Slowing Down

I’ve watched my dad do a lot of things.

Many, many years ago, I watched him from the doorway, quiet as a mouse, as he repaired phones, toasters, furniture and even- I’m not kidding- socks, long after the rest of the house was asleep.

When I was a teenager, I watched him come home from work covered in the bodily fluids of the cars on which he had performed life-saving surgeries for 10 or 12 hours, eat dinner, and then happily go into the garage to begin his evening procedures on the beat-up old wrecks that my friends had asked him to revive.

I’ve watched him excel in his career but turn down lucrative job offers, one after another, because he refused to hold a job that included nights and weekends. “I need to be home for dinner. My family comes first.”

When I was in college I watched him handle my anxiety about my first psychology class by reading through the entire textbook while I was at work, and waiting up to chat with me about it.

When my now-husband and I briefly called it quits after high school, I watched my dad quietly soothe my torn up emotions day after day….and then I watched him coming home later than usual once a week or so, because he was also secretly mending my ex’s broken heart over coffee at the diner.

When we announced our engagement, I watched his face light up like Christmas as he grabbed us both into a bear hug. I watched him giggle with me as he walked me down the aisle, both of us complaining we had to pee. I watched him sob as we held each other tightly during our father-daughter dance.

I watched the tears streaming down his cheeks when I told him I was pregnant. Nine months later I watched in exhausted amusement as he swiped my brand new son out of the stunned nurse’s arms, sat down, and got to know him.

I watched him quietly settle into a chair in the delivery room at 3am, when my daughter was on her way. I watched him encourage us, and share our excitement, and get up to take a picture of Pat and me cradling my bump as we waited…I watched him do all of this less than 24 hours after undergoing his weekly chemo treatment.

He should have been in bed. But there he was, handling things for all of us.

I’ve watched him go to work after sleepless nights; during illnesses that would have anyone else hiding under the covers; and during the most painful, scary and grief-filled moments of his life.

Every morning, despite whatever was looming over him, I heard that 8-cylinder engine roar under the hood of that classic T-Bird; I smelled the coffee brewing; I heard him lacing up his work boots; and I listened as the front door quietly closed behind him.

Every year on June 1st, despite his knees betraying him, his breathing slowing down, or his cancer showing up, I watch him walk through my front door to give me my birthday hug.

For 36 years I have watched that man do so much, and handle so much, quietly and stoically, always with a smile in his eyes and a joke rolling off his tongue.

I’ve watched him battle cancer, COPD, and a body that, after years of hauling tires, turning wrenches and otherwise making metal monsters roar back to life day after day, is beginning to betray him.

You know what I’ve never seen him do?

Slow down.

I’ve never seen my father slow down.

Until today.

Today, my dad, the handler of all things, the fixer of all that is broken, and the most stubborn, bull-headed, “I will sleep when I’m dead” type of person I have ever met- that man retired.

The man who seemingly existed all these years solely to make sure everyone else was taken care of- is actually taking care of himself.

I’m stunned.

Fall-off-my-chair, pinch-myself-to-make-sure-I’m-not-dreaming, stunned.

But Dad, before you FINALLY start your long-overdue chapter of “Me First” relaxation, I need you to do one more thing for me.

I need you to read this.

Thank you. Thank you for always putting all of our needs before your own.

Thank you for getting up each morning before the sun was even a hint in the sky so that you could be at the dinner table every night, asking about our days, helping us with our homework, sewing our school play costumes and whipping up cookies for our holiday bake sales.

Thank you for never saying “No” when I needed you.

Thank you for breathing life into that awful Dodge Neon long after it should have been in a scrap heap.

And since we’re talking, thank you for insisting on accompanying me to that brain MRI when I was 24 years old. I said I was fine- I wasn’t. Thank you for knowing.

Thank you for showing up, so many times, before I had even asked.

Thank you for showing all of us, in words and actions, that the most important parts of your life are the people who are in it.

You’ve done your job. You’ve handled everything. We’re all good over here.

Now please, for the love of God, go watch Maury, resist the urge to fix things around the house, and call me if you need something, or if Mom starts driving you crazy.

I’ll handle it.