Today was Father’s Day. I watched everyone post photos of their fathers on facebook and each one extolled the virtues of their father louder than the last. I looked at all of the happy pictures and was sad. Sad about getting older. Sad about my father getting older. No one prepares you for your parents getting older and sicker and less vibrant. I’m watching a man who used to light up a room turn into a man who doesn’t want to get out of bed and it breaks my heart. I don’t recognize the man in front of me.
My father served on a swift boat in Vietnam, was a star football player in his high school, and excelled in the martial arts. When I was a child, growing up in New York City everyone knew not to mess with my dad. He was the man you called when you needed protecting. He was spry, really strong, and physically imposing.
He was a man of all trades and did anything and everything to support his family. He sold stuffed animals, was the personal bodyguard for Guru Maharaji, and worked as a security guard for a time. He finally settled into commercial lending as he got older and proved to be a natural. He was a dreamer. He always dreamed of creating a perfect life for us.
My father was the first one to take my acting career seriously. He coached my first audition. He likes to think that I got my talent from him since he played Rolf in The Sound of Music when he was in high school. He acted like I won a Tony when I won a Broadway World Award and every single time I get cast in a new show, no matter where or what it is, he says, “well you’ve really hit the big time now!”
The last five years have not been kind to my father. He’s lost a lot including his home and his health. The man that was there even 3 years ago when I was doing a show in Door County, WI, and he was arguing with my brother about the best way to construct our family-sized tent and had to SHOW him because he was doing it wrong, is nowhere to be seen. It looks like he’s aged 20 years since then.
My father has diabetes that is out of control and vertigo (or something) so bad that he has trouble standing. What’s worse than this is that his spirit seems broken. I’ve been here now for 5 days and have seen him for maybe an hour total. He’s shut himself in his room because he doesn’t feel well. He doesn’t take care of himself. I look at him and fear the day that I have to say goodbye and hope with everything I have that that day is far off, but I don’t know.
I arrived home, running shoes in tow, excited to share my new outlook with my family. I was excited to put healthy food in the refrigerator and to take my morning runs. The first day went really well. I got my run in and we went grocery shopping for healthy food. I quickly learned though that my father doesn’t want to eat what he should be eating. He doesn’t want to get any exercise, even a short walk with his cane. He just wants things to stay the same.
The pace at this house is more like a dirge than the uptempo I was trying to bring with me. So for the last two days I’ve sat on a couch and haven’t done anything. I found plenty of excuses. My allergies were bugging me. My knee was acting up. I’ve been depressed and discouraged. He wouldn’t even come out of his room for Father’s Day. It hurt. It was frustrating.
So, this morning, I woke up and put on my running shoes, I walked outside and I started to run. I ran for the man my father used to be. I ran for the man my father is now. I ran because he is still so vibrant and I wish he realized that. I ran because I’m young. I ran because I’m healthy. I ran because I don’t know if my father will ever run again. I ran because I CAN. I love you daddy.