We found out early Friday morning that my dad is in critical condition, in the ICU up north near his home in Washington State. He’s 77 years old.
He’d been in some abdominal pain for a few days, which then became severe, and he asked my step mom to call an ambulance because he literally couldn’t get out of bed. I’m sure that scared her. My dad used to be a pretty tough guy. Very durable. Very stubborn. A fighter. Not so much anymore. He’s been in a wheelchair for a couple years now. Failed kidneys, weak heart. His abdominal pain was a blood clot in his intestines. He hasn’t been awake for five days. They’ve performed two surgeries to remove dead intestines and sew him back up. They kept him paralyzed, sedated, and on a ventilator after surgery. They’re trying to get the blood pressure meds down and the tube out, but he has to be able to breathe on his own, obviously. No luck so far. My step mom and a younger brother got a weak hand squeeze from him this morning. As they back off the sedation medication they’re hoping for a thumbs up. Maybe tomorrow.
This is my “real” dad. I would say “birth father,” but that makes it sound like I was adopted and found this guy at some point later in my life. Nope. Known this man since the moment I showed my face to the world. I’m not sure he was actually there when I was born. I don’t think so. My mom was sedated and her parents were there. I think my dad was out drinking with his buddies. He was 20 on that day in May, 1963, almost 21, but not quite. Honestly, in hindsight, he was much too young and immature to own a puppy, much less be a father.
His story is a quirky one. He was born in May, 1942 to an unmarried couple in Southeast Portland. They were young and not ready to be parents. They had a lovely old neighbor who adored babies and took care of my dad whenever they asked. And then one day, they didn’t come back to pick him up. They just disappeared. There was some family in the neighborhood, but no one seemed to know where they went, and no one seemed to want my father. He was 5 months old. I think now of all the childless couples looking for a healthy baby and it makes me sad that he was just abandoned. The good thing though was that he was left at what would become my “grandma Kane’s” house and although she was 70, I know she was an amazing mother to him. She marched right down to the courthouse to apply to adopt my dad. They told her she could absolutely adopt him, but that she first had to install indoor plumbing in her little, tiny shack of a house. And she promptly did.
At this point, grandma Kane was already a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother. She didn’t have much money, but what she did have, she spent on spoiling my dad. He didn’t have a lot of discipline in his growing up years, but he had a lot of love. Grandma Kane died on my second birthday, at 92 years old. I don’t remember her, but my mom said she loved to watch me whenever they would let her. My mom was a bit scared to leave her first baby with a 90 year old woman, but she did, for very short periods of time.
My real grandma in this scenario though was grandma Kane’s granddaughter. Everyone called her Nana. She was about the age of my other grandma, my mom’s mom. With Nana I learned to clean and cook fish, to make chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), to stoke a campfire, and to go clammin’ early in the morning on the beach. Papa (Nana’s husband) was a trucker during the week and a fishing guide on the Oregon Coast on the weekends. I didn’t like when they went hunting (I never wanted to go with them). I didn’t like when deer were hung in the canning room to drain. I went in there once and just stood and cried. They never sent me back in there during hunting season, ever again.
Nana had three other kids about my dad’s age and they all hung out together like siblings. He definitely considers Nana’s kids his brother and sisters. My mom met my dad in Portland when she was in middle school. They lived a few blocks from each other and went to the same school. They dated all through middle and high school and married when my mom graduated. My dad never finished high school. He dropped out as a sophomore and started driving a “pop” delivery truck. My mom worked as a dental assistant and put my dad through “salesman school.” He’s a pretty damn good salesman, too. They had me about a year after they were married. Mom was 19, dad was 20. After salesman school, dad became a traveling salesman, selling auto parts in the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. He was never really around. There’s pictures of my birthday parties and he’s not in any of them. I asked my mom where he was and she said, ‘oh, Kat, I don’t remember. Probably off with his friends, at the races or somewhere.”
