Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ode to Jack

I don't really have a clever way to start, so I'll just start. Friday, we found out that the biopsy my dad had last week came back positive. If I've learned anything from this, it's that people say really stupid things when they get bad news. I don't know what I said, but I remember thinking, 'just shut up.' I had been waiting for the call, and preparing for either answer. The biopsy had been scheduled for over a month, and was like a little black cloud. One thing I knew was that, 'I'm sorry' was not going to be the first thing I said. Not to my dad. My dad doesn't do pity. The bitch of it was that all that morning, I was envisioning good news. And I knew I'd cry, and that would be ok, because it would be relief. Chicks do that. He'd make fun of me, and all would be fine. So, when he called me back and said, 'Well, it wasn't what I wanted to hear...' I was stunned. He was not. And he already made up his mind: no exploring of options, just get it out. My dad's a fixer, it's black and white. Even when it comes to invasive surgery.

Apparently, if you have your choice at a cancer buffet, you want to pick prostate cancer. It's very slow moving, and highly curable if caught early. His is early, from what the doctors can tell. So, I guess the bad news is you have cancer, but the good news is that you have the best one! After discussing what can be discussed at this point, we talked about cars, because that's what dudes do when they're nervous. There's going to be a car show in Chicago in the fall, and somehow it came up that my dad used to take what is now the Metra to the city when he was stationed at Great Lakes for the Navy. It struck me that I didn't know that he had spent that much time here; that there was a lot I didn't know about the 32 years he was around before my brother and I crashed. And then I had to get off the phone. Because I know how my dad gets when I sad cry. And while I'm trying to get off the phone, he tells me that 'everything is going to be fine, ok? So I don't want you to worry.' And that broke my heart a little. Finally, I feel enough time has passed to say, 'I'm sorry that you have to go through this, dad.' The response was a token phrase: 'It's just like constipation, it'll work itself out.'- Deep Thoughts, by Jack Conley.

My family has been through a lot, and if there's one thing that can be said about them it's that, while they're loud, they are not melodramatic. I think when you've experienced what would be your biggest fears over and over, you realize that you can come out on the other side. Among other things, my mom's been in remission for 6 years. They've been down this road before. Life is life, and it's never the wrong time to joke. When the P.A. was on the phone, she told my dad that she could schedule his next appointment for Valentines Day, and he said, 'Well, I guess we'll get to the heart of the matter.' He was miffed that it went over her head. Maybe she's, oh, I don't know, not used to a patient cracking jokes minutes after being told they have cancer? Just an observation.

I know it may be self-indulgent to vent about feelings that millions of people have or have had, but that's how I work it out. (Well, that and holing myself up with Downton Abbey for two days. Don't judge me.) I hate that I'm not there with him now, but I can't really whine about it. I haven't been kidnapped, I moved. And that's that. My dad's had lots of surgeries in his life (he was thrown by his horse, Vegas, while on duty as a police officer in the woods alone and shattered his arm. He's had something like 14 surgeries because of it. He also walked around with a broken back for close to a year, and just had his second back surgery.). But the thought of him sick is a totally different animal. He's a man's man. The kind of guy that builds shit. The kind of guy that owns his own Sawzall. The kind of guy that has been known to punch doors because he's furious, but would never hurt anyone. The kind of guy that says he'll race you down Edmund street on the way to school, then totally smokes your nine year old self before you even start running. The kind of guy that will save a man's life on a golf course performing CPR until the paramedics come. He's also the kind of guy that always buys my mom multiple cards on holidays, so she gets a sappy one and a funny one; who you can call in the middle of the night to take his screaming toddler niece to the emergency room, and who will then not only not get mad, but leave in hysterical laughter when that child, miraculously recovered, looks at the doctor and says, 'I fawted.' The kind of guy that, after his accident, still takes his kids to the stable and explains that it wasn't the horse's fault as he pets his nose when his kids have put 2 and 2 together and are afraid of it. The kind of dad that will oblige his asshole daughter's request when he's lost his voice and say, 'I didn't know until today that it was Barzini all along' as she cracks up. And whenever I make a disgusting joke, and in the short pause wonder if I've finally gone too far, realize he was just taking in a breath to laugh his ass off. Chuck Norris ain't got shit on my dad.

I'm not saying we've always been on the same page. I was a teenager, after all. I was, and am, stubborn. Shit went down. It wasn't until I was an adult and had a fraction of the responsibilities that he had, that I started to understand how strong my dad has always been. But no matter what was going on, no matter how bad, I never doubted that my parents loved me and would be there for me. I am lucky, because when you have that, whether you realize it or not, it makes you brave, just knowing that you always have people who love you. Successful and unsuccessful, stupid and smart, I couldn't have had the balls to try half the things I have if I didn't always have their support. My whole family rules. And they're lots of fun.

The amazing thing to me is that I truly believe that my father, while aware that he's relied on, has no idea how much he means to people. Before my aunt passed away last year, she was in and out of the hospital that my dad works for. My cousin had told me several times that it was so nice that he would come and visit and make her laugh, so I told him once. 'Me? I didn't do anything.' 'Yes, you did. You showed up. You make her feel better.' Jeez. He's like George fucking Bailey. He just got back to work, and now he's about to go through something all over again. But he's about to see that it's our turn to be strong for him, and we want to be. Because when you're the kind of person who loves people no matter what, they love you back, whether you like it or not.