July 4, 1991. I was nineteen. My biggest problem in life was deciding where I’d go to watch the fireworks that night. My second biggest problem was deciding what I’d wear.
Then the phone rang and my view of the world as seen through rose colored glasses blurred. My Dad had collapsed on the golf course and was being transported to the hospital. He had suffered a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage; A bleed at the base of the brain. It wasn’t good.
That was twenty-two years ago but the recollection of how my heart frenetically pounded and my mind raced as I was on the way to see him couldn’t be more vivid if it had happened yesterday. I’ve tried to erase the memory of what came next. When I got to the hospital he was lying on a gurney in what I suppose must have been a triage room. He was weak but he squeezed my hand and said, “I love you, Tiny. Make sure everyone gets along and take care of Mom. She’ll need you.”
In time, our relatively normal life resumed itself because by some miraculous grace of God, my Dad survived and was told he’d make a full recovery. Despite my enormous relief, this episode left me terrified and feeling as if someone had thrown me into the lion’s den of [unpredictable] life without any warning and I was completely ill-prepared to handle it. My bubble of certainty and safety and order had dramatically popped and I feared I had lost a huge chunk of my sanity. I was unsure if I’d ever be quite the same.
Nobody needed an unexpected, near death experience to appreciate how valuable my Father was less than me. I am one of five children, and though chronologically that puts me at the bottom of the totem pole, we have always had a blatantly obvious and unique bond.
In my early adolescence he might as well have worn a cape. He was the kind of Dad who come hell or high water would catch a foul ball at a Yankees game because I asked him to. He was the kind of Dad who willingly participated in the parent-child races at the Beach Club, and won! He was the kind of Dad who schlepped up and the down the big hill twelve times on Visiting Day, and then agreed to swim in the cold, murky lake even if he didn’t really want to. He was also the kind of Dad who in fact, became the real life, small town hero. Performing the Heimlich maneuver on a stranger, he literally saved a life. I never got tired of hearing, “Your Father is Dr. Silver? He’s your Dad?
I love nicknames. I think it’s because my Dad and I have always been big on terms of endearment. He’s been calling me “Tiny” since the beginning of time. He still does and I’m almost forty-one! Whether he’s leaving me a message on my answering machine or sending me an email or even putting a stamp on the occasional hand-written letter, I’m always guaranteed to smile when he starts off with a “Hi Tiny… It’s Dad.”
I call him “Glue” because he’s the one who keeps our family together. Over the years there have been times that seemed as though the Glue was coming undone; Perhaps not as strong as in years past. We didn’t know it at the time, but the medical scare in 1991 would end up paling in comparison to what would come later on. Yet again and again and again, the Glue would bounce back, re-adhere and stick everything (and everyone) back together.
My Dad had a thriving dental practice for over four decades and wanted desperately for any one of his five children to follow in his footsteps. For years I’d help out in his office taking my Assistant-In-Training job quite seriously! I’d overhear my Dad tell his patients, “That’s my daughter. She’s gonna be a dentist. She’ll succeed at whatever she sets her mind to and one day I’m going to hand over my set of keys.” I knew he meant every single word because that’s the kind of Dad he was. I did consider going to Dental School but not because I had a great desire to be dentist. I considered it because I had a great desire to make him proud. Unfortunately, my queasy stomach had no desire for bloody cotton pellets and the sound of the Cavitron scraping off tartar creeped me out so much that ultimately I had to take a pass on my Dad’s more than generous offer!
There are a million attributes about my Dad that I admire. Of course he’s the epitome of a man who has integrity… and he’s honest and loyal and hardworking. That’s just a given. But it’s his sense of humor that stands out which puts him in a league of his own. He is wickedly funny when he wants to be. Sometimes his sense of humor is wildly inappropriate and we have a difficult time controlling ourselves. You can’t learn how to find the funny in a situation, it’s just something that’s innate. Luckily for me, I inherited his warped sense of humor and when we get on a roll, there’s no telling what kind of trouble we’ll get into.
Though my Dad always had a keen sense and a quick wit, he was still a disciplinarian. He was fair but made sure we understood rules were rules and they were meant to be followed. I doubt he’d say I was overly rebellious, though on occasion I know I gave him a run for his money. I knew he had my best interest at heart, but sometimes he had an unconventional way of showing it. For instance, once I was involved with a guy whom my Dad did not like. I guess his own life experiences afforded him the ability to recognize the tell-tale signs of a dead-end relationship. It had been close to three years before he became adamant:
“Tiny, stop wasting valuable years of your life. I’m your Father, I wouldn’t steer you wrong! You’re on a path to nowhere with this guy. Quit while you’re ahead and move on.”
