Sunday, June 19, 2011

He is Superman. And he knows what's happening...

My dad is Superman.

No really. He is.

He doesn't wear the tights and flowing red cape. Instead, he's the hero who would quick knot a turquoise beach towel around his neck and skip through the house bare-chested and arms flapping wildly a la Chris Farley to save us all from a deadly serious or boring moment.

I say this all the time: I am certain about life's uncertainties. But I am quite certain my dad is Superman. I am also certain I am beyond lucky to have been able to ring up my dad today and hear his very kind, sweetly mellow voice on the other end.

For those of you who know my dad's health history...well, you know. For those of you who don't, my dad has kicked cancer's ass in no less than four separate steel cage death matches since he discovered his first lymphoma lump weaseling in under his armpit when he was only 32 years old. Over 30 years ago. He was told it was terminal, was told to get his affairs in order, and was given only 90 days to do so. Instead, my dad informed the doctors he had some things he would need to be tending to besides this cancer business, one of which included making an appearance at my high school graduation ceremony, which was still several years off.

And he did.

More recently, my dad has miraculously survived two open heart surgeries in the last seven years which were necessary to deal with the nasty effects of the massive amounts of radiation blasted at his tic tac toe-scarred chest over the years. And while having your chest cracked open to fiddle about with the very organ required to keep you alive is never a cake walk, it is particularly complicated for a man with only one kidney and only a few decent, sturdy veins required to do these sorts of things successfully. But he survived, and in his true wise-assey fashion was fighting through his anesthetic haze several hours before medically scheduled to slur a sleepy "MOOOooooOOOOooo" to the nurses to celebrate the new bovine valve that was now helping to keep him alive.

He's a very cheeky Superman. I'm not kidding.

So today is the day we celebrate our dads and I've started this entry, oh, a half million times. I'm tired and frustrated. I do not want this to sound too heavy, because that is so not my dad's style. Today I want to find a way to thank my Superman, because as Michael Stipe sings, he knows what's happening. My dad has obviously learned a few important life lessons and I feel lucky enough to have payed attention to a few. Far more attention than I paid in World History class, which I was thankfully able to squeak through, and therefore graduate so my dad could actually see that ceremony he beat down round one of cancer to attend.

So thank you, dad, for these lessons listed in a rather random, quick but very heartfelt manner. Mainly because I really need to get outside and finish the raised beds I'm building (side note: you would be proud. I've only said the f word twice. And I don't think the neighbors heard.) And because I've already been lucky enough to tell you over the phone today how much I love you. And that's what's most important, right?

1. It's not just about you.

The night before my dad's first open heart surgery I drove up to Portland to meet my folks for dinner. We met at the hotel, nervously joked with dad about where he wanted to go to eat for his potential Last Supper, and after my mom and I talked up our Mexican cravings, dad decided on Margarita's. While settling up the check after eating more guacamole than any person has a right, I noticed the large amount of food still on his plate. I asked if the nerves about the surgery had ruined his appetite.

This was when I learned my father doesn't really even like Mexican food.

WHAT?! My mother and I were just gobsmacked. Why in the HELL were we shoveling tortilla chips and pico into our faces then? Why were we here and not somewhere else shoveling penne a la vodka down and chasing it with Malbec if that's what he preferred?!

Because he wanted to make my mom and I happy, that's why. Sometimes it's not just about you. Even when perhaps it should be.

2. Best fashion lesson? Wear your heart on your sleeve.

My dad takes the side of Rosey Grier over Robert Smith. It's alright to cry, boys. Whether it's exuberant tears of joy when your son gives his acceptance speech for winning the coveted Fitzpatrick trophy, tiny tears of gratitude when your daughter tells you she is expecting her first child,or whether it's tears of profound sorrow like the ones we shared yesterday when his best friend lost his own courageous battle with cancer, "Blubber away." And while you're at it? Scream joyously from the high school stands, shake your fists furiously at the TV when the "Red Flops" lose,tell people you love them, because in spite what some songs say, the word is NOT overused. Step in when someone is being bullied and be angry with your children when they fuck up. Accessorize your sleeves with the true emotion that propels you through each day and moment.

3. Be Loyal.

My dad believes in loyalty. Unlike pro athletes, most politicians and those people who marry knowing they can simply file for a divorce if shit goes south, my dad has those beautiful old school notions of loyalty. As far as I can tell he's been completely loyal to my mom, every employer, his friends and his family. Even to Giants football. See? When he pledges to do something, he means it. He does it. Shouldn't we all?

4. Everyone should have a good nickname.

You know you have truly arrived in my dad's heart or on his shit list if he has appointed you with a nickname. This isn't so much a life lesson as it is one of my favorite things about my dad. Every neighbor, family member, squirrel at the bird feeder, bad driver, or unethical politician had a nickname granted by my dad while I was growing up. They still do. And there is nothing like hearing my dad tell a random tale without calling a single person or pet by their actual name:

"Big news. Pomp's scagdog was hit by the snow plow last night. Looks like spacedog will be running the neighborhood now, huh Gerbis?"

It's something endearing and rather hysterical. It's also likely the reason why our guinea pig currently goes by a million other names (including Little Manny Manatee) instead of his real name, Oliver.

5. Send in the clowns.

Be mature enough to know you don't always have to be mature. You know, tell your brother when he shows you a picture of his colonoscopy and mentions it looks like outerspace that you think you can "see Uranus." Watch Beavis and Butthead. And then quote them. A lot.

Find ways to laugh. At life. And at yourself once in awhile. It really just might be the best medicine.

6. Believe.

This is the last, but probably the most important lesson my dad and my mom (who as you might imagine, has some of the most fabulous nicknames thanks to my dad)etched into my noggin. Well. This and the infamous "don't you DARE run away with that German carnie blaring Sweet Emotion from the DJ booth in the Raupen-Bahn, because he is still a GD carnie!" lesson.

But anyway. Yes. Believe in stuff.

You should start with yourself. Believe in your abilities. And in those of your kids, family and friends. Believe the USA can win a gold in hockey and that the Red Sox can win the pennant again. Believe that something bigger might be at hand. Believe things can and will improve. Believe in a day when you'll get to see your daughter bobby-pin her Bulldog blue graduation cap on her noodle because she somehow passed that awful test on the Visigoths. Believe you will get walk her always anxious, sweaty hand down a wedding aisle, and believe you will get to wrap your weathered hands gently around your first grandson. And then your granddaughter, who follows.

When life hands you kryptonite news, kind of like Fox, my Superman reminds me it never hurts to believe otherwise.

Thanks for all you have taught me, Dad. I hope you know I love you more than this ramble likely shows.

And Happy Father's Day, Superman.