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I miss my dad, what can I say. He’s a problematic character and still alive—so I should not be missing him so much—but still, I pine for him. The geographic distance that separates us seems like empty prairies and outer space, despite the fact that either of us could get on a plane and be next to one another in about four hours. The missing of a dad knows no boundaries, even when he’s still around.
My own personal dad has Parkinson’s Disease, which at first led me to bad humor: What, is he going to turn out like Michael J. Fox? Why is my father waving at me with his foot? How nice that my dad is in a worse funk than he’s ever been in…gonna be another great Christmas.
When I got over myself—years of getting over myself—I realized that my hard dad did not invite Parkinson’s into his life. It was just the way of the world. My dad is softer now, and it’s not hard for me to give him breaks anymore. In fact, I want to be closer to him, even though—if truth be told—he humiliated me and took my love for granted all my life.
I think that’s how you raised a child in the 70’s.
It’s not often that I talk to my dad on the phone; he’s not a phone guy. He’s not an e-mail guy either, so living away from him for twenty years has created those empty prairies. The nice thing about my dad is that he’s a forester, so he knows how to populate empty space methodically and productively. That’s why I have four siblings.
I got him on the phone last night, a treat for my heart. “Hi Dad,” I said. I have a sinus infection right now so not only am I sick, I sound sick. I think this tugged at his heart.
“How are you treating yourself?” he asked. My dad is now used to medications, treatments, and therapy, a far cry from the quiet woods.
“I’m toughing it out,” I said. I knew he would like to hear that. My dad is a tough guy.
“I have a question for you,” I said. My dad perked up. He likes being interrogated for some reason now, I don’t know why. He never used to be.
“I’m ready,” my dad said.
“Remember when you used to drive on our long road trips and I would lean between the front seats and ask you if it took physical strength to get up the hills?”
My dad was silent. “No, I don’t remember that, but continue.”
“I would lean between the front seats, with you driving, and we’d be going uphill, and I would think that it would take physical strength for you to move the car uphill. I was only ten or so…I had no idea about driving.”
My dad hesitated, trying to remember. “No, it took no physical strength to get us uphill. Why would you think that?”
“Because every time you looked into the rearview mirror at me, or turned your head to look out the back window, you grimaced. I figured you must be struggling to get uphill.”
My dad was quiet. “No, that’s not it. I just always had a pain in my neck.”
Coming off a week of coughs and pains of my own, a sinus infection, allergies—prescriptions lost in the mail—I finally kind of connected with my dad. “So you did feel physical pain when you went uphill, because it hurt you to look behind? Right?”
He laughed. “You’re right. Sometimes it hurt me to turn my head.”
Even though machines do most of the work for us now, I will never forget nor do I want to forget my father turning his face to the backseat of our car and looking like he was going to Halloween. That wasn’t a mask: it was my dad turning his neck and grimacing.
I had only asked him in the first place because I threw my own back out last week during an otherwise normal sneeze. I might as well have been kicked in the back by a horse. I don’t heal well; I am my father’s daughter.
“I feel like I’ve been kicked in the back,” I said to my dad on the phone, my mom hovering in the background, waiting her turn to talk to me.
“I have felt like that many times,” my dad said.
I wished it was spring, or at least Christmas.