Sunday, August 31, 2008

Where authors and readers come together!

Dear Friends,
It would be helpful to you if you first read the second installment of my series "Stuff My Father Won't Tell Me, A Continuation", which you'll find by scrolling down a bit. My intent and hope is to write and hopefully publish a five part series. More to come ...

“Stuff My Father Won’t Tell Me” Part 3

“Hello,” I picked up the phone.

“Hi Albert. It’s Marge.”

“No. This is Alan.”

“Alan? You sound just like your dad.”

“Well, I guess it’s in the genes. One moment, please. Dad, it’s for you.”

Not too surprisingly, I look like my father, dress like him, emote like him and, as you just learned, sound like him. In other words, I am my father’s son. Then again, so is my brother Ron with whom I have reconnected after a long hiatus these past two months due entirely to our father’s illness. Ron flew in on Sunday afternoon. He called me when he got to my dad’s apartment.

“Ron, can you fill in for me tomorrow? I can’t make it down.”

“Sure. How’s Tuesday for you?”

“Nope, I can’t make it then either. I’ve got some other stuff to do.”

Ron is anxious for the three of us to spend time together before he has to return to St. Louis.

“I’ll be down tomorrow, Ron. See you around noon?

“Hey, that sounds good. See you then.”

There is nothing more “nachasdik” for my Dad than to be with his sons. Personifying an amazing juxtaposition of “opposites”, my dad is a “tough guy” who has never stopped chaffing my cheeks when he kisses me. As a matter of fact, I attribute much if not all of my emotional make up to my father whose example taught me to kiss my children. In public, in private, it doesn’t matter. He’s always enjoyed showing us off- kind of like what I used to do when I would drag my kids around in a red Radio Flyer wagon on our way to the public library. We spent the better part of Wednesday afternoon together with my father at his office. He’s closing it down after more than a half century of business. Though my father has recovered remarkably well since leaving the hospital, he knows he can no longer treat patients. My father has been practicing dentistry in Chicago since 1953.

“One of these days, I’ll get it right,” he often quips with an irrepressible smile. Around 5 o’clock or so, I was getting ready to head back home. Ron walked me to the front door, opposite the kitchen. I could see our father sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. His wife, Bobbie, sat across from him.

“So, Alan, any words?” Ron asked.

“None at the moment,” I responded, hoping to preclude an emotional scene.

“God, I feel so … so guilty about leaving, but I’ve got to get home,” Ron confessed in an undertone.

“I understand,” I reassured him. My brother Ron feels bad. He’s got it tougher than I do. I can see Dad anytime I wish and do. I visit with him three days a week, and I think he’d agree this has been the best time we’ve ever spent together. Ron, however, lives in St. Louis. Not far away, to be sure. A one hour flight. Still, it worries him.

“What if … what if this is the last time?” Ron wonders.

“No, no. Not going to happen. Not now,” I assuredly insisted. “Dad is a pugilist, Ron, remember? He’s a boxer, a fighter, you know.” (As a matter of fact, my father was a “golden gloves” boxer in his youth).

Though Ron is only eighteen months older, it has always defined our relationship. It was an odd moment. I sensed a shift between us. For the first time, I was “taking care” of Ron-a good, big brother much like my son Ben had been to his younger siblings, Kimberly and Zac.

“Hey listen, call me if you want to get together tonight,” I clumsily changed the topic.

“I’d like to but I’d better not.”

“Listen, we’ll talk,” I reassured him. I picked up my computer bag. “Dad and Bobbie, I’ll talk to ya.”

My father’s grief and “atheism” revisited …

My father is not an atheist-no matter what he says. He’s a grieving grandpa whose concept of God-as a beneficent and indulgent parent-not only failed to shield him but shattered when he desperately needed the “bitachon”, faith, that personal tragedy demands and “emunah”, belief, affords.

“I just don’t understand how you’ve done it,” my father has said to me on more than one occasion. “Ron and I were talking about you the other day,” he added, “and we both agree that neither of us could have done what you did.”

My father is referring to the fact I chose life after the death of my son Ben. I don’t mean to dismiss his praise of me, but a grieving parent has a very restricted range of choice in these matters: either he consciously and decidedly determines to choose life-albeit having to accept the presence of grief as a constant in his life from then on, or he becomes busy with dying. Contrary to my father’s generous appraisal, my decision to choose life was not a heroic one-simply necessary.

Losing a grandson … well, I just don’t know how that feels. Is it any different from losing a son? Like me, my father hasn’t been the same since November 22, 2000 when we stood almost within arm’s reach of Ben during his waning moments while a trauma team fought desperately to save his life. Something that day went missing in both of us. I don’t know what to call it or how to define it, but I suspect it left simultaneously with Ben’s neshuma-attaching itself as it were to Ben’s “ha'akev shel hanefesh”, the "heel of his soul", taking a little bit of us with him. And, as I can speak for my father in this matter, that is okay with us.

“Hirshy, I understand that,” my dad said to my Uncle Hirsh, his slightly younger brother with whom he has partnered their dental practice for fifty-five years. I stood by. Couldn’t help but hear the conviction of my father’s voice. “I’ve my grandchildren to live for, Hirsh. The ‘chemo’ can go straight to the infernal regions. My oncologist says continuing the chemo is a ’50-50’ proposition, so I’m choosing to live without it.”

There you have it. Despite his assertions to the contrary (that he could not have survived and lived his life well had either of his sons died) my father has proven himself wrong. He has not only survived the death of his grandson, but very unequivocally “chosen life”. Just prior to his most recent hospitalization for fever, a urinary tract infection and severe diarrehia due to chemotherapy, he had continued to practice dentistry for an additional eight years. Hardly a casualty of tragedy, he has been an inspiring presence and example for his grandchildren, my daughter Kimberly and younger son, Zac.

You see … Ben was my father’s “son”-as much a “father” to all of my children as he is to me and my brother Ron.

That is, I suppose, how my father’s spirituality works. By choosing “ … life, so that you will live, you and your offspring, …” he has shown there are really no atheists in foxholes.

Alan D. Busch

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