Something Personal…for My Father’s Birthday

June 6 is my father’s birthday.

my Dad, and the baby, Kasha

It’s been on my mind to allow some things of my personal life to be known, gradually. Formative events, state of the union, so to speak.

This is a very small portion, very much abbreviated with some very essential details left out, of something much larger that I will be writing about.

My father developed prostate trouble in 1997, which led to a semi-botched operation leaving him with reoccurring pain. That trouble was only the symptom.
I made a pledge to him to be there for him. To myself, and to him. We knew doctors, and hospitals.

From 1997-2002, taking care of my father meant merely assisting in things. No problem. Just time. He was always sharp, aware and well read. Doctor’s appointments, other things, etc.

From 2002, the care took a very steep dive into a hurried and fast-paced intensity. I thought it was steep then.
From 2002, my father was in and out of the hospitals on a regular basis. Needing help finally shopping, preparing food, appointments. But always as fiercely independent of mind as ever.
Every day he was in the hospital, I was there. From 10 am til midnight or later, sometimes overnight depending on the state of his health. I worked independently at home so I could afford to be.
If it was in a recovery unit, I’d bring home-made food, newspapers, books; arrive usually around 10:00 or sometimes later at 11:30 am, spend a few hours, wheel my Dad around the grounds in summer, and inside in bad weather.
I’d come back at dinner hour, and we’d do the same thing- and all the while I’d bet checking with the nurses, listening to reports from doctors, etc.
We’d talk, get tea, coffee, sit and read.
It was always a great pleasure to me to hear from various nurses over the years who’d remember my Dad from sight if they weren’t his nurses anymore. And more wonderful to hear every single one of them recall what a great gentleman, and sweet person he had been to deal with during their time.
I’d leave every evening when visiting hours ended, after he was tucked in, set to relax, and then we’d check in over the phone, since the house was only 15 minutes away at the time, when I got back, saying goodnight.

From 2003/2004, the situation got more serious. Then, it intensified.
From September 2005 to May 2006, my father was in the hospital and I was there every day from 10 am til midnight, and often longer; sometimes staying overnight into the next day at midnight.
I still brought food, newspapers, books.
I always waited til things were quiet, til after he’d fallen asleep, and stayed asleep without incident before I left. In the meantime, I constantly checked blood pressure, sinus waves, etc. Noted meds given.
Kept notes.
My father was in a few regular rooms, but a lot of the time was spent in intensive care.

Finally in March, he was moved to a rehab centre nearer to the house and it wasn’t a half hour drive to and from the hospital, but a 15 minute one each way.
In May, too early, he was sent home.

I did the usual things. Cooking, laundry, shopping, doctors’ appointment. It left time to talk on the phone once in awhile, make money, lose whatever other friends I might have gained during all those years.

During that time, my Dad’s sister, my last aunt died. There was an uncle I was never in touch with. And his kids. Never heard from them.
Heard from my cousin Harold. He was coming to visit, get on his motorcycle, and we’d get together and visit and cheer my Dad up some with a vanished familiarity.
After a few weeks, and he hadn’t showed up, I called one of my mother’s sister’s remaining sons whom my father had greatly helped through his own cancer. Found out my cousin Harold died in his sleep a few days after we spoke.
Never heard from that uncle again, either.

We had a routine. I’d get up early enough, go check on my father ( his state of awakeness, and desire to get up), have something to eat. Have what amounted to an ordinary day for us.

I’d warm bags containing buckwheat for warmth for his legs, and feet since his circulation was poor ( and he’d been a health nut ever since I got on him in 1974 about what John Lennon said about white bread, etc. – plus his heritage was long steeped in the tradition of herbs and natural remedies), and we’d talk while doing so.

Each evening ended with a ‘sleep well,’ exchanged ‘I love you’s’, and ‘see you in the morning.’ And a kiss on the cheek, with the blankets pulled up, Kleenex nearby, and some water.

Saturday night, I did the same. We did. He whispered I love you, I love Terry(my brother). I said I know Dad, I’ve always known. I love you too, so does Terry. You`re the best father. I said, I`m going upstairs, have a bath, be back in 15 minutes to see how you`re doing.
I`d go downstairs, turn on the slight light in the hall leading to my father`s bedroom, where it wouldn`t disturb him, and peek to see he was doing okay. Chest moving.

I went very silently, slipped the switch. Just as I did, my brother came in to visit.
My Dad was on his back, rather than the usual side sleep. I said, Dad, Dad. As I usually would, very lightly to gauge whether he was sleeping comfortably, or slightly, and might need anything.

Him being on his back was odd. Never had happened.
I stepped into the room. I could see his eyes. Lids half closed.
I said Dad, more loudly. My brother said, Dad, Then asked me, Is he breathing.
Lightning struck. Life itself altered.

I went to him, and he didn`t move despite my raising my voice very loudly, saying Dad.
I touched his right cheek. Cold.
I gave his cheek a few taps. I shook him by his shoulder.
No chest movement. His eyes were fixed.. He wasn`t breathing.

Worlds turned for me.

This blog is not about what I did, but about a father who deserved what I did, and more.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.
And my brother, Terry, who is very much alive, and for which I am grateful too.

©Dean Baker

My father believed in, and was the exemplar of this quote:

“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unrewarded talent. Education alone will not: the world is full of educated failures. Persistence alone is omnipotent.”

Calvin Coolidge
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