They argued a lot, my young parents. My dad was a bully and abusive and my mom was incredibly unhappy. When I was four years old, my mom asked my dad for a divorce, which was pretty unheard of where they came from. She was 24 years old. My mom’s parents supported her completely. They wanted their daughter to be happy. My dad cried and begged my mom to not divorce him. He would be better, do better. He would change. Things didn’t really get better. Some of my first memories are of hiding, covering my ears and crying in my bedroom closet when my dad was home from “the road.” He just yelled so much and made my mom cry. When he was gone, me and mom had a great time together. Anyway, a few months after she had asked him for a divorce, my mom found out she was pregnant. She decided she needed to stay with him after all. She had been trying for another baby for years. This was a sign.
My sister was born in the summer of 1968. She was a feisty little thing at just over 5 pounds. My dad came home six months later and told my mom, “I want a divorce. I’ve met someone else.” Sure enough, he had been shopping for that next new wife, while he was on the road. While my 25 year old mom was home with two little girls, and holding down a full time job to help pay the bills, he was off messing around with another woman. To be clear, my dad is the bad guy in this scenario. He told my step mom (a sweet mormon girl just out of BYU and at her first teaching job in Idaho) that he was single, no kids. Then, he told her he was divorced. Then he told her was getting a divorce. Then… he told her… he had two kids. By the time she learned the truth, all the truth, she was “in love” and my mom wanted a divorce anyway, right? Yeah, people are dicks.
When my dad sat my sister and I down on their bed and told us (me really, my sister was 9 months old) that he was leaving and he wouldn’t be living with us anymore, my little six year old brain jumped for joy. I couldn’t wait to be rid of him so my mom could be happy all the time like she was when he was on the road. He promised to pick us up every other weekend, and on some holidays, and sometimes in the summer… I had no idea what the rest of my childhood would be like (not always fun) on that day, but I was happy he was leaving. I know my mom was devastated for an amount of time because she had been lied to and betrayed, for months if not years. The thing I love about my mom though, is she is a survivor. She met my amazing step dad about six months later and they were married the next year.
My dad did marry the mormon girl (she was 22 when he met her and 24 when they wed) and they have been married ever since. They have seven children together and there were some rough times… like the day my sister and I visited and noticed the huge family portrait on their wall above the sofa. A portrait we weren’t in. My sister was mad. I was sad. The story of our lives, I guess. I’m sure my step mom was angry at herself for being duped. She was angry that the man she fell in love with already had a wife and kids. She eventually won that “prize” though. The prize of a cheating man. I’m not sure whether he ever cheated on her or not… by the time they had a kid on the way, she forced him to give up his traveling salesman job. Ironic, right?
As I sat next to my 72 year old step mom this past weekend, I felt bad for her. She knows it’s a matter of time and he will be gone. I just found out from her this past Sunday that my dad had been diagnosed diabetic in his mid 30’s. He never made any lifestyle changes. He just shoved the diagnosis into the back of his mind. He never lost weight. He never changed his eating habits. He never exercised. He made choices. I’m surprised he made it this far. They say some of us eat our feelings. I know my dad does. I know he never really dealt with being abandoned as a baby. Shortly after I was born, my mom found out through the grapevine that my dad’s birth parents had moved back into town. She wanted my dad to call them and see if they wanted to see their grandchild. He didn’t want to call them, so she did. She really thought it would be a great thing for my dad to find his parents, talk to them, share his life, his wife and new baby. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to see him. I know he never forgave my mom for making that phone call. I know he never forgave them for abandoning him.
I love my dad, I just don’t love a bunch of the things he has done. He’s my father. We all make choices. We all make mistakes. I’ve learned to accept the mistakes my father made over the years. My mom had a better life because he did finally divorce her. My step dad is amazing. My dad never mistreated me and he was always there to pick us up when he said he would. Yeah, he was a bully, and stubborn, and made some seriously questionable choices over the years, but I learned from him things not to do. Ways not to be. He never let me down and he was the first one to offer us money to pay for the beach house arbitration, even though he doesn’t have, has never had, a lot of money. He means well and he loves his family. His kids have been keeping a 24/7 vigil at the hospital since he was admitted. My step mom gets to go home at night and sleep, because she needs it. I’m not sure my dad will make it through this… and even if he does, I’m not sure how much time he has.
I’m heading up on the train on Thursday to take the 8pm-8am shift at the hospital so my siblings can rest too. We’re in this together. They’re a really good bunch. I’m hoping dad’s a bit less sedated by Thursday. I want to tell him that I love him. I know he knows, but I need to tell him anyway.