Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Two in the Series: Dad

I'd like to post an actual picture of my dad, but one of the agreements when I started this blog was that I could say what I want under a cloak of relative anonymity, at least in part so that my parents wouldn't have to be embarrassed by what I wrote. Instead, i'll post pictures of the two celebrities my acquaintances have said my dad resembles.
My friends at the looney bin thought my dad looked like Wilson from House, MD.

Most of my school friends though he looked like a young Steve Guttenberg. For the record, I don't think he looks all that much like either one.

For once, I shall not totally flake out and will complete at least a second post in my most recent so-called series. Since my mother was the subject of the first installment, it seems logical enough that my father should receive my second tribute. He is  most deserving of any honor I could possibly bestow upon him, and could have been declared a co-numero uno except that I did not want to fail to give either parent his or her due respect by not giving each his or her own segment.

As I've said at other times in this blog, my dad's were the first human hands to touch me. He was not the obstetrician of record, but as an MD, he was allowed and accepted the invitation to actively participate in the Caesarean section delivery. He told me a couple of years ago that he considered declining that invitation. Obstetrics is not his specialty, though he had to perform emergency Caesareans during his internship, but he felt that after the unsuccessful delivery of my older brothers almost two years earlier (they were born too early to survive), just standing around watching made him more nervous than actively participating. My Aunt Ilianna came into the O.R. to be my mom's official support person, so my dad was free to function in a medical capacity. The OBGYN gave him the honor of removing the first twin, which turned out to be me.

The first twins were delivered early because of placenta abruptae  -- one of the twins' placentas prematurely separated from the uterine wall, which would have killed my mom and both babies very quickly without the emergency C-section.. It was known at the time that it was really too early for either of the babies to have much of a  chance of survival, much less of survival with any probable decent quality of life. The decision was made prior to delivery by both of my parents because, at under 24 weeks and not especially large even  considering their gestational age, not to take  any extreme measures to prolong their lives.

When my dad removed me from my mom's uterus, I was tiny
(two pounds, two ounces, my hospital birth certificate says, though my mom remembers being told I was two pounds, four ounces). I've shared this before also, but as my dad handed me to the  neonatologist, my dad said to the specialist, "Take any measures you have to with this one." The same neonatologist had been present when my mother gave birth the previous time. 

The neonatologist responded to my dad, "We won't even need 'em, John. She's little, but she's strong" as I screamed in the O.R. while being weighed, measured, and assessed. They briefly showed me to my mother, who apparently looked at me with considerable trepidation. I did not look like a strong baby to her. Next, they took out my brother Matthew, who, at a robust  six pounds, nine ounces, was either just over or nearly three times my weight, depending upon whether one relies upon the birth certificate or my mother's memory for the data.

Because my mom had just undergone major surgery to have us, she wasn't able to spend  much time those first few days in the NICU, where I was being kept because of my small size even though I was relatively healthy.  My dad spent enough time with my mom to be supportive, but spent most of the rest of his time  with me. I was given some oxygen through a tube in my nose but otherwise needed no major interventions. 

Because of my relative strength as an infant of low birth weight, I wasn't required to remain inside an incubator constantly, and my dad was allowed to take me out and hold me frequently. He apparently spent hours at a time and several nights with me. I required frequent small feedings, most of which were given to me by my dad. Some sort of bonding bordering on imprinting probably occurred during that time. I may have been confused as an infant as to whom my actual mother was. When I was eventually released from the hospital roughly four weeks later, I didn't respond well to my mom's attempts to soothe me, so I usually screamed most of the day until my dad got home. He would then feed me and I'd go right to sleep. 

I remained a daddy's girl to some degree until some time between my twelfth and thirteenth birthdays, when something hit me that hits a lot of girls at similar ages. I decided that, for the most part, both of my parents were placed on the Earth for the sole purpose of making my life a living hell. Open disrespect was not tolerated, but if my parents liked a TV program, I didn't like it. If everyone else wanted to go to one restaurant, I wanted another one. If my dad told me I looked nice in a particular outfit in the morning before school, I would immediately go upstairs and change into something else.

I'm not sure what the issue was. I can't really even  blame hormones because I was very delayed as far as the physical maturation process went, though it was as if  I was hormonal. My dad's shrink friend said it's not uncommon for physically delayed females to go through many of the same emotional stages as their chronologically typical peers even without the hormonal influences. Whatever it was, I recognize now that I was a very tough child to parent. My dad's analogy was that it was as though he and my mom had put a sweet little girl to bed one night, and the next morning, instead of that sweet little girl, a feral cat crawled out of the bed.

