Somehow, I thought being a grown-up would have more advantages . . .
I guess I was wrong about this.
I was up and out of my house before the sun had its chance to wake. I drove down the dark road that leads from my house on Spook Rock and turned right onto Haverstraw. The moon was bright enough to shed a little light on the otherwise unlit roadway. My high-beams switched on to shine upon the road, hopefully to stop any of the mountain critters from running across the street.
No coffee yet and with hardly any sleep, I made my way onto the Palisades Parkway, heading due south, until I find my way to the George Washington Bridge.
Mostly dark for this drive, I slipped into a strange thought process. Almost involuntary and certainly ongoing, my thoughts tend to dovetail—spreading out from one subject to another, growing and snowballing into thoughts I don’t need to have.
“I should have had a cup of coffee,” I thought to myself.
Fortunately, I have enough faith in my equipment. My mind takes over in autopilot. I am consciously aware of the road and cautious of the deer that seem to dodge their way across the parkway. Yet, at the same time, my mind is off and wandering from one intense thought to the next.
The problem is I think too much. I am not alone with this problem either. I overthink and over analyze. I worry too much—and worrying is not always helpful.
I arrived at work and still, no sign of the sun. I was greeted by the security guards at the loading dock gate. Both guards are very friendly towards me. Similar to me, neither of the two guards in the guard’s booth is at work because they want to be.
Like me, they have bills. They have a family. Like me, both guards had a family before the family they have now—and exactly like me, they understand what it means to have bills, as well as things to pay for, a mortgage to pay on time (or rent) and still pay child support without falling behind.
As soon as I began my shift this morning, I began to feel the slow, simmering feeling that comes with anger. I felt the need to complain. I wanted to complain about the hours I put in. I was pissed about the jobs I have to do.
I was pissed about the bills I have to pay and the taxes they take out of my check. I’m pissed about the way I am treated in some cases. I’m pissed about those involved in my life when I would rather them be uninvolved—and I’m pissed about those who are uninvolved in my life when I want them to be more involved.
“I swear, no one understands,” I think to myself.
Today started poorly. I wanted to complain about the people I work with. And the list continues. Like anyone else, I have a boiling point. Like everybody else, I reach a limit and I want to scream. I want to complain. I want to bitch about people and vent the anger. I want to cry out and throw the adult version of a childish temper tantrum.
Someone I have a great deal of respect for suggested, “You should probably count your blessings before you complain about anything else.”
“You have a job,” he told me.
“You have a place to live,” he said and then he pointed at my car.
“And you obviously have a way to get from one place to another, so I think you might want to see what you’re grateful.”
Back when I was a little kid, The Old Man used to come home from work, sit at the dinner table, eat, and say very little. My father was a blue collar guy. He worked hard and he worked with his hands. Some nights, The Old Man would come home sore from the job. His back ached. His knees hurt from crouching down and swinging pipe wrenches.
I know The Old Man washed his hands before sitting at the dinner table, but soot and pump grease, black oil, and machinery grit are tough things to wash away. This is the kind of dirt that stains the fingerprints and leaves a black outline around the fingernails.
Usually, we had already eaten by the time The Old Man came home from work. He was always welcomed in the door by my Mother. My brother was usually elsewhere, and I was too young to go anyplace else.
I remember the look of intensity on The Old Man’s face. I could tell there was so much weighing on his mind, and while at the dinner table, The Old Man wanted nothing more than to finish his meal, unwind, and exhale. I remember his face was almost expressionless and his eyes were half-closed because he was tired after a long day.
My Old Man worked. This is what he did. He worked and cared for his family. As he saw it, this was his job. He provided to the best of his ability.
True, there were times when he was a man of few words. After long days, The Old Man was not always friendly. He was tough. The Old Man was tough on the men that worked for him and he was also tough on me sometimes.
I admit to being frightened of him on occasions. I admit that although he was rough around the edges, there was no one else in the world like my Old Man. I admired him. In truth, I wanted to be like him—exactly like him—dirty hands and all.
There is a memory I have from when I was a boy. I was 8 year-old and sick with gastroenteritis. I was hospitalized and then sent home. It went back and forth like this. I could not keep food down or keep still. I could not sleep or find a comfortable position to rest. All I could do was cry, vomit, and feel sick.
One day, this was so bad that I could hear my Mother crying downstairs. I never asked why she was crying. I suppose being a Mom, my Mother felt helpless. It was a sure thing that I would have to return to the hospital. I repeat this to emphasize the discomfort; no matter what Mom tried to do, I could not sleep. I could not sit still and I could not keep any food down. At her wit’s end, my Mother had nothing left to give.
It was nighttime when The Old Man returned home. I heard the front door open and shut closed. I heard the sound of my Old Man walking through the door and heading over to the dinning room table, which is where my Mother intercepted him.
“He’s all yours,” she said with a frustrated cry.
“I’ve tried everything but I just can’t get him to calm down.”
My Mother was referring to her day with me.
