My Father’s Adult Daughter

kevin dooley
kevin dooley

Words – a torrent of them came rushing towards me, threatening to wash me away by their slow inevitability. “Dependant”; “beneficiary”; “claims”; words, words and more words. There was a small fan in the corner insistent on blowing the papers and he kept trying to hold them with his right thumb, while constantly gesturing with his left hand, as he always did. I wondered if I had ever noticed these small things before and why I was focusing on his hand gestures now, instead of his words. Strangely enough I continued ignoring his words and spiraled down my thoughts. Is this what growing up felt like? I, a 22 year old “adult” about to graduate from college, had considered myself an adult from quite some time now. But today, perched on my father’s hospital bed surrounded by the stark white walls and the typical, pungent smell that assures you of the discomforting cleanliness, I questioned my entire notion of adulthood.

About four months ago, I was home for the weekend, when my dad came to my room while laughingly gesturing to his feet. “Look at how swollen the right one is… Old age I tell you. It’s the damndest thing! Any idea how to take care of it?” Like any worthy self-proclaimed home remedy expert I googled it and prescribed sleeping with his feet raised. For the first time, Google failed me. My father, a tall, skinny man started putting on weight shortly after. Everyone who met him commented on his seemingly good health and freshness. Little did they know, that it was really just the stealthy sickness disguising itself as it crept up his body. Ancient tales have it that a battlefield always looks the finest, the very day of the combat and my father’s body was primed in a very similar manner. His own blood fought his organs – an excess of body fluid retention prevented his lungs and heart from functioning properly.

In just a few hours, he would be taken away for his eighth investigative surgery where the doctors would find out if his pericardium needs to be removed. My father’s heart – full of love, enveloped in warmth, could be naked by the end of the day. Losing the protective layer of the very organ pumping life through the whole human body, mortality rate increases exponentially. That is why my father was currently explaining how I would go about filing a life insurance claim, if need be. From the corner of my eye, I saw him turn the last page and look at me with concern. “Got it?” he asked in an uncertain, shaky tone. Even his voice had aged. In one paralyzing moment I realized that I had not heard a word; I did not know anything about life insurance and most importantly if the time comes I’m not going to have anyone to explain it to me. I was going to be on my own. What had once seemed like a romantic notion filled with wonder and excitement, pricked me like a thousand needles. I wanted to run as far away as I could, throw up the half bagel I had for breakfast, and run even further. The dread up my spine was brutal in its irony.

“I want to experience life on my own,” I had yelled from my room, three years ago, just before starting college. To my parents who had only moved to the US from Pakistan two years ago, this was an act of rebellion that their friends had warned them to look out for. They didn’t understand what could possibly be the point of living on campus when our home was only 30 minutes away from my college. Children, specially girls, in Pakistani families stayed with their parents till they left the city for their education, work or marriage, none of which was happening in my case. To them it seemed like a trivial case of stubbornness but to me it was my one chance to live the dream. I had always been a dreamer – staying in the books I read and movies I watched, long after they ended. I could be my own life’s heroine – a young girl taking on the world; all its joys and sorrows; ebbs and tides; long drives and lonely nights; love and heartbreak. And most importantly, I wanted to do it myself, live on my own terms, do everything the way I pleased while relying only on myself. That night in my fury I ran from the house with my father calling my name behind me. An athlete used to running everyday I ran for almost two hours before my body gave up on me and I trekked back home in exhaustion. My dad was pacing by the door and my mother slumped in a chair. They did not say anything to me that night but the next day they allowed me to live on campus. The day I was moving out my father told me that he wanted me to enter all the new phases of my life with a smile on my face. “A daughter’s smile is a father’s contentment,” were his parting words to me.

These words echoed in my mind and realization set in. What I had always seen as the beginning of my adulthood was merely a media sponsored, naïve projection of the word that was based solely on selfishness. I had an amazing experience in college, not just because of myself but because I knew that there is a safe haven where two people love me the most unconditionally. That night they overcame their fears and met them head on while I simply ran. They fulfilled their responsibility as a parent and gave me the wings of self-confidence to soar high, while I scared and disobeyed them. They put my smile before their wishes so that I would never be on my own. Yes, I could run away today but then my father would be on his own. Selfishness is not adulthood, responsibility is. At that moment, right on the brink of my biggest loss, uncertainty gathering like a lump at the base of my throat, I managed to squeeze out two words and a single smile, “Yes, Dad!” My father smiled, lay back down and closed his eyes; his hands resting idly by his sides in peace. I covered him with a blanket, picked up the folder in my clammy hands and stood there stationary and reliable – a father’s contentment; an adult. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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