Friday, August 26, 2005

To Be a Father

The Big One’s ten years old this week. He’s a wonder. He’s always talked like a diplomat. When he was four years old, he met a friend of mine.

“Hi, my name is William Fischer, but you can call me Bill. "

“My name is Miles Gregory Sullivan, and you can call me…Miles Gregory Sullivan.”

We still laugh about that one. Bill called him “Miles Henry Kissinger” from that day forward.
It’s not that simple any more. He’s sophisticated, and has opinions now, as you can imagine, and you can’t always tell what he’s thinking.

And you wonder sometimes if you’re a good father to him.

As he was our first child, we had to figure out how to be parents, on the run. When he sneezed in his crib, you’d stand over him, and tried to draw each labored breath out of him with your willpower alone, and prayed and listened intently for the next. It’s easier with the second child. You know he won’t die. He’ll just give you a cold that makes you run on two cylinders for the five weeks it takes to recover, just in time to give you another.

Miles was always sick. Not real sick, thank goodness, just one ear infection after another. If you’ve had the big pink bottle of medicine in your refrigerator all winter, you know what I’m talking about. He went to daycare, and back before politically correct calculations became an ironclad part of healthcare, the doctor was frank enough to tell us: He’ll be sick all the time, the daycare is a germ swapping laboratory.

Another doctor advised Eustachian tubes. They insert little drains in the tot’s ears to drain the fluid that builds up in there, the theory being that infection can’t breed there if there’s no water to do it in. The doctor warned us about the possibility of deafness if he continued to get infections, while Miles yanked on his stethoscope and made faces, and we decided to try it.

As I understand it, they’ve recently decided to stop advising this treatment. It worked for our boy, as near as we can tell- the frequency of infections plummeted after the procedure, and I recall my wife showing me the little blue tube on his pillow when it fell out some years later.
The procedure required me to be a real husband and father for the first time, and I remember it vividly. We went to a different hospital, better than the awful abattoir we were subjected to when he was born. So far so good. They specialized in doing the procedure. Everybody was very professional and as kind as you could expect from people who were busy.

They explained that our son would have to be anaesthetized, and it would be better if one of his parents was with him, because it would frighten him if he felt alone. My wife was too nervous to do it, and it fell to me. I was put in a cap, gown, and mask, and led into the theater.

My boy was upset, as you can imagine, and clung to me like a little monkey. The doctors and nurses explained that I would have to hold him still while they gave him the gas.

He fought like a tiger.

Parents know their children. My mind drifted back to the many times I carried him up the stairs, already dreaming on my shoulder, unable to keep his eyes open until I placed him in his crib. His legs and arms would gently sway as I mounted the stairs, and his hot breath whispered on my neck, and occasionally he would draw out a long sigh, and his big heavy head would sink a little deeper into my shoulder. After he went in his crib, I often stood over him and watched him sleep. His eyes would flutter under his lids, and he’d murmur and clench his fists, and then drift off again into the deep, untroubled sleep of the innocent and unafflicted. The clock would tick, and the house would emit the endless little sounds, the rhythm of the seasons working their way through the boards; and I would wait, and watch, and when he was safe and warm and content, we were both content.

As I said, parents know their children. And I knew this time, my little boy was terrified. Strangers in masks were holding a mask over his face, and he couldn’t breathe, and the light shone in his eyes like ten suns, and everything was hard and cold and strange.
And his father held him, so the strangers could kill him.

What else could he have thought? He looked up at me, just before the gas finished its work, his limbs flailing, and me using all my weight and strength to try to hold him still, and he looked into my face, and I knew those eyes- my eyes, his grandfather’s eyes- they looked at me and accused me: Father, they’re killing me. How could you help them?

It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and remains so to this day. I spent the next forty-five minutes beside myself with doubt and uncertainty, as anyone understands who knows what it means to have your child asleep without the surety he would wake up. And the possibility was remote, of course, that it could go wrong, and he could be taken from us. But all “unlikely” means is the possibility of your life becoming meaningless, and the universe disintegrating and being ground to dust with everything in it, is “unlikely.”

And the last thing he would have seen on this earth was me, helping the monsters.
It was the longest forty five minutes of my life, and I couldn’t really explain to my wife what I felt, for you cannot share worry like that until it is over, it doesn’t diminish it for you, it multiplies on the telling.

He was fine, of course, and woke up happy as ever, and amused the staff with his antics until we could take him home.

It was a little thing, but it seemed the world to me, and I hope it’s never surpassed by any other thing in my life. But that’s not likely. Life has lots of curve balls in it.

Sometimes you have to do the hard thing, even if you’re not 100% certain. You makes your bets, and you takes your chances, as they say. It’s cold comfort I’m sure, to know you did what you had to do, if things go badly.

“It would have been worse for him if you weren’t there,” they told me, and I believed them.

Put that on my gravestone, if it’s true.

1 comment:

Eddie said...

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