My dad loved the ocean. I think it was one of the few things, if not the only thing, that brought him true peace. He used to be an avid scuba diver and explored many of the shipwrecks littering the bottom of the sea around New Jersey and New York. He gave up his flippers, however, after a close call beneath the surface of the waves. My dad said he knew he’d been a lucky man and wasn’t about to tempt lady fate twice. But that didn’t keep him away entirely. He owned several boats over the course of his life and loved to fish, loved to sail. Loved the ballad the high seas strummed in his ear. He told me once, long before he’d gotten sick, that when he died he wanted to be cremated, his ashes spread at sea. It wasn’t something I took seriously.
How could I? I’d waited all my life for my dad to be there for me. As I grew older, we finally grew together. The childhood I’d been deprived of was finally achieved as an adult. Once we both left the family business, things blossomed. My dad became my buddy. Sure, we clashed heads at times, but friends often do. Strange as this may sound, I saw a lot of myself in my dad and by recognizing that, I learned a lot about myself as well. I realized we were very similar and not just in a father/son way. It opened doors for me I never knew were there. In many ways I guess an innocent child with wide-eyed belief still existed within me then – I believed my father would be a permanent fixture in my life forever, much the way I believed that Santa really ate those cookies I’d left for him, the way I believed the New Orleans Saints would win a Super Bowl one day. Much the way I believed that my father led a double life as a superhero.
Faith. It’s an intangible, invisible beacon that guides me. Nearly every decision I’ve made has been based on the blind notion it will lead me where I’m meant to be. My faith, at times, has wavered. My faith, at times, has crumbled. But always, I have followed.
I never lost my faith even when my father’s chemotherapy stopped working.
I never lost faith after he required a wheelchair for lengthy walks and his muscles began their slow descent into atrophy.
I never lost faith through his first stay in the hospital, as the days dragged into weeks and weeks, and the doctor’s only offering of solace was a meager there’s nothing left that can be done.
I never lost faith as his stomach swelled hideously with cancerous fluid, and he was forced to breathe with the assistance of a tube.
I never lost faith during his second stint in the hospital, when eventually the doctor released him into a hospice, near death and a forgotten man.
Never drop the ball, I’d say aloud to my dad.
Never drop the ball, I’d whisper into his ear.
And I certainly didn’t lose faith after my father figured it out as he always had in life. Figured it out and battled his way out of hospice to go home. To keep fighting.
“Your father told me that if it wasn’t for you, he’d be leaving hospice the only other way…” his neighbor and good friend Danny told me.
I refused to believe that. My father rose twice after all had buried him, given up on him, not because of me, but because of the man he was.
There are many aspects of my father’s suffering I’ve suppressed. I’ve slammed doors shut inside my mind, trapping the horrors within. I don’t wish for them to escape. Scotch and wine tempers them sufficiently, until the next time they shriek and pound their fists. I witnessed my father agonize slowly from the inside out. No man or woman or child should endure such a fate. Yet through the suffering, and beyond anything I can ever hope to articulate, I witnessed a transformation.
I learned the truth behind everything I’d ever wondered about him.
His identity would be revealed…
(Part Five: A Saint Goes Marching In soon to come)