This November marks exactly 30 years since my dad became seriously ill after surgery to remove a vascular brain tumor. He experienced a massive bleed in his brain that left him in a coma for three months, and once he awoke, he was not the same man. He had to relearn everything all over again, and many things were lost, including his ability to think and reason like a normal adult. For obvious reasons, he was unable to be a real dad to my brother and me. We were both very young: my brother was 7, and I was 3. (If you do the math, he is 37 now, and I am 33.) This has been our reality for most of our entire lives. My dad’s illness has informed my life and my choices more than any other event.
This November also marks three years since my dad was placed in a nursing home. For all those years before, he was able to live a relatively normal life for someone with massive brain trauma, but eventually time, a series of strokes (one major, the others very small) and seizures, and the regrowth of the original tumor won, and my dad lost the independence he so cherished.
That is the extremely truncated version. Someday, when the time is right, I may write a book. But for now, I will keep it somewhat short. I’ve actually told the above story before. Many times. Some of you may have even read it. But it’s necessary, for purposes of context.
I think about my dad a lot around this time of year. It’s impossible not to. Holidays remind me of all I missed out on as a kid, how I longed for a real dad like all my friends had. In saying that, I don’t mean to imply that my childhood was horrible. It wasn’t – but it was complicated – and it took years for me to sort it out. Moving to California when I was 22 helped a lot. So did time. And growing up. Growing up always helps.
Creating a family of my own, watching the way my boys love Roy – it’s a second chance for me to have, and to give, what I didn’t get to experience as a child. There is a big sense of loss knowing that my kids will never have the opportunity to know their grandpa, and vice versa, but it’s tempered with being able to give them this. This life. This family. Each other.
I want to say that because of my dad’s illness, it’s impossible for me to take anything for granted. But I’m only human. There are some hard moments I wish away when I’m in the thick of them. And despite everything I’ve gained as a result of my dad’s illness, it really is something I wish hadn’t happened. That isn’t very politically correct, I know. I’m supposed to say that I’m grateful for the experience, it made me a better person, blah blah blah, but the truth is, the amount of suffering my family has been through, particularly my dad, has been massive.
No one should have to suffer this way. And yet, we do. We suffer, we grieve, we find a way to move on and make the best of the worst. I consider myself lucky, because my mom made sure that I had a normal life, that I got what I needed, that I wasn’t neglected. Sure, I have issues, but I’ve still managed to build a life I’m proud of and become a person I’m proud of.
But my dad – he is not lucky. He’s lucky that he’s still alive, but that’s pretty much it. He lost himself. That is a tragedy. And it’s what I think about a lot, how he lost himself so it’s important that I live hard and love deeply to make up for what he can’t do. I have to give this life my best shot. I am so grateful for the ability to do so. And I am so heartbroken thinking of him alone on Thanksgiving in his room at the nursing home. I just don’t want that for him.
I wish things could be different. But things are what they are. And often I don’t know what to do with those “things.” Acknowledge and move on, I guess. Cry a little if I need to. Write it out. Be the best I can be but accept myself if I’m much less. And above all, love. Love, love, love. It’s the only thing that matters.