I am struck with how tough my father was, and he raised his kids to be the same. Daddy was all about working the problem rather than rehashing it and you could hardly work a problem if you were overly emotional about it.
About 12 years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now, older black men and prostate cancer is such a common occurrence that if you have any kind of knowledge about it, you know early detection equals a survival rate of over 90%. My father knew this, and the last thing he wanted was to create a panic. So he kept mum about it to everyone except his wife…and me (which includes my husband by default), until it was nearly over.
When he called me he said that he figured at least one of his kids needed to know what was up. I was the only one who could both handle it without panicking, and manage to obey him by not telling any of my other siblings until we were near the tail end of the thing. Daddy didn’t like being fussed over and he certainly didn’t want to be constantly surrounded by others’ fears or harangued for updates.
He also loathed the idea of being watched in a vigil-like manner. He was a strong man and he could handle whatever life threw at him, thankyouverymuch. His wife said it was male pride. He considered it an inherent requirement of real manhood. So we went quietly through what turned out to be a short lived ordeal from which he recovered fully before returning to his active and busy life.
My father spent one very uneventful week, medically speaking, in the hospital before he passed. It was in retrospect, also a very eventful week, one in which we experienced the full range of who he was and what he was all about, in concentrated form. As we looked back on individual conversations we had with him, it was as if he had some clue about what was ahead.
Anyway, one of those evenings a lot of us were in his hospital room. That was often the case that week, but on this day it wasn’t just family. His pastor, two deacons from his church, and a young family from his church (husband, wife and 2 kids) had joined us to keep him company. When the pastor broke up the conversations and suggested we all pray, Daddy spoke up:
“I always welcome prayer but.. I’m looking around here and I hope this ain’t some kind of vigil. I don’t like vigils, and I don’t need one. I feel fine, just need some rest and some things checked out.”
One of the men made it clear, “Nah, Deac. This ain’t no vigil. It’s a party“, to much laughter.
My dad never saw the point of crying over spilled milk or tough times (“it rains on the just and the unjust”), and he kept his emotional cards close to the vest except on very rare occasions. Those occasions were usually a very big deal. However, he understood that human beings feel, and that’s a part of life too. He knew how to offer comfort when it was needed.
The first time I vividly recall my father telling me he loved me, I was a teenager. My maternal grandfather had just died and he knew how hard we were taking it. Grandpa was the funniest, most generous, straight talking man you’d ever meet. Always, but especially on the weekends after he had a couple. His grandchildren thought the world of him, and it was a difficult loss.
It was one of those times when my father knew instinctively that his girls especially would benefit from the comfort of his arms and his words as well as his actions. It was a stretch because my father wholeheartedly believed that a person tells you how they feel about you by the way they treat you, and he took good care of his kids. We knew, all 9 of us, that he loved us.
That day though, he needed to do more so he did. In the aftermath it was business and usual; stiff upper lip and all that. It’s the way he bred us to be. I have had quite a journey on the road to being more vulnerable, with my husband’s help. It’s been a good lesson, one that has helped me be a better wife.
Nevertheless, one of the things I am ever so grateful to my father for is an understanding of how truly small most things are in the grand scheme. How rare we encounter things which are truly worth losing sleep over.
I hope that the tears I still shed for him after two years qualify as a very, very big thing.