In my mind both of my parents are still young - Late 30s early 40s. Then I realize that later this year my older sister will turn 30. Her first child, my niece, will be born this August. And every now and then, when the light hits them a certain way, I realize that my parents aren't as young as they used to be.
Dad will always be young at heart and an old curmudgeon all at the same time. He always has been. But time is passing. Time has been a big theme for him as of late. For my entire life he's been a repair man. He's always been able to pull things apart and find what's broken. Recently, he's returned to his passion for fixing things and started a business fixing antique clocks. His hands are his life. But, one day about 8 years ago, the unthinkable happened. A massive stroke brought on by an aneurysm. Time stopped.
It was summer. I was a few months shy of 20 and working at Disneyland. My sister had just graduated from USC and was to be married in a little over a month. I still think of that summer as the year my childhood ended.
When he first called me I didn't think that anything was wrong. He sounded tired but he said he would see me on Monday for our usual father, daughter movie date. But then he called again a few hours later. Asking if I knew our family doctor's home phone number. And I knew something was very wrong. I won't go into the drama of that night. Trying to get someone, anyone, to tell me what had happened to my dad. Driving an hour and a half from Riverside to to Lakewood, praying that we would get there in time. Praying that there wasn't a need to get there "in time."
When I finally did see him, it was a complete shock. It seems like a cliche when people say that loved-ones look small in hospital beds. But it's true. He looked like a child. I'd never seen him look so vulnerable. He spoke slowly and deliberately. He tried to be brave, but he was terrified. I was terrified.
The stroke left him nearly paralyzed on his right side. His speech was terribly slurred. I had to repeat back everything he said to be so that I could be sure what I was hearing was what he was saying. And my father, the rock that I had only seen cry twice in my entire life until that point, was an emotional wreck. The aneurysm had occurred deep in the center of his brain. It effected the speech, coordination, comprehension and emotional centers of his brain. One minute he might be sobbing like his heart was breaking and the next he might start laughing so hard he would turn a scary shade of reddish, purple.
The day after the stroke was probably the worst. Over night the effects of his trauma set in to the fullest extent they ever would. He had walked into the hospital of his own accord. But by the next morning he couldn't even stand. His speech worsened. And his right hand curled up into a claw like shape that only now, 8 years later, is starting to regain it's former movement.
It was tempting for him to just sit back and let what had happened defeat him. But for one, very important, thing. He had six weeks to get up and start moving again so he could walk my sister down the aisle.
Those six weeks were a constant battle for him. He fought depression, family members who thought he was pushing himself to hard and his own tired body to take those first few steps. They hurt and they were slow and unsteady. But they came. First only out of bed. Then to the door. Then down the hallway. Always slowly. Always with help. But he did it.
On August 23rd, 2003 my sister walked down the aisle. Beautiful in a white dress with a bouquet of white roses and orchids in one hand and my father's elbow in the other. We decorated his cane with a bow tie and orchids, per his request. Many of us cried; he smiled, serenely content to know that he had conquered his challenge.
Later that day we asked him how he did it. I had been worried that he wouldn't be able to stop crying that day, but by the end of the night he was tired but had not shed one tear. When I asked him, he smiled mischievously and told me that anytime he'd been tempted to cry, in his mind he a had started singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."
It's been 8 years since that summer. He lives independently and takes very good care of his home. To walk into his apartment you wouldn't realize that it's the home of a bachelor. The one thing he's been missing all this time was a purpose. He just didn't know what to do with his life since his early retirement. Then, a few months ago, he got his hands on an old clock. He was nervous that his hands wouldn't be able to do what he needed them to do to get the "old girl" chiming again. But with time, patience and some work he fixed what was broken and he couldn't have been happier when those chimes rang out.
When I told Boyfriend that my dad was fixing clocks again a wide grin spread over his face. When I asked him why he looked so pleased with himself he said to me, "I know what he should call his business."
Intrigued I asked him what it was.
"Stroke of Midnight."
Dad has a weird sense of humor. So does Boyfriend. They click on that level. Dad was thrilled with the name.
Of course, now that he has a name he needs business cards. That's where I come in. I've been working on concepts for these for a few weeks now. For his birthday he gets to choose the design he likes. For Father's Day he'll have the cards in hand, ready to go.
These are the designs I came up with for him. I know which one I would want him to choose, but we'll see what happens.
Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you.