Father’s Day is just a few days away. The Husband is away so we already celebrated the day in his honour last week. This week I have been thinking a lot about my own father. At the end of the month it will be three years since we lost him to metastasized melanoma. It was a rough go that wasn’t pleasant near the end. I wrote this not long after he died. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to post it, it’s not exactly a tribute to the man I miss so much. Perhaps it’s more an admission of the terrible toll cancer can take.
I just called my mother.
It’s not unusual, I call her most days… but most days she’s home, or at least I hang up before I get the machine.
Tonight I got distracted. My son was crying and I didn’t hang up in time. It sounds strange doesn’t it, not wanted to get my own mother’s answering machine? You see, when the machine picks up, it’s my dad’s voice. In a very business-like tone, he asks the caller to leave a name, number and a brief message. It’s the voice of the man taken just months ago by an awful, terminal cancer.
Don’t get me wrong; hearing him again isn’t all bad. What not-so-little girl wouldn’t want to hear their daddy one more time? He had a very expressive voice. You could hear his laugh before it happened. You knew you were in trouble just by hearing him say your name. You could even hear the pride when he asked about his new grandchild, but my dad’s voice also held a formality. It was a holdover, I’m sure, from his British roots.
In the office, that tone was formidable. You knew he was talking to creditors and delinquent clients when you heard it. It was distant yet commanding and it was one he rarely used with family. That is, until recently.
The cancer that took my dad attacked the brain. It took its time getting there, but, once it took hold, we were told his head was honeycombed with tumors; so many the doctors stopped counting.
We learned so many things in those few short months. We learned how the brain is a funny thing. Parts of it can keep operating as if nothing is wrong, yet other parts seem to shut down entirely.
We got a few, mostly good, months. I’ll always be grateful I took my infant son to stay with my parents for a while. Even if my boy doesn’t remember, I’ll have the image of my dad playing with his little namesake, of innocence and world weary experience sharing a chair together in front of a good football (read soccer for those new world neophytes) match.
Eventually the tumors robbed my father of little things: concentration, minor calculations, and then we started to see him slipping away from us. He began to lose his attachments with other human beings. Intellectually he was there, still engaging in long dinner conversations about any number of topics, but the intimacy was gone. The unconditional love I had never doubted was, somehow, just gone.
The memory I wish I could shake, but never will, is his voice in those final weeks. It was subtle but, if you listened, you could hear a piece of him missing. The voice is such just a simple thing yet it conveys so much.
I’ve gotten beyond much of those terrible last few months, but it’s the tone I hear on my mother’s machine that I have trouble with. It’s the formality reserved for a near stranger. Each time I hear that voice it’s a harsh reminder of the reality of my father’s final days. It’s a reminder that, just before we lost him, we became strangers. We shared a house, a history and the same stubborn streak, but we no longer shared the bond of father and daughter. Cancer took the man who changed my diaper without complaint, who coached my soccer team and who camped on the floor of my first apartment without complaint long before I said goodbye in that sterile hospital room. Leaving a message for my mother just reminds me that my all too fresh loss isn’t so fresh after all.