My dad got the worst of my outrageous contrariness. I'm not sure why. In part, as a clinical and educational psychologist, my mom may have been able to step back a bit and look at things more objectively and to take things a bit less personally. Additionally, her siblings say she went through the same phase when she was also hormonally delayed, so she could perhaps relate to some degree.  It's also conceivable that I fought harder with my dad because I trusted him not to hate me for taking things out on him. I may have known the bond was strong enough that I could not have pushed him away no matter how hard I tried.  

In fairness to me, my dad's behavior was embarrassing even to Matthew occasionally. Dad would say and do things that our friends thought were funny, and maybe Matthew and I might have found them funny if it had been someone else's parent saying  or doing them, but for us, it was humiliating.

One example is that my dad decided to re-grow his mustache. He had a mustache early in his adulthood, but got rid of it as they became somewhat passe. So he decided one day that he was going to let his mustache grow in again. He looked like a freaking brown-haired Captain Kangaroo. Even my mom thought he  looked ridiculous -- so ridiculous, in fact, that she decided to attempt to shave the mustache off when he was sleeping. He woke up midway in the process of her shaving it off.  One side - I'm pretty sure it was the left -- was gone, but the right side was still there in all of its Captain-Kangaroo-ish glory.

Any man might have been angry, as it should have been his right to re-grow his mustache, however stupid it made him look. When a person's spouse shaves off half his mustache, however, he needs to recognize that he's lost that battle, though maybe not the war as a whole. If necessary, he should shave the rest off and start over, making it clear to the offending party that some sort of retaliation might occur if his mustache re-growth were tampered with in the future.

Predictably, my dad could not be expected to handle any such situation as a normal person would. He kept the half mustache for I'm not sure how long, but it was at least a week. He continued to shave the shaved side, but let the hairy side continue to grow. He went to work that way. He attended one of my brother's baseball games with the half-mustache. I deliberately didn't invite any of my friends over because I was embarrassed, but they all heard about it and showed up at various times uninvited just to see it for themselves.  Most people just stared at him and didn't even ask what his problem was. When my Uncle Steve asked him why the hell he was going around looking like a complete moron, he answered, "Ask Erin [my mom]. She must like the way it looks, so I'm keeping it this way just for her."  

I'm not sure whether his common sense eventually prevailed or if my mother held out on him, so to speak, but he finally shaved the remaining half of the mustache off. We haven't seen any significant facial hair growth on him since. My worry is that if he was doing stuff like that in his forties, what is his behavior going to be like when he hits sixty-five and goes senile on us? I continually reminded him at the time that Matthew and I would probably be the ones to eventually choose his retirement home, so he should consider that when committing future acts of atrocity.

One thing that greatly bothered me as a teen was that nearly all of  my friends thought my dad was extremely good-looking. The people who were in the residential care facility where I was treated thought he looked like Dr. Wilson from House, MD.  Most of my friends from school thought he looked more like Steve Guttenberg in his younger years. I made a rule that no friend could comment on my dad's supposed good looks at my house. One time one of my friends broke that rule during a sleepover, and I made her call her parents to get a ride home at 3:00 a.m. One of her parents called mine the next day, and there was a certain amount of hell to pay, but a rule is a rule, and I would have done the same thing had it happened again.  

One major battle my dad and I had was when I was almost fifteen. It was autumn, and the upcoming flu season was expected to be an especially harsh one. My dad wanted me to get a flu shot. I don't like injections, though I'm now mature enough to recognize that sometimes they are the lesser of the evils and sometimes they're necessary. I never would have argued even at  that age against vaccines for truly dangerous illnesses (i.e. tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis, etc.) but I felt that with an illness as relatively benign as influenza type-whatever, it should be my decision whether to be immunized or to take my chances with the flu itself.  

My dad and I argued about this for a couple of weeks, until he final took matters into his own hands. He quietly crept into my room at 5:15 or so one morning, pulled my sleeve up while I was sleeping, swabbed my arm with an alcohol wipe, and gave me the damned flu injection.  My screams were so loud that the next door neighbor came running to our house, cell phone in hand, prepared to call 9-1-1 if necessary.

