Loco Parentis: Beyond Words

The heart really does have a language all its own

When you’re as old as Dad, on the other hand, everything’s a pain in the ass. “They should just let you commit suicide when you turn 75,” he says fiercely from his hospital bed, as the Phils battle the Mets on the wall above us.

And, “I’m ready to go,” though he knows it makes me cry. He’s been mother and father both to me and my siblings since our mom died decades ago. He helped us plan our weddings, was there for the births of our babies, walked them up and down the block in strollers to give us a moment’s peace. I know the end is coming, know he isn’t scared of death, because he’s told me so. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he says.

But I’m not ready yet. There’s too much left to say, though I don’t know how to put it into words. So we sit and watch the Phils, the captions flickering on the screen.

“You should leave,” Dad urges. He worries about me driving in the dark. Driving is what’s been taken from him most recently; after his third fender-bender, the doctor told him to hang up his keys. Before that, it was golf, and before that, bike-riding, and tennis … He’s had a decade of letting go of things; he’s getting good by now.

I pour the rest of his beer into his Styrofoam cup, hold it up to his mouth. He gulps it down, nods with satisfaction. He looks at me. His forehead is surprisingly smooth and unlined; his white hair and beard are a little wild. His eyes are filmy; their color has changed lately from hazel to a bluish brown. “You’ve been a wonderful daughter,” he says then. “No one could ask for anything more.”

This is my chance, maybe my last chance. I know he’s telling me goodbye. I’m trying not to bust out sobbing. I’m embarrassed and pleased and frantic all at the same time. I want to say something eloquent, grandiloquent, something a writer would say. And so I tell him: “Same here.”

Same here? God, how unspeakably lame. How inadequate.

Dad nods, though, and waves me toward the door. He’s at a juncture where love loses out to pain in the equation.

I never see him again.