Like Father Like Brother Like Son
I’m in paradise. I’m in the hospital. My brother, like my father before him, is awaiting open-heart surgery. And I look at my brother, and I look down at my own girth, and I’m committed to doing even more on my healthy living path.
My father had his first heart attack when I was about 10. He was playing in the finals of a tennis tournament. I wish I could remember what my dad was like on the tennis court. Though it became my favorite sport, I’m pretty sure we never played.
It was a typical hot Texas weekend and my dad had just split sets in the singles final. In the 5 minute break he had reclined in the shade with a huge glass of iced tea. He never got back up. The ambulance came quickly and screamed off to the hospital with him. I was left with HER. My drinking, smoking, step-mother.
My dad faced a choice soon after that moment: change your life, for the better, or deteriorate into a series of health catastrophes until your untimely death.
Somehow! Even with four loving kids. My dad did not rectify his life. He died at 53. His widow followed soon after. Young and pickled from their love of alcohol.
It’s an odd thing when you are facing death. Mine came in the form of suicidal ideation. (A gentler way of saying, thinking about killing yourself, but stoping short of making plans to kill yourself.)
There I was, a wreckage of post-divorce sadness and self-pity. And my silly, wounded mind kept imagining my fall from a famous bridge, or calculating how many Ambien it would take to make the euphoria just take me away.
EACH TIME I came back to the impact it would have on my KIDS. While I wasn’t pulling through FOR them, I was certainly not going to intentionally devastate them with my self-inflicted demise.
So how did my Dad make the choice to turn away from us, me (his adoring mini-me) and my brother and two sisters? My rationalization goes to his alcoholism and the complete lack of clear thinking possible under his Cutty Sark dementia.
Still, it is not enough. Something deeper drove my dad to his death-wish demise. Some wounding, some battle-royale with his mom or dad… Some overwhelming sadness that fed his helpless withdrawal from being my dad.
And now, staring across the darkened hospital room at my obese brother, I am praying rather than rooting for him. At a point there are the larger things in life that drive us onward. For me, in those dark dark dark times it was my kids that held me to the mast.
My brother is 5 years older than my father when he died of his heart failure and cancer. When I look at his buddha-like figure I recognize too much of my own pain. I have kids to guide and encourage my future efforts at remaining healthy and alive. I wonder at my father’s lack of perseverance at getting well, after his FIRST heart attack. And I am prayerful about my brother’s condition. He is alone, without kids or current relationship. He has us. My mom, my sister and me. What will be HIS core strength?
I see my father in my brother’s condition. And I see too much of my brother’s tragic sadness in myself to ignore the resonance. I sit in the dark and listen to his labored snoring. I think about his easy laugh and willingness to make other’s happy at his own expense.
There is nothing easy about today. I am happy in my life. I bring that joy to others. Beyond that there is prayer.
We Skyped my kids last night from the hospital. They danced and entertained us for 1o minutes. It was a bizarre-futuristic movie scene. There was joy and poignant sadness at what was missing from my brother’s life. At least he has us.
The Off Parent