July 5 2020
Keeping My Father Alive
It's been a long time since I wrote you a letter, but I think that's it's long overdue. Proximity certainly has its advantages, but in this case I feel that maybe by writing to you I can better convey the varied emotions that I'm experiencing.
The past several years have certainly been trying on both of us, more so for you with your current health condition. At the same time, I feel it has become a period of growth and acceptance between us. A better appreciation of where we stand in each other's lives, not only as parent and child, but also as two adults trying to come to terms with the different roles.
Many years ago, when I was still a child and trying to understand the reasons as to why you were the sole caretaker of your mother, you told me it was "... because that's the way it is". Pretty simple yet profound statement, but one I could not understand at the time. Today that very simple answer reverberates throughout my being because I now find myself at that very place, being responsible for a beloved parent. It's actually quite simple for me, I either shoulder the responsibility, or I forever burden myself with thoughts of guilt and shame at not having done the right thing. 1 '11 choose the former, thank you very much!
The thoughts that I know you're probably having is that you're becoming an unwanted burden, but lets look at it objectively, something you're always fond of telling me. While your medical condition certainly is of great concern to all of us, it does not preclude you from enjoying many of your varied interests.
Remember the time we had some kids over to play, and they clamored all over you trying to get to the candy we'd hid behind the sofa, I think you enjoyed that as much as they enjoyed playing with you. Watching a couple of young tikes "frisking you for the 'goods' was priceless". Wish I'd had a camcorder handy. If only to show you how vibrant and lively you looked that day. Laughter does make you feel younger, doesn't it?
But seriously, your current medical condition does worry me and does make me want to take care of you, as much as you'll let anybody take care of you. Letting someone else assist you in the more physically demanding chores does not lessen your independent spirit, nor does it lessen you in my eyes. My harping on about whether you've taken this medication or that pill, or the need for you to get some fresh air is really my way of trying to ensure your continued good health. Actually I've been waiting a VERY LONG time to say this, "Dad, it's for your own good".
Did your Mom, my grandmother, make this much fuss when you were "helping out"? Did my grandfather complain that you were robbing him of his independence? If they did, I can warn my future children of this genetic predisposition towards wanting to be "left alone" later in life, an aversion to being "taken care of'.
I remember my grandmother, and the only times I ever heard her tell you to stop doing anything, was when she was telling you to stop being so strict with us. Gosh, I miss her, I could really use her help now, maybe then you'd listen to someone.
Every time we go to visit the doctor and discuss your health, I'm aware of how difficult it must be for you to hear YOUR kids discussing YOUR health with YOUR doctor. But its a necessary evil, sorta like Cod Liver Oil, (yuck), we're just as concerned for your health as you are, and we want to see you around the house when the grandkids arrive, which will hopefully be soon.
I remember a time many years ago when you were hospitalized for several weeks in Addis Ababa, you probably think I was too young to remember. I remember visiting you in your hospital room and asking you what you were doing and when you were coming home. You said, "The doctors are examining me and I should be home very soon." Again, a very simple answer was sufficient to hide the true nature of things back then.
But I'm not a child anymore, and I don't scare easy. I was raised by a man who bucked the odds, carved out a career for himself when he was told it was foolhardy to do so, and was extremely successful at it, cared for his parents and siblings, never once complaining, and raised his kids to lead by example.
Just yesterday I remember being a child. Today, as an adult, I find that the child I was still lives in me whenever we're having fun, but it's the adult me that has the most fun, because I have been blessed with these past few years to spend time with my Dad, to enjoy the time we have as adults, as friends, as equals. While I don't kid myself into thinking that you'll ever allow anyone to "run you life", I'm sure going to keep on trying to be your staff to lean on.
Oh, and about those grandkids... stick around.
Your loving child.
I wrote this actual letter to my father. For obvious reasons I have decided not to mention any names, or the cause of my fathers illness out of respect for his privacy, and his sense of dignity.
I can't help but think of my fellow Ethiopians in the Diaspora who are increasingly facing the same situation. Our efforts truly reflect the essence of what being an Ethiopian means: affording our loved ones the means to get the proper medical treatment, rallying around each other when one needs encouragement etc. Except now we are doing it far away from familiar territory.
Living in "ye-seleTenew alem" has afforded my family and I the benefits of having access to medical care that might not have been readily accessible or available back home.
But the down side is that the sense of family I remember from back home is no longer present. I know my Dad misses his brothers and sisters, and his relatives and friends. Most of my uncles and aunts are back home, with very little idea, as to the severity of my father's condition. The cousins and relatives that are here, are all living their lives, and trying to deal with the issues in their lives, and so we see them on those rare occasions.
The few friends my parents have here have been wonderful in their unflagging devotion and kindness, and are a boon to their lives. The stories, laughter and jokes that abound when they come to visit are experiences I treasure, not only for what it means to my Dad, but because I see what I'd like my future to look like: having friends I've known 50+ years to reminisce about school days, and those heady days of our youth.
Having my siblings as "co-conspirators" as my father calls us, is a great relief for me, because I know we can share the responsibility, and also deal with our father in our own special way.
There are times when he asks for something relatively simple, and I forget to do it in the rush of my daily activities, and the disappointment I see in his eyes fills me with a sense of shame. I have yet to find that balance between what I know has to be done and what I need to do in my own life.
Although I would never admit it to my Dad, life is difficult at times. Having to come face to face with a parent's mortality is very scary. Every day I ponder what he would like me to do if THAT day arrives.
Every day I push that question aside, and concentrate on what I must do to ensure his recovery.