson might be over.

My dad is obsessed with Latin roots and thinks we should teach vocabulary to kids by making them learn them. He's such a true believer that he decided he was going to make my brother and I spend an hour a night learning them when we were in junior high.

We, of course, rebelled and the experiment ended after two weeks with my dad calling us assholes and storming out of the room.

There were hopes of a textbook and maybe even an educational board game that would teach eager, young home-schooled children the miracle of a Latin root based vocabulary, but he put it off until retirement, then just got too old to do it.

Now he's at it with my kids.

Did I mention that my dad is stubborn?

He drives me nuts some time. More so these days, as he'll get fixated on one or two things and just beat them to death.

But here in this observation room at the ER, I start looking ahead to his inevitable passing. Every time he has a health scare it becomes more real to me.

I think maybe I should have a eulogy written ahead of time. It's not the first time I've considered this. I've started on it a dozen times in my head, but I always end up crying and never get around to putting it to a word document.

I have dozens of hilarious stories about my dad. There's an entire routine I used to run through about how I was traumatized at childhood due to his embarrassing exploits. I've had entire rooms crying and wheezing through laughter for a half hour straight. A crowd favorite is the story about the "pee jug" he made us kids use for six months because he really liked the win-win scenario of acquiring free fertilizer for his garden while also saving on the water bill.

I usually transition from that story to the one where he cut a deal with a circus that was passing through town to take some of their elephant shit off their hands. I still remember my mom hiding in the kitchen as a dump truck full of it got shoveled into our garden. She was, of course, mortified.

I look down. I love this man. He's been a rock for our family for his entire life. In his relentless dedication to our physical and financial safety, he'd thought of and planned for everything. We used to razz him about the "bomb shelter" in our basement--an area stocked with dry goods, water, gold and silver coins and other doomsday needs--but what he was really doing with all that was showing his love the best way that he knew how.

But the things I'll remember the most fondly when he's gone are his small quirks and imperfections--even, and maybe mostly, the ones that frequently frustrate and embarrass me.

We don't love perfectly and we don't love perfect people. But when you love someone, you love all of them. And as you grow older, you start to see that the things that are imperfect about people are not only what makes them uniquely them, but also what makes them uniquely good.

Because every trait we have is a coin with two sides. My dad's sometimes exasperating bluntness, for example, also means that you always know where you stand with him. There is no guesswork to our relationship. I don't know a more honest man, and I've never in my life seen him behave any other way than exactly how he is. The trade-off is some inevitable social awkwardness, but at least we always have a good laugh about it.

Like most people, he's full of these Yin and Yang characteristic. His workaholic, Type A nature means no detail is ever overlooked, especially when having to do with important matters.

His excessive pragmatism is responsible for a red folder tucked into my file drawer that provides me with every single piece of information I might need upon his death--bank account numbers, who to contact and how, and where he's hidden cash and valuables from the tax man.

The old school chivalry that sometimes bleeds into a thoughtless chauvinism that irritates my wife was also at the heart of him treating my mom well and looking after her, even after they were divorced and even after she'd wronged him.

The flaws are all there, front and center. But the good by far outweighs the bad.

I pray regularly to have more patience both with my parents and my kids. It's one of my top prayers because I'm moody and often a grouch, and I feel guilty about it. I also know that this is just how I'm built and there's no cure, only a a gradual, conscientious amelioration of the worst effects of it.

My wife knows it, too, and when I'm being a crank, she'll sometimes kiss me on the nose, just like Lucy might do to Schroeder in a Peanuts comic strip. When she does this, she usually says something to the effect of, "It's a good thing that I find grumpiness to be cute."

It is, indeed.

Love your loved ones. All parts of them. This is what God made them to be.

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posted by Open Blogger at 01:07 PM

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