Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dear Dad

I had a pretty conventional childhood. People like to mock conventional upbringings, as they are somewhat lacking in the type of dysfunctional hilarity that growing up with circus folk or living in a tree for a year provides, but convention has merits. Childhood, despite the common romanticization of such, is a shitstorm, even a great one like mine, so having some structure to get you through the foggy mess of uncertainty and utter crap is a big ol' plus. Besides, conventionality breeds commonality, and bonding over common backgrounds and interests is what turns strangers into friends. I can bond with almost anyone over hating math, learning to jump rope, or having a crush on Taylor Hanson when I was eleven. Few would be likely to empathize with me if I were to discuss my year of performing mime on the streets of Paris for wine and cheese (note for the slow students: didn't happen).

Of course, I did have enough anomalies in my childhood to keep things interesting. Just because one wants structure doesn't mean they don't also want color.

I grew up in a rowhouse, an architectural staple specific to my cozy corner of the woods, which isn't in and of itself very interesting, but it is slightly off the beaten path. That rowhouse was located in Philadelphia, a major city that lent me a very specific and well-known culture that made me more special than someone raised in Anytown, Anystate, USA.

I attended Catholic school, which was typical of a good Irish girl in the city, but has a certain mystique for my friends who didn't attend Friday morning mass, learn algebra from nuns, or get graded on how well they knew the life and times of Jesus.

Most of the color in my childhood came, however, from my father's job. Unlike the other kids in the neighborhood, my father didn't do the 9 to 5 shuffle in an office, pushing paper. The umpteen and a half ties I gifted him for various Fathers' Days and birthdays were special occasion only, never for daily work use. MY dad was an OR nurse.

He would tell stories about work during dinner that had nothing to do with Roger from accounting or the typo on page four of the Henderson brief and more to do with arterial spray, engorged ventricles, and myocardial infarctions. I'd like to say that I listened with rapt fascination to his lessons on the inner workings of the human body, but really, like any dad recounting his day, at a certain point, his stories became rote. I only half-listened unless the incident was truly fantastic or weird, even for him (the ones I paid the greatest attention to usually involved either bullets or poop. I'm not wholly proud of this fact).

I, of course, got some of my own stories through his work. Over twenty years, I've heard the same story about my three-year-old self, during a visit to my dad at the hospital, informing a world famous cardiothoracic surgeon, with utter confidence in my certitude, that he was "not a real doctor", because he lacked a stethoscope. Despite being overwhelmingly impressed with my unstumbling command of the word stethoscope (yeah, a world famous surgeon was impressed with my intellect. Suck it.), the doctor in question attempted to engage me in an argument about the legitimacy of his title before my dad stepped in to remind him I was three and therefore right.

More than once, during "Take Your Daughter to Work Day", while other girls were playing file folder and stapling random objects together, I was bearing witness to the repair of a deep vein thrombosis, a triple bypass, or something regarding prostate surgery--which I found particularly salacious because I was old enough to know that prostate was somewhere in the neighborhood of "naughty bits".

My dad is damn near impossible to watch an episode of Nurse Jackie (or Scrubs...or ER...or really any episode of any show that ever featured a hospital ever) with, because of his fondness for editorial commentary during each scene re: its veracity in the real world of medicine.

However, during a time of fear and crisis, one of which took place just after midnight today, my dad is the calm voice guiding his family through the uncertainties, using his experience and knowledge to explain the landscape of illness and injury in a reassuring way.

So, on this Fathers' Day, thanks to my dad, for the structure, for the color, and for the calm.


  1. Found your blog via the blogess. Anyways the stories of your dad made me remember, I had a 5th grade student with a dr for adad, rn for a mom. On a lesson about digestion and waste, he yells out, "urineis excreted from the penis," and the classgoes dead silent so he repeats, "through the penis, guys". I had to laugh. To him, penis was a normal word but to the class, it was shocking.

  2. The Bloggess is fantastic, isn't she? Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I used to teach kindergarten, and definitely kids come out with some funny stuff, but the best is when they're being completely serious.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Very refreshing! I didn't have a wonderfully whimsical childhood myself. My dad was a truck driver and my mom was the lunch lady at school. The only REAL good thing about that was I got free fruit roll-ups.