My mom took it in her usual way, snapping into business mode, figuring out the cheapest way to stay in Rochester for what could quite possibly be a month, if we should drive, what we would need. Maybe she was numb too because her response (outwardly anyway) was not extremely emotional.
Telling my dad may have been the most helpless moment that I have ever experienced.
He and I had gone to dinner later that week and were sitting in the parking lot about to pull out. The keys were in the ignition and he was about to turn them and I stopped him. “Dad, I need to tell you something. I got my scans back. They weren’t clean.”
He exhaled very quickly like someone had punched him and he sat back in the driver’s seat looking so tired. He looked as tired as I felt.
“Ok…. So back up for more surgery?”
“Yes, but this time it will be harder.” And I slowly explained the procedure to him.
I have described my dad in a previous post regarding his faith but there’s so much more to him than that. My dad is a “man” in every sense of the word. He eats red meat and he likes it rare, drinks Budweiser, rides a Harley, hunts, fishes, and has lots of power tools. I love the smell of gasoline and motor oil because when I was growing up my dad used to drag race and work on the cars in his free time in the garage. It was his second cologne after Stetson. When I got my first flat tire I called him and he came out and changed it for me. the pit crews at the Indy 500 could not have changed it more efficiently. When I went away to college and almost had a nervous breakdown on the phone because I was alone in a new city with no friends he drove six hours after we hung up to come and tell me if I wanted to come home I could get in the car right now and we wouldn’t say another word about it. When I got my first apartment on my own and my hot water heater shorted out in the middle of the night he was the person I called at midnight and he talked me through finding the circuit breaker to trip and turn it off before it dumped water all over my apartment. I remember flipping the switches and giggling. Telling him this was just like the scene in Jurassic Park where they are talking over the walkie’s trying to get the power turned back on. You know, minus the creepy raptors that could open doors of course. He didn’t laugh because I think he wanted to sound grumpy and tired but I could tell he was smiling on the other end of the phone.
He could scare away the monsters in the closet, protect me from bad guys, he intimidated all my boyfriends when they would come to pick me up for dates, and he picked my hysterically sobbing figure up off the front steps when I had my heart broken for the first time. He is a self-made man who worked unbelievably hard to provide financial security and a comfortable life for his family. He started from the bottom of his company and climbed to the top. This man is someone I have always looked to for protection. One Spring we got caught driving in an awful storm during tornado season and golf ball sized hail threatened to break the windshield of the car. He pulled to the side of the road, leaned over the seat to shield my body with his and calmly told me that if the windows broke to bury my face in his shoulder so that nothing would hurt me. He then told jokes and funny stories until the storm had passed. My mom is my emotional rock but…
My dad is my shield.
He’s bulletproof. He has super strength. He’s Superman.
But even Superman isn’t totally invincible. My failing health was his kryptonite.
He stayed silent and did not look at me as I described the risks and possible complications and then the fact that I had scheduled it for three weeks from now. It had begun to rain and there was a storm moving in. I looked out the front of the car and watched the wipers arc back and forth across the windshield in a steady rhythm. Like a metronome. Tick. Tock. Three weeks.
After what seemed like a long moment of silence my dad leaned forward and rested his forehead on the steering wheel. He looked so exhausted. My heart broke for him. This wasn’t the boogie man or a flat tire or a “stupid boy” who had stood me up. We couldn’t drive away from this in a fast car, trip the breaker to turn it off, or hunker down and tell funny stories until the storm had passed. I had to do this alone and I had to do it without a shield.
He balled his hands into fists on the wheel and struck it once, then turned to me, his eyes were wet with tears he refused to shed. (Superman does not cry), and said a phrase I had heard already from my brother, “Well, if anybody can do it it’s you. You’re one tough old bird. Lord knows your stubborn nature drove me crazy when you were a teen. It’ll help you here.” And I cracked up.
I don’t know if it was because I was borderline hysterical with fear and exhaustion but this statement made me giggle, which then turned into a deep belly laugh, and then uncontrollable guffaws. It cut through the tension in the front seat of that car like a scalpel, the sound of it bouncing off the walls, and making my dad laugh as well. We laughed in the face of adversity and the deluge of pain that we had already endured.
Outside the rain continued to fall and the wipers continued to sweep across the windshield; clearing the glass for a brief moment so that we could see out into the storm only to be covered again by the downpour from above…