I think someone should have guessed it when I was in Speech Class in first grade. I mean, really, I only stuttered on the letter "D'. Duh.
Some forty years later, Dad is tied with a wide web belt to a cushioned commode-cum-chair in the local hospital after his second stroke in four days. His entire left side, including his usually sharp-edged tongue, seems to have left the planet and he struggles to manage the simplest task: swallowing his own spittle. I have the uneviable chore of helping him eat his dinner, after my workday at a downtown health insurance company. No loss of irony there.
Dad was always the John Wayne-wannabe. Never sick, always lost in a fog between angry drunk and cranky old bastard. His joy was in his shed or garage or whatever room he could protect with brute yelling and dire threats in this maze of women he was forced to call 'family'. As if to add insult to the constant emotional injuries, Dad freely admitted that he worked the night shift at the defense plant so he could "get away from the rest of you idiots."
So, my paternal interractions were based on Mom pushing me through the swinging doors of the local bar, to search for my elusive father in the dark, stench of ciagrettes and Friday night left-overs or, even more likely, meeting with the wrath of my self-appointed God of the House because I had shreiked when my older sister popped out of a linen closet to scare me while Dad was sleeping in the afternoon.
I remember the one time my father kissed me on the cheek. I still have the photo of me, in my Holy Confirmation cap and gown, at age 12, looking at Dad fearfully out of the corner of my eye while I can hear Mom whining, "Oh come on! Kiss her for christs' sake, it's a big day." We both look real thrilled, Mom, thanks.
And now I am spooning some liver-colored mashed god-knows-what into my poor father's half-moon mouth while his only good hand trembles it's way to the pudding dish.
"Dad, quit it! I told you that you can't have the tapicoa until you eat at least half of this-um-dinner stuff."
He grunts his annoyance. The phone rings on the nightstand. It's Mom.
"Yeah, hi Ma. No, he's not so bad. He wants his pudding. I know, I know...I'm making him eat his dinner. Look, I gotta go , Mom. I'll call you later."
That's when I saw it. Dad had the spoon and was eating the damn tapioca pudding...all by himself.
"Dad, what are you doing?!? I thought you couldn't hold the spoon. I've been coming here everyday to feed you dinner and now I see you can do it all my yourself? Why didn't you tell me?" I raved at him in sheer exasperation.
Very quietly, with his bloodshot eyes downcast, my father mumbled, "I knew that if you didn't think I needed help you wouldn't come back to see me anymore."
Forgiveness is the art of simultaneously swallowing one's pride while offering one's heart.
"It's okay, Dad. I understand. I'm here. So show me how you eat, wise guy."
We both chuckled softly. And Dad ate the damn pudding first everyday till he died.
It's okay, Dad.