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How To Make The Dad Connection: Lesson 4

September 20, 2010

Your father, no matter what role he played in your past, is a critical component of redeeming your purpose. This is the fourth in a series of five lessons on Making the Dad Connection, learned from personal experience. (If this is your first visit, click here to read Lesson 1). Your thoughts and suggestions, gleaned from your personal experience, are welcome in the comments below.

Dad with my sisters, winter 1959.

In the summer of 2007 Mom and Dad moved out of the house where my sisters and I grew up and where they lived for 48 years. Dad was scheduled for heart bypass surgery the week after Thanksgiving, so I made plans to be there with him. He was very thankful, “not so much for me as for your mom.” All seemed to go well, and I returned home a few days after the surgery.

Then Mom called at midnight on Christmas, and our family prepared to say good-bye to Dad. He went in and out of surgery, off and on the ventilator. The prognosis was not good, but with each day Dad grew a little stronger. On December 29 they took him off the ventilator for the final time. They weren’t going to put him back on if he couldn’t make it on his own. Within 24 hours he was up and sitting on the edge of the bed. The nurses started calling him “Miracle Man.” I returned home on New Year’s Eve and back to work on January 2. My employer was sponsoring a national conference and would celebrate its 60th Anniversary the following evening.

My sister left a message on the morning of the big event. Dad had taken a turn for the worse. “Mom is really confused,” she said. “We need to talk.” When my return call crash-landed in voice mail I speed-dialed Gloria, the hospital chaplain, convinced that I needed to return to Iowa right away. Even though that would leave my coworkers in the lurch and future employment in jeopardy.

“Look at the situation from the sky,” Gloria suggested. “In the big picture, what is it that Richard needs to do for Richard?”

I was too anxious to contemplate. I spoke with a close colleague, then talked to my boss. “If you need to go in the morning, that’s fine,” she said. “But I really need you here tonight.”

The 60th Anniversary was celebrated with appropriate pomp and circumstance and I arrived at the hospital the following evening. Mom gave me the full report on Dad’s status. He had been awake and restless most of the night before I received my sister’s amorphic message. Sometime in the early morning he had asked the nurse about the blue band on his wrist.

“Oh my!” she said. “That’s a ‘No Code’ indicator. It means we’re not to attempt resuscitation if something goes wrong. You shouldn’t have that!” And she cut it off. Had she checked his chart, as she should have done, she would have left it alone.

Mom didn’t know what to do (beyond insisting that that nurse be banished from my father’s presence for all eternity). She and Dad really didn’t want their lives extended by heroic measures, and this was clearly spelled out in their living wills. Even though Dad’s chart still said “No Code”, in case of emergency the medical professionals first look at the patient’s wrist. If there’s no blue band, they probably won’t take time to check the chart.

But how could we revisit the subject with Dad? Would he think we didn’t want him around anymore? We felt unfit for the task, and so decided to consult the chaplain in the morning.

Gloria was in her office when we arrived. She stressed the need to find out what Dad’s wishes are right now. “He’s been through so much, and he’s making great progress,” she said. “But what if he has a major setback? Will he want to go through this all over again?” Gloria did not try to give us medical advice. “It would be best to assess the situation with the doctor before you talk to your dad.”

The doctor checked Dad’s vitals at lunchtime; Mom and I followed him out to the hall. We questioned the prognosis from several angles; he responded in confusing medi-speak. “If Dad has another major setback,” I blurted, “what is your professional opinion on his chances?”

“If he has a major setback, I don’t think he’ll ever leave this hospital.”

Still, Mom waffled. She wasn’t convinced it was the right time. “There isn’t going to be a ‘right time,’” I said. She sighed, nodded, and went to the restroom. I returned to Dad’s bedside, and he said he was ready for a nap. I swallowed hard. “Could Mom and I talk to you first?” He sighed, nodded, and Mom returned. We described the scenario and the doctor’s prediction. “Dad, would you want to start this all over again?” I asked.

He closed his eyes, thought for a moment, then shook his head. “I just can’t go through it again.” Tears welled as his eyes opened. “I’m so sorry.”

It turned out he was concerned about our feelings. He didn’t want to let us down by giving up. We assured him we wanted what he wanted. Then we explained the purpose of the blue band, and he asked for a new one.

Just the other day a good friend and I were talking about Western Society’s aversion to suffering. We want everything the easy way, and turn tail at any threat of physical, mental, or emotional pain. We make inaccurate assumptions about what others think and how they will react to what we think. Then we edit our words or say nothing at all because we “know” what the outcome will be. We suppose we’ll do everyone a favor if we sidestep the suffering. Some call this presumed omniscience, or playing god. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, and I’m surprised at how often I fall into the trap. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Take a risk. Break the taboo. Ask the question. What’s the worst that can happen? Prepare for the worst, and speak light into darkness.

Lesson #4 in Making The Dad Connection: admit you’re not omniscient — find out what Dad really thinks, wants, and needs.

Don’t miss the final lesson of this series: sign up for an email subscription in the upper right corner of this page.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Janny permalink
    September 20, 2010 5:00 pm

    There is so much in this that we (Mom &I) didn’t know. You have all gone through so much together, and now there is Joy this very day. Thank you for sharing . I have printed them all out for Mom. Tried to read it to her over the phone, but didn’t get too far when my emotions took over.

    • September 20, 2010 5:14 pm

      Uh-oh. You’re going let Aunt Dotty read the part about me being an anal sphincter? Oh what the hell. It’s not as if she didn’t already know. And I won’t pretend I didn’t write it to share with the world. Because yes, we have more joy than we deserve, so it makes sense to share. Knock yourself out, Cousin. Love you!


  1. How To Make The Dad Connection: Lesson 3 « Richard M Potter on Purpose

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