Our empty nest home almost never receives a phone call past eight o’clock at night — unless it’s Monday evening at nine-thirty, when my brother Jon calls to coordinate our Tuesday visit with Daddy. So late phone calls– especially in my life here of late–inevitably mean one thing: some sort of bad news about Daddy. So last night at nine o’clock, I steeled myself for whatever bad news was coming my way when the phone rang and I looked down to see “Seminole Estates” on our Caller ID screen.
It was Nurse Patty on the other end, letting me know my father had asked her to call me. Wow. I admit Patty’s words robbed me of speech. Daddy wanted to talk to me? Even in Daddy’s prime, Daddy rarely picked up the phone to call someone. And I can’t ever recall Daddy picking up the phone to call me. In our shared past, whenever Daddy wanted to check up on ‘us kids’, Daddy would ask Mom to call us. So I was left to wonder what great need had inspired Daddy to break out of his life long habit–this Daddy of mine who ironically worked for the phone company for over thirty years– to finally “reach out and touch someone”, to borrow that same company’s late twentieth century campaign slogan?”
In the seconds it took Patty to hand the phone receiver to my father, my mind was racing with all sorts of possibilities. Looming at the top was the thought that Nurse Patty had likely called the wrong daughter. It was a logical conclusion to make, as every time I visit, Daddy struggles up a few slurred words to ask me to call Christ about Taco and Eve, the latest two strays that are receiving a second chance at life in Daddy’s home because of my sainted sister, St Francis of Rock Creek. So every time I visit, I try to put Daddy’s mind to rest by calling Christi for a dog report and whatever cute dog stories Christi wants me to share with Daddy.
But last night when I asked Daddy if Patty had called me rather than Christi by mistake, Daddy did not respond. I’ve learned that Daddy only answers what is worth his while to answer. He refuses to waste time or words on bad news. Which is why he refuses to talk about those long ago years of his childhood past, when he was treated like an unwanted stray dog by his mother’s family. And as I think about all the years I’ve known Daddy, I see Daddy has never been able to deliver bad news–whether in the name of childhood discipline or tough love or whatever flavorful phrase society chooses to call it at the moment–even if it was for someones supposed ‘own good’ . The thought that bad news could be good news just never held water for Daddy. So tonight, even if I had been called by mistake, I was never going to hear about it from Daddy’s own lips.
So giving up that ghost, I moved on to ask Daddy how he was doing. “Oh….pretty good”, he said, as if wrangling three words together was no mighty feat if I hit on a subject matter worth talking about. Shaking my head in amazement at Daddy’s short of miraculous comeback over the last three weeks, I began to remind Daddy that I would be down this afternoon and that if Jon wanted to come, I would bring Jon with me. I asked Daddy if there was anything special I could bring him? Sometimes I bring Cosmos, our new little Scottie girl. Sometimes I bring a chocolate milkshake or some ice-cold V-8 tomato juice for him to drink. But again, with a little bit of hard work, he offered me five more words to treasure: Clear as a bell, he said, “Nothing I can think of.”
Wow. Minor miracles all. A late phone call that brought good news by Daddy’s own mouth. I enjoyed a couple of more exchanges before telling Daddy how good he was doing and how happy I was about his progress. To think that four weeks ago I had begun exploring long-term nursing home options, preparing for the thought that Daddy might never come home. And now, here I sit envisioning the opposite — the miraculous possiblity that Daddy could be home by summer’s end.
I give the credit to Daddy’s deep down desire and hope, which for me, is another way of saying God. Daddy’s eating good, with nary a strangle, to regain weight lost a few months ago. And according to his rehab team, Daddy’s working hard to regain his balance and swallowing skills. But what about this reaching out to nurses to help him connect with his family? I mean, who is this masked man? It seems Daddy’s progress is not only helping him regain his recent physical diminshment, but also healing some old emotional wounds along the way.
This gospel story in the making of Daddy’s summer progress is the best sort of goods news.