This Spring marks a decade since I last saw my father. We didn’t speak and he didn’t actually acknowledge my presence, but I know he saw me in the courtroom because his public defender requested that the judge have me removed as a potential witness. The judge denied this request, and I stayed to watch the rest of my father’s arraignment. If you’re curious why my father was in court, watch this video, or read this article.
I don’t actually recall when my father and I last spoke. To the best of my recollection, it was sometime in 2000. We had on-again off-again communication while I was in college, but at some point I decided that a continued relationship with him was just not a healthy thing for me and distanced myself quite a bit.
Last night one of my brothers called and told me he’d just found out that our father had a heart attack the week prior, had been in the hospital for a few days and was now released. My brother didn’t have any specific information about our father’s condition other than that he had collapse while running errands and had woken up in the hospital.
It’s very difficult for me to imagine my father collapsing and being in the hospital. Logically and factually, it’s not surprising that had had a heart attack. We’re talking about a man who has seen a doctor a handful of times in his life (that I know about), smoked for decades, ate a very unhealthful diet and did amphetamines. In many ways, I’m surprised he hasn’t had more significant health issues. However, my mental and emotional memory of him is dominated by a single image: lean, mean, angry and muscular, albeit with a slight lilt from a bad back. It’s just weird to think of him as being old and frail and in ill health. But that seems to be where we are headed.
Aging is a normal process, of course, but it’s unsettling when it’s happening to a parent and even more strange when it happens to a parent with whom you’re estranged. I find myself wondering if I’m going to get to say my final goodbyes, or if I will simply hear about his passing sometime after it happens. Should I attempt to make a kind of peace with him, or with myself about him, sooner rather than later? The answers to these questions seem unknowable.