I was lucky enough this year to actually get to spend Fathers Day with my Dad in person! My parents were down here the past week doing some work, and are currently at the airport on their way back to Alaska, but they stopped by this morning and I made a Fathers Day brunch for them. As I was laying in bed last night I was composing a Father's day post, and I thought about getting out of bed to write, but knew I had to wake up early to go out and buy bacon (Fathers Day brunch without bacon?! No way), so I shelved my thoughts and decided I'd write something today.
For some reason my mind was fixated on the extraordinary ways in which my father has been a dad. Perhaps it was an article I'd read yesterday about premature infants and advances in NICU care for critically ill babies. My brother Ben was born with barely a 10% chance of surviving his first two weeks of life. His heart was severely deformed, and on top of that he had Sotos Syndrome (which is somewhat similar to Downs, but obviously different, just not as widely known). Not being a parent I can only imagine the heartbreak of taking a son home, not to nurture to grow strong, but to love for as many days as possible until having to say goodbye. Those of you who have been around the blog for a while know that my brother has outlived that 2 week survival estimate by about 24 years.
When I laugh about being stressed out about having a kid and being freaked out about nurturing a child and "keeping it alive," I'm mostly joking. My Dad, on the other hand, has literally kept my brother alive, on more than one occasion. The summer before my 8th grade year on an August evening, my mom picked me up from the barn where I was working and drove me home. As we turned the corner onto our street, we found our driveway clogged with emergency vehicles. Firetrucks, Ambulances, Cops, EMTs everywhere. There wasn't room for us to park, so my mom pulled the minivan onto the front yard. I was out of the car before it stopped moving. In my young mind, I was convinced my Dad was the cause of the emergency. He had surely fallen off the roof or something, as he was always working on the house, doing projects. It wasn't. It was my brother. A pale blue, redheaded boy came wheeling around the corner on an ambulance gurney, surrounded by EMT's desperately trying to keep him alive. What I learned later was that the person who actually had kept him alive was my dad.
My youngest brother and his friend had found Ben, unconscious on the side of our house, crushed into moist earth and not breathing. They ran to my Dad who told them to have the neighbor boy's parents call 911, and then immediately ran to Ben to start CPR. I can only imagine turning that corner to find your precious son, your miracle son who had outlived his 2 week deadline by 10 years, laying lifelessly on the ground. I can't imagine it, in fact. I can't. I can't imagine checking his pulse– none. Checking his pupils– fixed and dilated. And then proceeding to give my entire being to bring the clinically dead body laying before me back to life. Compressions. Breaths. Compressions. Breaths. Compressions. The EMTs arrive and try respirating with a bag, but it's not working. He pushes them out of the way and proceeds doing it himself. Compressions. Breaths. Finally they get Ben on the gurney, wheel him to the ambulance, and he's gone. I'm left in the driveway with our neighbors, and I can't remember if it started raining, or I just remember it that way because I can't imagine the whole Earth not sobbing in that moment.
Someday I will be able to more completely understand what it means to have a child. What it means to imagine losing them. And hopefully not having to come face to face with it, as my father has. I hope to never have to be a parent the way my father has. To never have to be shocked by my son's pacemaker trying to give him CPR again a few years later, when he goes down again. To never have to bring home a tiny blue baby, who I try desperately not to grow attached to because I know I'll have to bury him in a few short weeks.
But while my dad has been through things I never want to have to go through as a parent, I can only pray I'll be as good a parent as him. Someone who fought tooth and nail to keep his child alive. Not once. Not twice. Over and over. Someone who never gave up believing that miracles could happen. Someone who fought to keep his child alive, despite knowing he might be severely disabled, both physically and mentally. My dad has taught me so much over the years. How to work on cars, on houses, on boats, on anything really. How to drive a stick. How to tie to a cleat properly. How to drive a boat. Almost how to fly a plane (never got my license). How to take apart a dashboard and put it all back together. How to camp in -20º F weather. I can't count the amount of projects we've worked on together. We've landed on mountaintops and bristol bay, served espresso to mushers on the Iditarod Trail, boated through the Lake Union locks, commercial fished, drove cross country, and more. He's always made me feel like I could do anything I put my mind to. He's helped me with his time, with his finances, with his sweat, and with his tears. But for some reason this year, I'm struck by what he taught me about being a parent and giving everything to your kids, even if it means giving them CPR on the side of your house. Even if it means having a disabled child. Even if it means flying to Boston last minute for experimental surgery to keep your baby, who was only supposed to live 2 weeks, alive a little longer. I can't imagine having a more incredible man to call my father.