Of Fathers and Sons-in-Law

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:30 a.m.

I don’t usually like to chat about goings-on in my family; you all have your own lives and your own problems that are probably far more interesting than mine, but indulge me on it this week as I try to make a point or two.

This past weekend, I went to see my nine-one year old father in New York City. Just before I went to see him, his hospice social worker caught up with me and told me that she was just about to call me as she was very concerned about the state of my father’s hair, moustache and beard. My father took a violent dislike to the nursing home barber and refrained from any form of haircut or shave. The social worker asked me if perhaps, I could do something about it. She also commented on how much she loves to visit with my Dad. She loves his stories. Dad tells people great whoppers: he was a four star general, he worked with Eisenhower, and he helped Albert Einstein develop the atom bomb. It is a family mystery to all of us whether Dad actually believes these stories or just simply enjoys pulling everybody’s leg, but Marcy the social worker doesn’t worry about the veracity of his stories; she simply enjoys them and lets Dad enjoy telling them.

When I saw my father, I knew that we really did have to do something. His moustache was curled into his mouth and was caked with the red juice that they gave him to take his medication. It would be easy to accuse the nursing home of negligence, but they have strict rules that you cannot force a resident to have any form of treatment, including barbering. I’ve been told by the staff that my father is normally gentle and friendly, but he can be pretty scary once you get his back up. That’s the Dad that I know and love.

Dad was perfectly amenable to having either of us help him out so it fell to my bearded husband who has far more experience and courage than I do in these matters to wield the scissors and risk the wrath of my impatient father. When we showed up with a just-purchased supply of scissors, comb, and mirror, I fully expected my father to bail on us and flatly refuse the makeover, but I was wrong. We did bring him his favourite treat of seedless grapes plus a Hershey bar which he happily devoured before my very nervous husband started snipping away at the back of Dad’s head.

When the hair was done and my husband got to the sideburns, my Dad asked if my husband would kindly trim his moustache as that was bothering him. With sweat beginning to accumulate all over my husband’s face, he gingerly began hacking away at the encrusted moustache which every now and then pulled at my father. This part was a much more difficult as Dad had to stop munching on the grapes, stop talking, and hold still. All through the procedure, my husband continued to apologize if he was hurting Dad and Dad gently responded that all was well. Then my husband took on Dad’s chest-length beard. By this time, my husband’s shirt was drenched with perspiration as he worked on my father’s face with courage and determination.

Once the procedure was over, we helped my wheelchair-bound father out of his hairy shirt and into a clean one. Seeing my father with his shirt off and with the once muscular arms now flabby made me sad. My father once wielded heavy bags and now he was utterly helpless to even lift a telephone and make a call. The way he maintained his dignity was embellishing his past to strangers.

Finally, my husband gave Dad’s mouth a good cleaning and my father looked much more like a retired officer and gentleman than a wild old hermit of the mountains. I looked at these two important men in my life – my husband and my dad – and remembered how unsure Dad was over thirty-five years ago that the young man who was about to marry me would be the right man for his daughter. I also remembered how, in my mother’s declining years, both of my parents admitted that they had been wrong and that they now loved my husband as if he were their son.

This experience made me realize how short life is and that the people that we trust the least may turn into the ones that we have to count on the most, so we should all be open to changing our minds…and girls, when you fall in love, take a hard look at your husband to be. If he’s the kind of guy that will trim your old dad’s wild and dirty beard some time in the future, you’ve got a winner, no matter how rich or poor he is.

It’s not something that I would have thought of in the days when my father could hold up the world, but I’m convinced that deep down, I knew that my husband would come through for my parents, and in the end for me, and for that, I am truly grateful.



Emily says:

Your husband IS a winner, a saint, a GOOD MAN. A grown-up. Give RG my love.
I saw your dad the other day. He looks just great. xoxox

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