When a Father Dies
Tonight, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a moving account (When a Doctor’s Patient is His Father—hear it here) of an Indian physician who recently watched his father die in a hospital. He describes the moment at which he asked the staff to turn off all the machines that were keeping his father alive; and the moment at which he no longer could feel the beat of his dad’s heart in his arm.
This story resonated for me because in December, 1995 I was in a similar hospital room in Florida with my own dad, who suffered a massive cerebral hemorage. His brain function had ceased and we decided to turn off the machines. But before we did that, each of his five children and wife got to say last goodbyes. I remember bringing my face close to his and kissing his cheek. This brought an odd, disembodied sensation since I’d never kissed my dad in my entire life. Also, as I touched my lips to his cheek I felt the rough day’s growth of stubble on his face and smelled an odd, acrid smell that was slightly unpleasant.
As the breathing machine was turned off, I watched as the stats and graph lines on the heart monitors gradually declined and finally disappeared. It was such an odd mixture of sadness and resignedness to know that as this all was happening, my dad was passing from us.
As I thought about how odd it was that I never kissed my dad while he was alive, but I was kissing him now that he was gone, I felt a yearning for a different relationship with him than the one I’d had.
My dad was by no means a perfect dad. In fact, I’d say he had as many or more flaws as he did virtues. Worst of all, he had a searing temper when we were growing up (which receded as soon as we left home) and would scream, yell, and throw and break things–big things like television sets! But my dad also provided me with much of my intellectual curiosity and abiding interest in politics. My love of the outdoors, music, Judaism and photography among other things also derive from him. I think my dad may’ve had a tough childhood. I know his own dad had a massive temper, so it’s entirely possible that he was emotionally or physically abused. That would explain a lot about his behavior towards us.
But all in all, he was a good man. He cared about the world. He cared about family and friends and ultimately he cared about, and loved his children. Though I knew him, I wish I could’ve known him better and deeper than I did.