The problem with being a kiwi bloke is exasperated when you face the possibility of your old man dying. It is a conundrum. If you speak the foreign utterances of emotion, and your Dad doesn’t die, what happens then? You’ve then started a trend; you’ll have to be warm, unguarded, friendly and emotionally functional at every father-son intersection for the rest of yours/his days. Watching the all blacks will now be concluded with ‘how was that for you?,
If, however, you choose to remain distant, aloof, minimalist, and then death wins, we’ll then you’re buggered. Every time Mike and the Mechanics spout naff lyrics about the ‘living years’ and the ‘things you’d wished you’d said’, it will haunt you more – more than it already does musically. Buggered for sure. Death with Dads is a tricky business.
Dad, owner 1x dodgy ticker, was booked for a valve replacement. Monday 7am, Waikato hospital. Some people don’t make it. Some people die. I therefore had the above aforementioned problem. And is if there wasn’t pressure enough to dig - where I ain’t dug before - in unchartered soulscapes of father/son dialogue (deathlogue?), Sunday was in fact bleedin’ FATHER’S day. Most F’ days I get away with something slightly sarcastic - mockery with the gift of sockery, but this Father’s day my game was up. Stuffed. Nearly 40 years of relationship stood waiting to be punctuated, tallied up, exorcised, or at least spoken of. 40 years of father/son verbals, meatballs, hairy eyeballs, video rentals, ‘have you seen my spectacles?’ tennis balls, curveballs, close calls, phone calls, circuses and circles, rucks and mauls, debacles, baptisms, baths and Bull’s eyes. 40 years of it. Somehow, by prowess I do not possess, it should be spoken of. It should be. But 40 years is too slippery to nail. It’s a slimy eel. Bending down, and cutting flax for the too-hard kete was much more appealing.
Father’s day an all.
Hmmmmmmmmmm what would the son of Ian Grant do?
I figured it out, and then decided against that.
When my back’s against the wall, I normally find my guitar placed there too, out of the way. This is good. Writing a song for Father’s day will enable me to
a) not rush to Bunnings to get something under $20
b) able to say the song is for ‘Dad’ but sing it to anyone listening, (Dad MUST be in the room though)
c) will enable looks at guitar neck at the faux-difficult chords. Means Dad/son eye- contact avoided.
d) be able to play it again at the funeral instead of writing a eulogy, if it all goes pear shaped.
The Chorus went:
G D Em C
There’s nothing wrong with your heart
G D Em C
There’s nothing wrong with your heart
I’ve seen it all along, so strong
C D G
There’s nothing wrong with your heart
There is a wonderful original word play on the literal sense of ‘heart’ and the ‘heart’ as wellspring of all that is rich in humanity. If Dad had had a dodgy kidney or cancer of the bowel, then the chorus might not have swung so well. It was a gimme really. And he paid for the guitar lessons back in the day, so perfect – what more could you want? Obviously, this song wasn’t going to compete with Earl Spencer’s oratory at Lady Di’s funeral, granted. Or end up in Wikipedia’s best ‘Homages to Patriachs’ but it did compliment the pavlova and cream at 3 Munro pl, Flagstaff. I did have to rush the outro a little though as it was very, very important I see a Joe Strummer documentary at the Film Festival that night, dad-might-die-or-not.
Now, Dad has strange timing generally. As a child many car trips were perverted from their natural course by infernal combing of hair right before venture should be executed. One can only stand being parked in a Holden with 2 brothers and an Old English sheepdog for so long. I don’t think he was vain, just obsessed.
He also shuts and opens doors very, very slowly. I’m not sure why. Doesn’t like to surprise them maybe.
His timing was off when he purchased Kaydee plastic sandals for Carlisle’s Shoe store in the summer of 82’. Sure fire sale item late summer 82’.
His timing was off too when all the other kids my age got to stay at the school social till 11pm. I had to come home at 10. I shouldn’t be bitter really; it wasn’t like I was making out with anyone.
But it is father’s day, and just to remind everyone that it is indeed FATHER’S DAY, as if it wasn’t attention seeking enough already, he decides that he will allow his heart to fail and his lungs to collapse. Jerry Springer material. Get some help I say. Drama king. Too late to say it then of course, and I hadn’t worked it into the song…. But who goes to those lengths to show off on father’s day? Dad – we get it!
But Father’s day and all - The timing gets spookier. His heart stops pumping properly, his lungs fill up at the exact second that a
(you guess -)
a) hospital cleaner
b) talk show host Jerry Springer
c) hospital anesthetist is interviewing him.
