Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day: Daddys Have a Heart

I hope my dad’s breathing on his own this Father’s Day. He wasn’t last Sunday.

A dozen hours of heart surgery last Friday in Atlanta, Ga., sort of drained his batteries.

They put in something and put in something else besides that and sewed up another thing and rebuilt this other deal. I think they changed his oil and rotated the tires while they were at it.

Lots of stuff.

So they couldn’t get him off the respirator until Monday. The respirator is the machine that breathes for you until you can do it on your own. I say “respirator” but it might be ventilator. He was hooked up to one of those. It was whichever one breathes for you, which hopefully was the same machine that’s covered by his insurance.

My little sis called Monday to say he’d finally worked up the strength to breathe on his own again. The nurse said he was talking crazy, out of his head, because of all the medicine they’d shot into him.

I wonder what made her so sure it was the medicine.

Many of you read Wiley Hilburn, who is a supplemental dad of sorts to me. He had surgery two weeks ago and is resting and recovering in Choudrant Memorial, which is his house. Last I checked he was holding his heart pillow, feeling fine, and reading another book on World War II, unconvinced that we really did beat Hitler and that no matter how many books he reads, Germany in World Wars is still going to be 0-2. Wiley can be a hard guy to convince.

So it’s been a heart-heavy month in this bureau. But my men are on the mend, good for a few thousand more miles. That’s a good thing. I need to learn more from them. I’ve learned a lot from them both, and not always in ways they’d have preferred to teach. I love them both and am proud of them both, and I hope their hearts continue to be repaired, continue to beat only in the way their hearts truly wish. Mine too.

Things can get confusing in the Father-Son Division. My dad will be the first to tell you he has fumbled it around a bit through the years. Well, he might not be the first to tell you. Maybe the fourth or fifth to tell you. But I am content in knowing the crazy days are over. I root for him; I can hope he roots for me. This next thought is from another era but will always be true: I could have helped matters by being a better son.

The poet Maya Angelo has been either credited or discredited with saying that “when people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.” I don’t think so. Even in the Bible, everybody coughed it up a good bit, everybody but Jesus. Abraham was a horrible husband, Jacob a habitual liar, Moses a murderer, David an adulterer, Peter a coward. Not a great resume, yet that’s a pretty salty starting five if you were developing a team for the Righteous League. Redemption and reconciliation is a theme of the Bible and hopefully a theme in the lives of fathers and sons everywhere.

And I’ll bet it is in Angelo’s life, too. Because she’s also credited with saying she isn’t afraid to look at her many mistakes, ask forgiveness of the ones offended, “then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better.’… If we hold on to the mistake…we can’t see what we’re capable of being.”

That sounds like someone who knows something of forgiveness and grace, which works every time, if it’s the authentic kind. Fathers and sons can’t operate successfully without it.

(The Times, June 21, 2009)