I bond with most of you over stuff like, say, bacon.
Or baseball. Or, just being a parent. It’s a pretty cool gig.
Kathy Radigan, author of My Dishwasher’s Possessed blog, has three kids, just like me. But the big bond is the fact that we both had that moment in our lives when we had to come to grips with the reality we might lose our fathers.
Kathy’s sharing the story about her dad today at Coach Daddy.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I loved it when she sent it to me. I encourage you to check out her blog too – where she tells about her bond with her daughter and covers the fleeting nature of parenthood.
She also has contributed to a book on my must-read list.
So welcome Kathy today. You’re going to love her story.
A gift I never wanted, but am so glad to have
This October I celebrated a milestone birthday, I turned 48.
I am now the same age as my father was when he had his heart attack.
Twenty-five years later I remember sitting on the Long Island Railroad not knowing what I was going to face when the train pulled into the familiar station.
The year was 1988, way before everyone had a cell phone. It was totally possible that I was going to arrive and find out that my dad did not make it.
Thoughts and memories started to assault me. I was scared. What was I coming home to?
It just seemed so impossible. I had spoken with my mother in the morning before I went to my new job as a hostess at a trendy restaurant. I usually would check my machine when I was at work. But it was a Sunday, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to call.
When I did I was surprised to find 10 messages on my machine. How’d I get so popular?
Lonely and alone
With each message, my heart beat faster.
At first, they were somewhat benign: Daddy may have had a heart attack. We’re on our way to the hospital.
Then the messages kept coming, each one sounding more alarming than the next, till the last of the ten played: Where are you? Get home now.
In a matter of minutes, my life changed. I finally got through to my mother. She had her sweet, too calm telephone voice. That was when I knew things were really bad.
“Hi, honey. Yes, daddy had a heart attack. No, it does not look good at all; he probably won’t make it. Come home as fast as you can. I love you.”
At times of family crisis, my mother would routinely adopt a tone of voice better suited to telling me that Macy’s was running a sale on purses. It was not the tone of a woman whose husband was in intensive care after a major heart attack.
I didn’t know what to do. I lived by myself in a studio apartment. I felt lonely and alone.
No time to make peace
My dad was 48 and in good shape. This shouldn’t be happening.
I called my best friend Kay who said she would take the train home with me. Thankfully the ride was only an hour, but I was terrified.
As I sat on the train, Kay by my side, I didn’t know what to think. I had never been really close to my father.
We had always had a strange and strained relationship. It wasn’t uncommon for me to call home and just say a cursory hi and then ask for my mom.
I thought to myself that my dad may have died, and I never had time to repair the relationship. He was going to leave me before I had time to make peace with him.
The train finally pulled into Northport, and I gasped.
My father’s two oldest friends were standing at the platform waiting to pick me up.
This was not a good sign. I was used to seeing my dad’s best friend, Ernie, he was like an uncle to me. But I hadn’t seen my dad’s friend George in about four or five years. I knew this was serious.
We got to the hospital, and my mother greeted me as if we had just come to a party.
It’s a strange family trait that the more serious the situation, the calmer we get. My mom was telling Kay she was so glad she came with me. And, she had a huge smile on her face as she said “Daddy had a major heart attack. They don’t think he is going to make it through the night.” My sisters and I still laugh with my mother over this.
Now that I’m older I can understand the reaction a bit more. There are some things that are so immense, so horrible that if you actually felt them you could not function.
Everywhere I looked there was a relative or family friend in the hospital waiting room. Some people I had not seen for years. Everyone waiting to hear any news that might come.
I was weeks away from my 23rd birthday and the real possibility that my dad would not be around to see me get married or have children was almost unbearable.
The thought that kept going through my mind was that I had not made peace with this man. We could have such volatile conversations about everything from movies to politics. I had felt whatever I did was wrong in his eyes. I loved him, but we did not get along.
My father had suffered a lot of damage to his heart, and we were told that he would be very lucky if he lived five years. That was 27 years ago.
After the heart attack, I knew that time was precious. If I wanted to repair the relationship I was going to have to do it sooner rather than later.
And we did.
I think of all the moments I have had with this man since that day.
The Saturday he picked me up from the train and I told him I had fallen in love with the man who is now my husband. Dancing with my dad at my wedding. Watching him dance at both my sisters’ weddings.
The phone call I made when I told him his first grandchild would be a boy. Or each time he came to visit me after having all of my babies. Times I feared I would never have with him.
There are also all the times he has come to my rescue when my sink was overflowing or one of the kids locked themselves in the bathroom.
Or the many times he has come with me to meet a new specialist to try to figure out what was wrong with my special needs daughter.
I do my best not to take a day with my dad for granted. As the years have gone by, and I have become a parent myself, I have found his help and even friendship invaluable.
I’ve made my dad promise he won’t die. I know he will do his best to keep that promise, but in the event that he can’t, I’m eternally grateful that I have had the gift of knowing that I not only made peace with him, but I have gotten to really enjoy being his daughter.
It never ceases to amaze me how some of our life’s most difficult challenges can turn into some of life’s greatest gifts.