This ‘moment’ could have been the day before at the dairy while buying the Times. It could have happened while watching Paul Potts on You Tube last Wednesday. Imminent death in ward 14 on level 4, when there is the Intensive Care Unit on level 3 below you and your bed has wheels and there are 3 elevators of choice, and the big shot anaesthetist is talking to you and you decide that THIS is the moment! It is to be commended.
And if you think about it, if he had sped up the hair combing sessions all those years then he would have been dead in the carpark. Carput. As a Dodo. Wouldn’t have made the front door. It does seem all things work out for good for them that love sucking up to the mirror and slacking off others waiting for them in the drive way going nowhere, does it not?
My brother calls me. Mum has been trying for yonks apparently, hysterical, but Christine is on the internet. Chris, my brother, is emotional. This is spooky too. Something must be very wrong. I drove erratically up to the hospital on the hill. Window-wipers on my eyes.
I thought if he dies today it’ll be like all those poor kids who get born on Christmas Day who get called Jesus at school ‘cos people get confused. Likewise a Dad who dies on Father’s day is just asking for annual Repco vouchers and Eagles DVD’s to litter his reservation at the cemetery. A Dad who dies on father’s day is just plain selfish – how ever can you enjoy your sleep-in and breakfast when your dead Dad whispers from the beyond:
‘Get up, you lazy ass, and come visit me!’
I hoped that Dad would hang on the 3 or 4 hours till midnight.
The ICU at Waikato hospital has a waiting area for family. It subscribes to the Reformation Era, Martin Luther School of Interior Decorating whereby there is none. Nothing can distract you from praying to the one true God and listening to the Word – that the doctor priests speak. The only catholic icons to speak of were the complimentary Zip of hot water, tea bags, disposable cups, inst. Coffee, lone fridge and blue vinyl chairs. This was our chapel. Wasn’t hard to pray that he would make it out of here.
When we saw him Dad looked different. He had his shirt off and we weren’t at Waingaro hot pools. Weird; and he couldn’t shoot’ up drugs fast enough – He had tubes down his throat and neck, all kinds of colours, and machines blinking like they were very nervous.
Nurses said nothing about hearses,
they neither read the verses or the curses.
They were very efficient and sterile and spoke in South African accents. They said things that I remember; like I remember the things the guy said who took my wedding. Not much.
All you really know is that tubes, multiple, is not a fashion statement. And he is in ICU. It’s care, but it’s intensive, and we all know how we don’t like intense people. And all these nurses were very intense. And the drug thing was out of character.
The doctor later said dad was on the ‘knife-edge of death’. Knife-edge. It’s a metaphor. At the time dad was knocking on heavens door, which I don’t think was a metaphor. Maybe he was just doing his off beat timing thing again in the spirit realm. Doing his hair for the King and just missed his chance. Anyways, great relief as I unbottled the champagne as the clock and heart ticked passed 12 midnight and the threat of death re Father’s day was over. Huge relief. Big sighs.
Down the corridor, the sign at ICU said 2 x people to a patient. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only son, so there was another complex issue I had to deal with that night. Chris and Martin were still back in the chapel. I thought because Dad was dying their might be some allowance for family’s with more than one offspring. Gripped with anarchy, I politely enquired to the nurse knowing that this is what Dad would have wanted. Having braved consent, the family gathered at Dad’s bedside.
Not being completely fooled by the Enlightenment, a non-believer in mere machine and medicine, but a faithful follower of mystery, I began to delve into irrational magic. I have sometimes thought of Dad and ‘pull through’ in the same sentence, but this was the first time this combination came together in a prayer. Naked in humility, in front of brainy people and right in the face of enlightened electronic circuits and enlightened pharmaceuticals, I prayed out loud. If I had not prayed I would not have lived with myself, and maybe too Dad would not then live with himself, and then both of us would not have lived with the other or himself.
And it had to be a prayer OUT LOUD. No silent prayer was worthy. The machines tried to voice there pre-eminence with beeps, dits and bizzes and darps but words voiced to the ‘God of all Mercy and Grace’ is hallelujah magic and that is fiery stuff. I prayed as if God was real, as if he cared, and as if I believed.
(Oddly, Dad had to have a utilitarian purpose – he couldn’t die because mum would be lonely, and Jackson, Dylan, Arlia, Kendall, Levi, Harrison and Harvey would miss him and the back yard cricket, and he hadn’t finished painting my house. In reflection, I’m nearly sure it is ok to live for the sake of living.)
