2003-07-31 - 8:57 p.m.
My dad was a little late to dinner tonight. By the time he sat down next to me at Seoul Korea, Mom and I had already ordered a beer. When he pulled out his chair, something banged against the glass tabletop. I reached for his left wrist, where he wears his diabetes Medicalert bracelet. There was something new danging there, a small metal cylinder about 2 inches long. It had a tight screw top and was heavy in my palm. When I asked Daddy about it, he told me that it contains nitroglycerin.
Daddy had a quadruple bypass before he was 50. He's now 56, and had to have some additional work done last year. Now that he's growing older and is having trouble again, his heart specialist wants him to carry the tiny pills with him everywhere. I'd never seen them before, but have always heard about nitro, so I asked Daddy to show the pills to me. As he awkwardly unscrewed the cap and removed the heat- and damp-proof rubber gasket, he began to tell me a story.
"One day when I was a little boy," he said, "my father took me out on the river in Detroit to fish. We were pretty far out - all the way to Peach Island," and here he looked to my mom, who nodded to confirm that she understood the distance implied, "and we had anchored there and were fishing from the shore. I was just a boy, maybe eight or nine, and since the fish weren't biting I got bored. I walked a ways down the coast and skipped rocks."
Daddy stopped and finished the beer in his glass. He motioned to the server for another OB, the Korean lager he likes. "When I went back to where my father was, he was bent double. He was drooling. He couldn't raise his arms, he couldn't tell me what was wrong. But I knew that he always kept nitroglycerin in a tube like this around his wrist." Daddy shook out a few of his white pills, sized like baby aspirin. "I put two of the pills under his tongue and waited a couple of minutes. My father still couldn't move by himself, but after that time had passed, he just said, 'more'. So I gave him more pills." At this point I had to stop looking at Daddy. His own gaze was on the fish tank adjacent to our table, where blue and orange cichlids were lazing. I saw the reflection of his glasses in the tank's tall sides. "When the pills really started to work, my father stopped drooling. He was able to move around a little. Eventually I got him back into the boat, started the motor, and drove back to our car. He tried to drive home on the freeway, but a police officer pulled us over with a bullhorn and told him that he'd have to speed up or get a ticket."
"When we were close to home, he stopped the car to talk to me. He said that my mother must never know what had happened, that it would only worry her. And we never did tell Mother." When Daddy finished telling the story, he drained his glass again, straightened his glasses and said in exactly the same tone of voice, "Right back. I'm headed for the bathroom."
My mother and I looked at each other across the table. I drank from my beer. Mom said, "he never told you that before, did he?" She knew that he hadn't by the expression on my face. "And you don't know about how he found Grandpa, either, do you?"
In that two minutes or three minutes before Daddy came back, Mom said that not only had my dad had to rescue his father that fishing day with nitroglycerin, but that when Grandpa died four years later, Daddy was the one who found him in the back yard. Daddy came home from junior high school football practice one afternoon to find his father's dead face in their back yard. Daddy called the police. He called the ambulance. He called the mortuary. He called the church. And then, after Grandpa's body had been removed, he called Grandma. She had been babysitting for Daddy's married sister the entire day.
I've had many difficulties with my dad over the years. With work, we've established a relationship that I'm very proud of. I enjoy his company for who he is, not just because he's my parent. But tonight I learned a new side of him, and it's given me, for maybe the first time, compassion for this man. Before we separated after dinner, I asked if I could come up and stay with him next weekend, just the two of us with the dogs, and talk. He said yes.
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