The ironic thing is that I ended up getting a nasty case of the flu that turned into pneumonia less than a week later. I liked to say at the time that the shot caused my flu, but most likely I was either  in a weakened state from something when I got the injection or the flu virus germs had already started to invade my body, or the shot simply hadn't had time to work before I was exposed to the flu germs. I know now from my immunology class that the timing wasn't right for the shot to have actually caused me to get the flu. Symptoms would have appeared within seventy-two hours if it was going to happen. The injection  did in all likelihood make me sicker because of the timing of my illness, but it didn't actually cause me to get the flu. I still won't stipulate to that where my dad is concerned, though. Sometimes one must stand her ground.

While I do believe that we, his family, are my dad's number one priority, he is most definitely obsessed with his work in leukemia and lymphoma research. Sometimes he'll be having a conversation with someone and will think of something and abruptly walk away and go to his computer, then get his cell phone and text one of his underlings. Or sometimes he'll actually get into his car and drive to the nearest hospital with which he is affiliated. His research is conducted at several hospitals throughout the state. He's a bit like House. In terms of personality, I'd say he's a cross between House and the Dr. James Harvey character - Kat's father - from Casper, the movie. He probably also has a touch of the TV character Monk's quirkiness about him. Both of my parents are bona fide OCD cases -- I come by it quite naturally -- but my dad is by far the more impacted of the two of them.

Dad is probably the most intelligent person I'll ever know, though he sometimes hides his intelligence extremely well. He swears like a truck driver, and has done so since my brother and I were considered old enough to understand that just because Daddy used a particular word did not make it OK for us to say the same thing, which was around the age of five. My mom told us anytime we heard a new word from Daddy, we needed to run it by her before adding it to our own vocabularies. Now that we're all adults, when no one is around who would be offended by it, we all curse like drunken sailors, though no one can hold a candle to my dad in terms of just how naturally the dirty words flow from his tongue.  Furthermore, he's fluent in Spanish and French [French was his first language], and speaks Italian and Portuguese passably well, which means he swears fluently in at least five languages. My brother's friends and mine think he's the funniest person on the face of the Earth and love to come over to our house just for the comic relief. We're no longer quite so easily embarrassed by his words and actions.

My dad is generous to a fault, particularly when it comes to his extended family. He's paid for the educations of at least ten of his sisters' children.  His parents converted to Mormonism when he was around thirteen, and six of his seven sisters are devoutly practicing Mormons who have more kids than they can realistically afford to support if they're going to also give more than ten per cent of their gross incomes to the church and send all their sons on two-year missions for the church. 

My paternal grandfather is something of a jerk.  My dad is very kind to his mother.  He would love to move her out of Utah, or at least away from my grandfather, but my grandmother refuses to leave. My grandfather is a high-ranking official in his church, and marital separations are not viewed lightly. My dad says at the first sign of physical abuse, my grandmother will be dragged out of there kicking and screaming if necessary, but so far there's been no sign of that. She's probably spry enough to get away from the doddering old bastard, anyway. (I acknowledge my blatant my disrespect toward my grandfather, but he slapped my face hard when I was tiny and kicked me in the shin when I was seventeen, so I do not have a high opinion of him.)

My dad has always come to my defense when I needed him. The time CPS caseworkers insisted on looking at my nude bottom because a creepy girl at school peeked in the restroom stall and saw weird bruises I had on my bottom from sitting on Mardi Gras beads I had stolen from my brother all the way from Las Vegas almost to Fresno, he let me stay home from school for the day and allowed me to rent a movie and have pizza for lunch. Once when I was eighteen and working on a paper that was so difficult that I got into the liquor cabinet to help stimulate sufficiently bizarre thoughts to complete the paper, he was initially angry with me, but when he heard the topic of the paper, he understood sat up with me most of the night, helping me to think of enough nonsense to put into the  paper.  When my overly curly hair really got to me, he took me to have it chemically straightened. When I had the compound tibia -fibula fracture, he sat up a work station in my hospital room and was there almost twenty-four hours a day for the duration of my hospital stay.  He's gone out of his way for me more than most parents would for their children, and some of those times were during my really obnoxious phase.

There have been times when my father hasn't been the perfect parent, but considering how difficult a child I was to raise, I think I have to cut him slack for any  of the times he came up short. I don't believe any other  father in the world would have gone out of his way to be loving and kind in so many ways to a child who was  so strong-willed and so often deliberately rebellious.  If I could have anything in the world I wanted, I would have my dad and my mom stay just as they are and never grow old and live forever.


  1. I'm touched by your relationship with your dad. He sounds like a great guy.

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