Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I’ve spent a harrowing couple of days driving back and forth from the hospital to see my father who has been hospitalized with pneumonia and a failing heart. Yesterday was horrible—he couldn’t breathe, even with oxygen, and he said he didn’t want to live that way. He seems to be improving somewhat today and we have our fingers crossed that he has jumped yet another health hurdle. He is 88 years old and I know he won’t be here forever, but I can’t imagine life without him.

I have an old photograph of him when he was about 20 years old, with a charming crooked-toothed grin, proudly wearing his Coast Guard uniform. He and his best buddy Les Sizemore enlisted in the Coast Guard together in 1939. My dad grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and spent his boyhood summers sailing the Bay and restoring an old sailboat, so his love of the sea attracted him to the Coast Guard. Not long after he completed basic training, the country entered World War II. He served on ships in the North Atlantic and the South Pacific and much of his time was spent on the Sea Cloud, a square-rigged ship (a barque) that belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post (Close Hutton Davies May). When the United States entered the War, she rented the ship to the Coast Guard for one dollar a year and the ship was refitted for war as a U-Boat spotter and weather ship. My father served until the end of the War and came home to raise a family.

He’s something between a rock and a pillow. All five of his children rely on him still and turn to him when we need advice or reassurance. Yet he wonders if he failed as a father whenever he sees his kids’ lives get messed up—a thought that could not be farther from the truth. He’s strong, yet he is sweet and comforting. My sister and I both think he ruined us because we will never find husbands like him. He knows all the important things—like how to patch the rotting wood on the back gate or how to wire the dimmer on the light switch. Even though he’s blind now, he talks me through these minor house repairs. He can see it in his head and remembers the colors of the electrical connectors. He doesn’t complain about losing his sight. He just keeps going, doing what he can. He goes to church, he walks almost every day, and he talks. He talks and talks and talks. And now we read him his Father’s Day cards. For some reason, it’s one thing to give him a preprinted card with some sappy sentiment, written by a professional sap writer. It’s another thing to read the cards aloud to him. Generally, I look for a simple, heartfelt message. I don’t like the ones that run on and on, neither do I want one that just says, “Happy Father’s Day”—that’s insufficient for a father of his caliber. The funny cards don’t do it either. I do want to send him a message: that I love him dearly and that he is the best father I ever could have imagined. So I find the preprinted card that says something close to that. But when I give him the usual Father’s Day Hawaiian shirt and read him the card, I steel myself so I don’t burst into tears.

Hang in there, Daddy. I love you.

1 comment:

  1. I know Nathan has a lot of his qualities and I'm grateful for it. Thanks for writing this. We're praying for Poppy.