I phoned my dad and said I planned to fly to their home in Florida for a week, and he told me in no uncertain terms that it was a very nice offer, but he didn't need my help.
This column is certainly getting off to a hilarious start.
Usually, I listen to my dad - actually, I have all my life. But this time, I made my flight reservations anyway. Probably because one of the first phrases I ever heard from my dad on the playground or the sports field was "tough it out." Sometimes it would be a variation on this phrase, like "walk it off" or "run it out." He was also fond of telling me that stuff that really hurt, whether physical or emotional, would "build character." And he's probably right, as evidenced by my excessive amounts of character, but those are not exactly comforting words when you've just lost a job or a boyfriend or even a hamster named Lurch.
I didn't want my mother to have to tough it out.
So I knew I had to phone them back to let them know I was coming anyway, but I felt oddly paralyzed. I sat in my home office with the phone in my hand for a good 10 minutes, childishly calculating the chance I'd get their answering machine because I simply didn't want to hear the anger in my dad's voice on learning I had disregarded his wishes.
"Have you called him yet?" my husband asked, stepping into my office.
"Not yet," I said.
"Why not?" he said.
"I think I'm afraid," I said.
My husband immediately offered to call my dad and deliver the good/bad news of my impending arrival, and that made me sort of snap to. How embarrassing. I happen to know that many family members and friends consider me to be outspoken, confident and quite possibly bossy, and yet in this stressful situation I had suddenly regressed to a weirdly wimpy 5-year-old.
But then, I thought a wise thought: I am not just my father's daughter; I am also my mother's daughter, and I know she needs me. This thought was like ingesting a little "DRINK ME" potion from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I fearlessly picked up the phone and dialed. I was ecstatic when I got their answering machine and left my message.
And as I walked through the gate at West Palm Beach airport the next afternoon, I saw my dad waiting. Happily, he did not look unhappy.
In the ensuing week, I took over the nurturer role that Mom usually has, and Dad kept his provider role, going out to the store for provisions and such. But because I am indeed my father's daughter, I disagreed vocally on some issues and held my ground. My mom was a model patient, uncomplaining and doing her darnedest to be cheerful.
I read my mom a book, "The Help," to pass the time. Sometimes she cried when we reached a particularly touching part, and sometimes I cried because it was particularly touching to read to my mother.
On the day before I left - for the first time since I'd arrived - I overheard my mom softly humming to herself as she got dressed. I ran into the den to alert my dad that this was a sure sign she had turned a corner - she would be OK. And though he didn't say so, I knew at that moment he was damn glad I was there, building yet more character right alongside him.
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