The Two Times My Father Almost Died
I was driving to San Francisco and about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge when my father called and immediately told me that he had bad news. I knew that my father had gone in for a prostate cancer test, but we all thought it wasn’t possible he would actually have it. Hello, he almost died eight months ago. Doesn’t he have a Get Out Of Death Free card? He had just gotten his strength back, his lungs were better than ever. Couldn’t the grim reaper leave him alone for just a sec and go harass someone else?
Nope, no such luck, he had prostate cancer. I was in disbelief yet again. Prostate cancer seemed more real, more permanent than a trendy virus like swine flu. Before it had always seemed like he would make it through the rain. There was always underlying hope because my father couldn’t die of swine flu, okay? But I knew prostate cancer didn’t fuck around. My father informed me that it didn’t look like it had spread though and then he gave me a terrifying percentage of his chance of surviving. My dad doesn’t sugarcoat anything. I have never met a man who actually was incapable of telling a single lie. Liar Liar starring Jim Carrey was essentially a documentary about his life.
I spent that weekend in San Francisco trying to have fun but it didn’t really work. I was crying in bookstores, in friend’s backyards, in a grocery store. I even stupidly reread The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion in hopes that it would tell me the secret to grieving—a secret I had neglected to learn the first time I read it because I didn’t have to. When you’ve never dealt with death before, you’re not actively seeking out the truths about grief, not trying to retain the stories of other people’s experiences. All of this changes, however, when you have had someone close to you die (or in my case, almost die). Now, you’re always searching for clues and for other narratives that aren’t your own. In them, you hope to find an “aha!” moment, something that will make you better equipped to deal with things. When my father was sick and near death, I felt like a defective human and I wanted to know how I could fix myself. I wanted to be that person who performs well in a crisis, that person who everyone envies and admires. But I wasn’t going to change overnight and I certainly wasn’t going to have Joan Didion tell me what to do. That bitch is crazy!
To make things even more intense, my father had decided to have his prostate removal surgery in New York, which meant that he was going to be staying in my studio apartment in the East Village for three weeks. Even though I was happy to get a chance to be a part of his healing process, I was also fucking terrified. If anyone knows anything about surgery involving your prostate, the recovery process can be…messy. And I had to be prepared to see my father in very vulnerable positions. I was in that phase of my life where I would have to be stronger than my father. He was old and sick, and I was young and healthy. I swear, sometimes I think parents have kids just so they can have someone wipe their ass when they can no longer do it themselves.
Before my father had his surgery though, we decided to go on a trip around the East Coast for five days. I think it was a way for us to have a “calm before the storm” moment, but it also kind of felt like an attempt at having one last great memory together in case anything awful happened to him. Going into it, I worried about the trip having a bittersweet quality to it. Every time we would have a great laugh together, would we worry that it would be the last great laugh?
The trip turned out to be seriously amazing though. One of my father’s great joys in life is taking scenic drives and some of the best memories I have of growing up is driving up the coast together and going all around California. The guy just loves the charm of old towns and, like, beautiful patches of grass. It was May when we set out on our trip and the weather was beautiful as we made our way though upstate New York and then to Connecticut, Rhode Island, The Berkshires, Boston, Northampton and, oh my god, Provincetown. I had always wanted to visit P-town because I heard it was just one beautiful strip of flaming homosexual, and even though going there with my father was sort of “WTF?!, I knew I had to go.
Surprisingly, my father loved Provincetown and Cape Cod the most, and our stay there actually ended up being one of the best times on the trip. I went swimming at our hotel while my father took a four-hour nap (old people are awake for a grand total of six hours a day, btw) and then we went to this amazing dinner by the water. Afterwards, we rented one of my dad’s favorite movies, The Last Picture Show, and also watched Michael Clayton. Basically, my father likes three things: driving, eating, and watching movies. Oh, and sleeping, So this was his (and my} idea of heaven.
When we got back to the city, reality set in and I started to panic just like I did the last time. “Oh my god, I can’t watch my father be incontinent. Oh my god, I can’t see him that frail and old.” But this was me manning up and getting another chance to be there for him in a way that I wasn’t before.
When he got out of surgery, I went to go see him and he appeared to be in a lot of pain. My father usually has an insane pain tolerance so seeing him scream was an unsettling experience. He spent the next few days in recovery at the hospital and I made sure to push my issues aside and be there for him. I had to talk myself through the steps as if I had just bought a piece of furniture at IKEA and was learning how to put the fucking thing together. There were roadblocks in my brain and I had to navigate my way through them and create shortcuts.
When he came to my apartment, he was still in pretty bad shape but after two days of TLC and codeine, he was actually in good spirits and starting to take walks. Actually the funny thing about getting your prostate removed is that you must walk a lot. It’s one of the only recoveries that don’t involve “GET LOTS OF R & R!!!” No, you have to be on your feet and working that bod ASAP.
My father and I spent the next few weeks eating out, going to movies, and walking around the city. It was as if he didn’t just have major surgery; he was just visiting me on vacation in New York. I knew I was doing right by him this time around. The first few days were admittedly hard—I wanted the experience to be over and done with—but I powered through. OH MY GOD, AREN’T I JUST SO STRONG? Ugh, I realize that this whole thing makes me sound like an emotionally inept brat. What I will say in my defense is that you never know how you’re going to react to something like this until it happens. You think you know but you have no idea: This is the diary of…someone whose father just might die. It has the ability to derail the strongest people. I mean, I almost died too. I went through six surgeries and two years of rehab. You think that if anyone could’ve been there for my father, it would’ve been me. But sometimes it’s easier to be the one who’s sick. You can focus on your recovery and put all your energy into getting yourself better. When you’re the healthy one, there’s only so much you can do. You feel helpless just watching someone you love die and you don’t have something to put all of your energy into.
I’m happy to say that the surgery was a success and my father has been cancer free for over a year now. Having him almost die twice in a single year was extremely surreal, but it kind of forced me to become the person I needed to be for him. I can’t even say that these experiences made me appreciate him more because I’ve always appreciated and loved him. What it did do was reinforce the fact that I want to be the best son I can be for him because he’s always been the best father to me. And this is what happens when you get older. The roles get reversed and I just don’t want to disappoint him or myself the next time I need to step up to the plate.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
Your Son (The Gay One)
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