Saturday, September 2, 2017

The thankless job of parenting

Good parents teach their kids a myriad of things during the first 18 years of their lives.

  • How to say those really important words like "da-da" and "momma"
  • How to walk and then eventually how to ride a bike
  • When to say please, thank you, and even how to say "no thank you" and still sound polite (especially where new foods are concerned)
  • How to swing a bat in elementary school and how to dance a two-step in junior high
  • How to parallel park and how to keep their teachers happy
  • What to do when a friend has had too much to drink and has her car keys in her hand
  • When to walk away from a situation and when to hang in there with all you've got
  • And perhaps most important, whom to trust and whom not to

The point is there are A LOT of lessons.

But in my nearly 50 years on this earth, I have yet to find a kid, who after each of these lessons is taught, actually stops, turns around, and thanks their parent for the investment that parent is making in his kid's long-term development. 

But this post is not about bashing kids for a lack of gratitude. 

It's not about a culture of unappreciative children. 

It's about one more lesson that my parent has just recently taught me. Yes, even at my age.

The past:
Anyone who knows me and loves me knows that cancer has put its claws into my tiny little family way too often in a very short period of time.
    Feb 2011- Dad is diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He goes through the most horrific surgery known to man (esophagectomy & gastric pull-up) along with a barrage of chemo and radiation, but is deemed "cured". 
    Spring 2012- Mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, but after 3 lumpectomies, they are certain she is cancer-free. 
    October 2012- Mom is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and is stolen from us 256 days later. 
    May 2016- We are told that dad's esophageal cancer (that's been "gone" for almost five years) has returned and is terminal.

So yeah, if I seem a bit jaded and somewhat faithless at times, I hope you will forgive me and understand a bit about where I'm coming from. 

The present:
My role and my dad's have reversed quite a bit over the last few months because of that diagnosis last year. He has, since January 19, 1974, when he married my mom and adopted me, been my primary caregiver. He did every single thing a parent is supposed to do. He taught every single lesson a parent was supposed to teach (even though I actually told him I hated him at a few of those points for doing it). He has truly taken care of every single need I have had in our 43 years together. 

And he has unconditionally loved me through it all-- both when I was the most lovable creature on planet earth and when I was slightly less than lovable. 

Like that time he caught me smoking in our house right after having shaved stripes in my hair on one side without their permission. Of course, he disciplined me, but deep down, it was the outward act of his loving me.

Or that time when I chose to marry a man that both he and my mom knew was very, very bad for me. He loved me through those tumultuous few years and then was standing there, waiting to catch me, no questions asked, as I began to fall due to the awful deeds that man committed. 

I think I said thank you after all those times.
Surely, I did?!

We all know that cancer is a debilitating disease. 
Even when a person's mind is as sharp as ever, cancer has a way of making one's body almost rebel against itself, to the point that you just need help. Help with some of the most basic daily rituals, that for almost 70 years, you've always done yourself.

One night almost 2 weeks ago, I was at dad's house (he lives just 9 houses down from mine), going through our evening ritual of getting him hooked up to his feeding tube for the night and making sure he had what he needed during the hours that I was leaving him there alone.  And as I paused at the foot of his bed, about to say good night and I love you, he looked up at me and said 3 little, yet oh, so powerful words-- "Thank you, Kel".  

And then in that moment it hit me.

Yes, for years, as a spoiled, egocentric kid, I doubt I thanked him for all those small things he did for me. I hope I thanked him for some of the big ones, but I can't really say for sure.

But in that moment, I realized that as our roles are reversing in this stage of our lives, I am finally getting to say thank you.

Thank you, dad, for physically caring for me all my life and modeling what CAREGIVING looks like, so that I have the kind of compassion and dedication in my core that propels me on to care for you now.  

Thank you, dad, for teaching me about commitment and what it actually looks like when you fully commit your life to the wellbeing of another human being. 

Thank you, dad, for teaching me about perseverance and being the strength for your loved ones when they don't have any strength of their own.

And most of all, thank you, for trusting me to take care of you.

It is an honor and a privilege that I wish every "ungrateful child" got to experience as an adult. 

My dad gave me a gift all those years ago when he taught me how to care for others and now, more than four decades later, I am finally getting to thank him for it. 

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