It was like I had been kicked in the gut by a World Cup player. My abdomen was screaming and I couldn’t turn in any direction.
I felt cold (why are hospitals always cold?), and must have mentioned it to someone in the room, because the 49-year old man at the end of the bed was gently putting socks on my feet and tucking blankets around my legs while telling me a story in his soft bass voice – that one voice that always soothed me more than any other.
I don’t know what he was talking about, exactly. My eyes were growing heavy. But I was faintly aware of a smile on my face.
“Jim – I don’t think she’s following you,” said my mom.
“That’s ok,” said Dad, looking away from me for just long enough to give Mom a grin and a nod. He continued in a lilting sing-song way. “It’s not the words that I say that matter. I’ll go on talking like this for as long as I need to.”
It was January 1995 and I was lying in New York University Hospital after an emergency appendectomy. I was 22 years old, 8 months out of college, and living in New York City when I was gripped with acute stomach pain that mystified doctors for three days because I failed to have the normal appendicitis symptoms. (That’s a whole ‘nother story. Since NYU is a learning hospital, let’s just say we all still wonder if they’re keeping my appendix in a jar somewhere, filed under ‘bizarre cases.’)
My folks had been divorced for more than a decade. Mom had driven 100 mph from Philadelphia the day before and Dad came up by train from Washington, D.C. that morning when I was in surgery. I will always be grateful that after their divorce they could come together gracefully whenever necessary for the sake of my sister and me.
I can count on my dad to be a voice of calm when I’m upset, fearful, or hurting. He is like a shelter in the storm – a steady presence who knows that a willingness to listen and sympathize is most often the first thing people need to make it through a tough time.
He’s ready to serve – ready to help – and in the most self-effacing kind of way. He’ll happily do whatever is needed for whomever asks. I’ve seen him spend hours patiently fixing broken appliances, detangling necklaces, and running small errands because he knows it will make life easier for the family he loves. He doesn’t need the flashy job that would garner applause from others; he’ll do the one that’s most necessary, no matter how unglamorous it is. And he’ll do it with a grateful, loving heart.
And that’s really the point of this post.
Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. I knew it was his birthday when I woke up this morning. I mailed his gift to Texas earlier this week, and I plan to talk with him today. But he isn’t a guy who demands attention in any sort of way. He’d never in a million years ask you to throw him a party. And we’ll hopefully be getting together in the next couple months.
So – to be totally honest, I forgot this birthday was a milestone.
70 years. Seventy decades of being the rock that so many people who love him rely on, and KNOW they can rely on because he is the most dependable, good-hearted guy around. The kind of guy who deserves a standing ovation, and is probably the least likely to get one.
Dad – today I just want to thank you. For being the father I could always count on. For being there. For doing what was necessary, whenever necessary, for me. For being someone who loves without limits. May your reward in heaven be spectacular, because God knows we all fall short of loving you enough here on earth.