December 6th, 2004

ledbetter tat

Daddio's heart

I picked up the phone on Friday, and said, “Hey, Daddio.” I saw my dad’s number on my office caller ID.

“Hi, Terry—“

“Shelia?” It was my dad’s girlfriend, a black woman thirty-five years his junior with a four-year old daughter, the pride of my dad’s eye. Shelia has been living with or near my dad for over ten years. The daughter is not his.

“Yeah, it’s Shelia. Your dad needs a triple bypass. He’s having it done on Monday. He wanted me to call you.” Maybe Shelia and I have spoken all of three times in the past decade. I didn’t respond. I could hear my heart beating. “He wanted me to call. He doesn’t want you to worry.”

“Can I call him?”

“Yeah, I have a number but he said for you not to call.”
* * * *

I knew he had an angiogram on last Thursday. The doctors had identified a floating aneurism, and put him through a battery of tests to find out if all of his seventy-two year old organs could handle the surgery. This has been going on for a month. Each time my dad calls, he’s predictably upbeat, almost happy.

“You can’t believe how good they’re treating me.” He told me a few weeks ago after they finished testing his kidneys. “They must be spending a hundred thousand dollars on tests.” I smiled at his tally. He was at the local VA hospital, the place where he went for drug rehab some ten years ago when the family discovered his long addiction to crack cocaine. All of his treatment is free, courtesy of his service in the Air Force in the late fifties.

If I hadn’t been sitting down, my knees would’ve buckled. If I hadn’t the love for my dad, I would have screamed, “Yeah, great, whatever, good for you, old man.”
* * * *

Shelia was warm to me on Friday, perhaps for the first time, and I heard the distinct quiver of fear. I told her I’d call him anyway, thanked her for letting me know, assuring her it was a routine surgery, and that he’d be just fine.

“Oh. Shelia called you? Could you understand her?” He laughed at his ridiculously racist question.

“I can’t believe you just said that.” I laughed too, because I know my dad. It was probably a running gag between them.

“I keep telling her if she is going to talk to my son, talk so he can understand you.”

“Oh, God. Stop it. How’re you doing?”

“Fine. Fine. Oh, Ter, you’d have laughed. I got out of bed, snuck downstairs for a pipe break. The stupid nurse smelled it on my coat when I came back and I was taking off my coat and ripped out the IVs. Oh, Ter, it was a mess.” While he’s telling me this, there is his goofy laugh undercutting the seriousness of the situation. “It got me in trouble.”

“Yeah, dad, I’m sure it did.” I shook my head and laughed with him. Seventy-two and incorrigible. Luckily, I didn’t inherit any of his traits nor have I ever been attracted to that particular brand of bratty behavior.

“I love you, Ter.” He said it, as he always does, when he was hanging up.

“I love you, too, dad.”
* * * *

My dad’s under the knife right now. I know he’ll be okay, knocked down a peg or two for a few months in recovery, and I assume he’ll be back on the golf course by the summer. He’s getting the best care possible. I won’t be able to speak with him today but Shelia promised me she would call as soon as she heard any news.

I know the news will be good. My dad’s a tough guy even if he has the sensibility of a ten-year old. I loved a guy with an incorrigible ten-year old’s heart, and I lost him. I can’t afford to lose another one.