Anyway, praying meant that it was someone else’s problem, fault, issue and worry. Not like when Chris is talking to me. Better still, I knew Dad was not alone like the fridge in the chapel.
The nurses keep saying that ‘Dad was critical’, as if it some new information. I told them to relax, you get used to it, he’s been that way forever.
I heard later that one of the nurses going off shift promised to pray. Perk of the job I guess. Not many Christian plumbers I suspect pray for their plumbing after hours.
I went home. Tried to get some sleep. Didn’t happen.
Got a text which said ‘Dad still critical…’ again (yawn) nothing surprising, but they did say he was ‘stable’. Never thought of Dad this way before. This was new.
Not only was he ‘stable’, but he could only communicate with a nod and a squeeze of the hand. Brilliant. No long barrage of Leighton Smith-esque feedback from talkback that is never held back. No big words from Reader’s Digest ‘Enrich your Word power’. No lively discussions about the top 60 tennis players on the world circuit I have no interest in, Sharapova aside. I chalked it up while I could and enjoyed the serenity.
He missed his scheduled operation at 7am. Nobody made any negative remarks about him not being up to it at 7am like he said he was going to be the day before, which was nice. That’s the difference with the Ministry of Health under Labour. It’s humane at least.
So Dad and I spent some of the morning nodding and pressing the flesh like right mute politicians until he got the call for ‘theatre’ about 2.30pm. They don’t make patients like that anymore. Heart failure by night, ready to have his ribs cracked by day. For a lifetime ladies shoe seller it doesn’t add up – mystery upon mystery I tell you. The doctor called him a ‘tough bugger’. True story.
Because the family was spent emotionally from the night before, during the operation we moved from the chapel to the slightly groovier world of the hospital cafeteria on level 2, and relaxed. It was very chill. If he makes it he makes it, if not, well then, we’ll share Big Ben pies, some plastic forks and knives and cappuccinos and talk Warriors versus Parramatta and child abuse. A friend of mine, an orderly at the hospital, popped by, asked what was going on, and said with a smile he might get to bathe Dad if he survives. Uncomfortable moment.
Uncle Russel arrived from Wellington to say goodbye to his brother, which he didn’t have to, and my guess is he will probably send the Air NZ receipt to Dad later, not because he’s tight, but just on principle. If you get a late night call saying your brother’s hearts failed, you expect results. Honestly.
Everyone kept saying ‘Dad was in-theatre’. Again, another collusion of
mis-information by the Waikato DHB and their employees. Dad is no more likely to be an actor than gay. Moreover, he couldn’t even act like a decent heart failure even in these surroundings. In-theatre. Hilarious. And hello! Hospital management! - If you can’t let us in, stop pretending it’s a theatre. So pretentious. It’s like people calling the room with their TV and phone jack the ‘media room’. Just twat.
Meanwhile, Dad was somewhere above us. He could have been above us in the clouds en route, or just above the ceilings and pipes and wires and lino wearing his heart, or parts of it, on his sleeve.
But Go the Warriors! How’s that Steve Price character?
The doctors forgot to call us when he was out. Really, you think they could afford a text at least with the posh dosh they’re on. Not bitter though – just happy they haven’t all left the country to work in Dubai. Respect!
The nurses said he was still critical. Our family nodded knowingly. No point trying to explain it again to them. Brick wall.
Dad was not looking good. More tubes, stitches galore, machines again blinking nervously. Wrecks they were. The nurses said the situation was ‘touch and go’. Strange phrase. What was the etymology of that one? papal? kinaesthetic? paedophilic? sensitive new age? impatient sensitive new age? Really????
‘touch and go’ ????###!!***###??
What I think they meant was that the risk of infection was high and with fatal consequences. Little did the nurses know how far Christian gossip gallops! Ha! Ha! Middle class God botherers all over town and country were now in on the down low petitioning the Almighty. I countered the nurses ‘touch and go’ with a smug ‘home and hosed’.
The family retired to the chapel. Hit the Zip. Drank up. Smiles and cell phones beaming. Slapped backs. Hugged walls. 24hrs ago it was the scene of dark impending loss, doom and fear. What a difference resurrection and a day makes.
And then something very moving occurred. As if like a banquet feast in honour of the living – two Maori women shared their fried chicken and Maori bread with our family. An ironic meal perhaps, to celebrate a heart patient’s recovery - but beautiful. Like all the other mysteries of the last hours, the kai was a gift shared. Sweet and savoured. Transient Joy. Thick margarine.
And just as well I hadn’t expressed the depths of my inner soul to Dad pre operation. The current hospital visits to him would have been unbearable.