I remember the Day of the Walrus.
My dad and his big, strong, pie-in-my-belly-body fighting a losing battle against half a blow-up mattress (left behind by the previous owners of our house, also known as Ze Germans) in our swimming pool, splashing and thrashing and trying to stay on top, getting dunked time and again. It was epic. He finally conquered it, and as he floated atop it, panting, realized that he had a silently giggling audience watching him: all the guests at my godchild Mea’s first birthday party. One vaguely embarrassed smile from him later and we were all laughing our heads off.
It’s hard to see that same strong body lying helpless on a hospital bed, unaware of us or his surroundings, stuck full of tubes and pipes, naked under the sheets, being fed an orange goo (luckily he likes pumpkin) through his nose, his right arm a relay system of needles to drain blood from. It’s scant comfort that selfsame right arm is strapped to the bed – the nurses had trouble holding it down. That arm had many a grown man cursing and grown woman getting into a huff when they were unable to return his smashing tennis serves. That little restraint on his arm makes me smirk a bit in the face of all that’s so horribly wrong right now: that’s my dad.
True fear and grief takes your world, puts it through a blender and throws it all back exactly like it was before: only, the axis is slightly off kilter. Everything is the same, and everything is different. Nobody expected this to happen, not to my dad. He’s too strong. It’s too soon. But like Beckett says, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
My head skitters away from thinking too hard about anything. Because if I do, I remember. Small bottles of perfume after prize-giving ceremonies at school. Bunches of red roses delivered to school on Valentine’s Day for me and my sister, from an “anonymous admirer”. Freshly made potato fritters and popcorn. His funny dancing duckwalk and pouting kisses to my mom when he wants to tease her. Cuddling kittens and puppies. Body surfing in the ocean. Snoring on the couch while watching TV. Putting Paul McCartney’s tour DVD on full volume, much to my mom’s irritation, and watching our appreciation with a delighted smile. Doing woodwork in the garage. Giving my mom a hug – and a glass of sherry, because he loves how red her cheeks get. Putting himself through UNISA’s law school when we were just kids. Crying for the first time in front of us when he told us about our little sis’s illness.
There are other memories that I wasn’t really privy to, being either too young or not even born yet. Kicking ass at rugby, cricket, tennis, squash… Giving up cigars for my mom. Delivering a baby in a courtroom as a magistrate. Trips to Namibia. Meeting my mom as a long-haired English hippie with torn jeans and a smiley face on the back pocket.
I’ve always known that my dad is awesome. He’s my dad. What I didn’t realize is that he doesn’t just belong to me and my sisters and my mom. He belongs to a community of people that see him as a confessional, psychologist, friend, judge, jury, teacher, father, last resort. What happened to him painted a whole new picture: of grown men crying in hospital corridors, buses full of people wanting to visit him in hospital, and of how strong my mother and sisters are.
My dad is loved. And my dad is a good man.
Whatever happens next, I’m guessing I’ll hold on to that.