I had tears in my eyes. I remember this. I was so terribly sick and uncomfortable. Since there was no relief in sight, I was afraid I would have to go back to the hospital. I was afraid of the needles they put in my arm. I was afraid of the ongoing sting that came with the intravenous contraption that connected medication into my veins by way of a clear plastic tube and distributed through the tip of a sharp needle which poked through my vein.
I was afraid of the sounds I heard in the hospital. I was afraid of the tests they run and lies from other doctors when they said, “It doesn’t hurt. You’re just going to feel a little pinch, followed by some pressure.”
I was told that if I could not stop vomiting, they would have to take me back to the hospital to give me more medication, which of course, left me petrified.
My head hurt and my body ached. Worst of all, I could not stop the nausea—no matter what I tried and no matter what the doctors gave me, I could not stop the sickness from happening. Sadly, I felt so terrible that I wanted to die.
Lying in my bed, lights off, hair all matted and pajamas wet with sweat from a high fever, I heard The Old Man take to the staircase. I heard each of his footsteps, slowly, one step by one step until he reached the top into the lighted corridor. I could see the shadow of his figure heading up the carpeted stairs.
“Is there anyone up there I know,” asked The Old Man, jokingly.
He opened the door a bit wider and stood in the doorway.
“Whadaya say, kid?”
I was too sick to answer him. I was crying and could not stop. The Old Man walked into my bedroom with the lighting from the hallways moving through the doorway of my bedroom. I was curled on my side—head on the pillow with my knees curled up to my chest. I was so small, young, and painfully frightened.
The Old Man sat next to me.
“Let me take a look at you,” he said.
When I moved over to let The Old Man sit on the side of my bed, I moved the blankets from my body, revealing my rib that was uncovered by my crumpled up pajama top.
“Look at this,” said The Old Man.
“I can see your ribs,” he told me.
“Did anyone ever tell you that your ribs stick out?”
The Old Man poked one rib at a time.
“Your ribs look like a piano.”
I felt to terrible to be entertained.
I was too uncomfortable to be comforted and too nauseous to rest.
“Let’s see what we got here,” said The Old Man.
Gently poking at my ribs like they were keys to a piano, this man who was big, strong, heavy-handed, and strict at times, sat beside me and showed me what it means to be a father. And then he began to sing.
He sang, “Tea for two, and two for tea. Me for you and you for me.”
I was way too young to know much about this song. I had no idea who Doris Day was and that this was a song she sung in a movie from the 1950’s.
Perhaps The Old Man did not have the best singing voice. Maybe The Old Man was tough. Maybe he was hard during times when he could have been gentle. Maybe he smelled from the cleaning solution from his shop, mixed with fuel oil from a furnace. However, on this night when I needed it most, The Old Man showed me what it means to be a Dad, and shortly after, at last, I was able to fall asleep.
I never forgot this. Even in the trouble times between teenager and parent, I still remembered this, which is why on the night when The Old Man passed, he was pale, sick, and uncomfortable. The medication made him crazy. He screamed and suffered from hallucinations. No matter how he tried and what the doctors gave him; The Old Man could not rest or sit still.
Before my father passed, I sat at his bedside in the Coronary Care unit and returned the loving kindness he once showed me when I was sick. He had lost a bit of weight, and well, same as he did for me, I decided to play the piano on his ribs the same way he did for me. “Tea for too and two for tea. Me for you and you for me.” And as a result, I sung my Old Man to sleep.
What I remember most of this was the tear drop that balled in the corner of The Old Man’s closed eyes. “Look,” someone pointed out. “There’s a tear in his eye.”
The doctors suggested this was his body letting go. Whereas I, on the other hand, I believe this was a tear from my Old Man’s farewell.
This morning, I found myself stuck in a case of self-will. I was angry. I have resentments on my mind. I come home late and I eat at my empty dinner table. I have a look of intensity on my face—almost expressionless, and my eyes are half-closed because I am tired. My back often hurts. My knees are bad and my ankles are not much better. I am often less than patient and too often quick with my temper. Meanwhile, those in my home simply want to say one thing. They want to say, “Hello,” or“How was your day,” and “We missed you.”
When I was a boy, I used to want to be exactly like The Old Man.
Apparently, I received my wish.
Note to the reader:
As I write to you, I am thinking of a father, who like me, lives in a home with a family. Just like me, he has bills to pay and work to deal with.
He’s a Dad and I’m sure like all Dads, this man has good days and bad ones.
I tell you, this father is going to be a new friend of mine.
The reason why is currently. this Dad is sitting by his daughter’s bedside in a Morris County Hospital while she undergoes an intense treatment for a rare and aggressive form of Leukemia.
I think my friend was right this morning. I think I do need to count my blessings. I think I need to realize how blessed I am to have a family, have a wife, and be called “Daddy!”
With all I have and all I can give, I offer you this story with hopes that it helps.
Believe me, there is no love like that from a Dad.
Trust me sir, this can be lifesaving . . .