I begged to differ and insisted I had things under control: “You’ll see, Dad. I think it’ll all work out.”
Unbeknownst to me, my Dad decided to take matters into his own hands. Maybe one would even call it a little tough love. He picked up the phone and called my boyfriend.
He said, (AND I QUOTE):
“You’re a punk. How long are you gonna f@%ck my daughter before you break her heart?”
Yup, that’s what he said. Verbatim. I was mortified!
Needless to say, that little chat only exacerbated the dead-end relationship and my path to nowhere quickly landed me in the express lane on the Highway to Hell as I packed up my shit and moved out!
At the time I wanted to curl up into a ball and die but hindsight is 20/20. I may not have daughters of my own, but now I’m a parent too. Looking at it objectively from his point of view, not only was he spot on with his foresight but what he said might go down as one of the all-time best unpolished lines ever that a protective Father could say to his daughter’s douchebag boyfriend. It’s about fifteen years overdue, but Bravo Dad. Bravo!
In the Spring of 2001, my phone rang again. The news was heart-wrenching. It had been ten years since that Fourth of July and now we were faced with another health crisis. It wasn’t good.
I packed a suitcase and headed home. On the plane, my mind played dirty tricks on me as I imagined bad scenario after bad scenario, unsure what the outcome would be. Selfishly, I couldn’t help but to picture what getting married might look like one day if I didn’t have my Dad to walk me down the aisle. I wondered if I ever had a baby boy, who would sit in that special chair at the Bris and be the Sandek if my Dad wasn’t there? I was both haunted and nauseated by these thoughts.
The odds were not favorable and I was scared. The months that followed were tense, to say the least. Surgery. Alternative clinical trials. Blood work. Scans. How he beat the Cancer still remains unknown and it still totally mystifies me (and the doctors). I’d be lying if I said I don’t hold my breath every time he’s due for annual tests, but I choose to keep faith the scans will continue to come back clean.
The man is a freakin’ anomaly, so when that damn phone rang again and I heard he had to undergo an Endartectomy to clear his pretty much completely blocked carotid artery and then rang again that he needed to find the leading spinal surgeon to repair his cervical and thoracic vertebras, I didn’t even flinch. I knew he’d be able to get through anything, but I was strongly contemplating changing my phone number. Enough was enough!
Whether I’m in need of parental guidance or just a good dose of sarcasm, my Dad’s the Go-To Guy. He’s more than just a Father; He’s my friend. While never missing an opportunity to have a few cocktails together, we love to shoot the shit like two yentas!
We commiserate about how we struggle to keep off those extra five pounds regardless of my intense workout regimen or his steady pilates class. After studying a menu in great detail, we compare notes before deciding what to order when we’re lucky enough to get dinner plans on the books.
“Tiny, what are you having?”
” I don’t know Dad. What are you having?”
When I hear my children incorporating certain Silver Family expressions into their vocabulary or I listen as they try to explain the meaning of a new life lesson they’ve recently learned, it becomes apparent they’ve spent time with their Grandfather. When I skim through my son’s school journal and read his Grandpa is his “Special Guy,” I know my Dad has earned his own spot in my son’s heart that is indelible. Grateful pride and joy does not even begin to describe what that does for my own heart!
My Dad has always led by example, and because of that I try so hard not to sweat the small stuff.
We have no control over what we can’t control.
We play the hand we’re dealt.
We learn to adjust and adapt as best we can.
I believe watching my Dad endure so many hardships is what helps to keep me grounded. I know all too well how important it is to never lose sight of the fact that every day is a gift.
AND JUST TO LET YOU KNOW…. Later, when the phone rings, I won’t be nervous to answer it. I know it’ll be my Dad. After I rip the cordless away from my kids who undoubtedly will want to speak first, it will be my turn. I will be anxious to talk to him because today is his Birthday. He’s 81 years old. EIGHTY-ONE! There’s nothing that will make me happier than to be able to wish him good health and happiness and to tell him how much I love him. He may even want to tell me a joke. Chances are it’ll be one he’s already told me, but I won’t care. I’ll take the bait and play along as if I’m hearing it for the first time. The punch line, which will be delivered with perfect comedic timing, will make me crack up and we’ll have a good laugh together like we always do, because that’s the kind of Dad he is. Then. Now. Forever.