My Father, My Colonoscopy
As our parents age and we too grow older, we assume they have nothing left to teach us. I imagined that as my mom and dad neared eighty, I’d be driving them to a variety of doctor’s appointments. I never thought I’d hear myself say, I can’t have lunch Thursday, my dad is taking me to my colonoscopy. My husband was away, and since driving yourself after narcotic sedation is a bad idea, my Dad offered.
I have a job, a husband, a dog, two boys and a house full of stinky cleats - I don't get much one on one time with my father. Relentlessly punctual in his old(er) age, he picked me up eleven minutes early, beeping the horn from the driveway like one of my teenage dates. We’ve always gotten along (aside for brief interlude involving a motorcycle when I was 16). There’s nothing particularly celestial or tragic about our relationship. Our lives are like anyone’s – the moments at once personally historic and publicly mundane.
On the way to the hospital we discussed the Kavanaugh nomination hearings, inescapable at that time. We’re both generally loathe to talk politics, having endured painful Thanksgivings past like any normal family. But somehow this felt different. “Can you imagine being held accountable for everything you did in high school?” he said. Should I answer this question? Is this one of those Dad traps? “No,” I finally said, adding, “Dad, what’s was the worst thing you did?”
To my surprise, he didn’t hesitate. “Well, I never assaulted anyone, but we did a lot of partying, a lot. And…I got arrested for stealing a model airplane engine at Woolworth’s.”
I laughed. “I got caught stealing earrings from Bradlee’s!” Now it was his turn to laugh, but he quickly composed himself. “Does your mother know?” She didn’t. “Let’s keep it that way.”
Dropping me at the hospital, he said, “Have fun. The drugs are pretty great.” It’s funny how you can talk to your father differently at each stage of adulthood. Now that we’re both AARP members, there’s no point in arguing about how different we are. We’re in the mezzanine of life - my parents don't yet depend on me, but I’ve long stopped needing them. The faint but unbreakable bonds remain, like threads of forgotten spiderwebs. Now, we’re free to be… friends. I could never have imagined this at sixteen. I’m quite sure he couldn’t have either.
Gleefully awaiting my rock star dose of propofol, I noticed the anesthesiologist dutifully studying a monitor in front of him. I wondered if he had daughters, and I assumed he was monitoring my vitals, or other important information about my state. He turned to face me. “You’re going on a nice trip. Don’t worry.” Behind him, on the monitor, which I could now see, the Kavanaugh hearings played. Maybe he was so good at his job they let him watch TV while sedating patients. Maybe this hearing mattered to him because he had college age daughters. Maybe....I was out
After the procedure, the nurse led me to the waiting room. “And here’s your…significant other!” she announced, spotting my Dad. I gave her a look. “Well, I don't want to assume he’s your husband!”
“Oh my God. He’s my father!” She was promptly embarrassed; my father chuckled with delight.
Dad asked what I felt like for lunch. For anyone who’s endured the joys of colonoscopy prep, there’s nothing like that first meal. It’s like dining at Popeye's after doing hard time.
“I could really use a salad.” He promptly pulled into Jimmy’s Steer House in Arlington, where, I believe, iceberg is and has been the top green for about four decades. No matter, we were having a nice day, just me and my Dad, and I wasn’t about to spoil it by demanding organic kale and seared Brussel sprouts like it was a normal day.
At high noon on Tuesday, the only thing older than this restaurant was its clientele. Aside from a squalling newborn, I was the youngest person there, and I’m old enough to have a colonoscopy. A pack of elderly women were being led carefully to their table. Some of them could barely walk or see. “Well, their husbands are probably all dead, so they may as well have fun,” Dad said. I opened my mouth to protest, then decided I agreed with him.
During lunch we gossiped about my siblings, shared food (I ate his fries) and discussed the state of our country. I asked how he would compare today to 1968. “Did it feel then as divided and scary as it does now?” “Worse,” he said without missing a beat. “It felt,” he paused, raising his giant fountain Coke, “... like the world was going to explode.”
“That’s how I think it feels now.” He nodded. I paid the check and he feigned surprise.
Nearing home, he turned to me. “Do you think… you’ll ever start working on another book?” Generally, I hate this question, and I think he knows that. (My previous two novels remain widely unread and critically unacclaimed, despite both my parents’ gushing endorsements.) But the narcotic had left me calmer than usual, so I didn’t lash out defensively and ask him why he didn’t try writing a book while raising two kids and working. “Yeah, I think so,” I said. “Now that the kids love their friends and Fortnite more than me, I seem to have more… mindspace.”
“Well…I know you have to make money, but…you have a talent, and it would be a shame to squander it.” That stung. Dad wielding a two-dollar word like squander as a weapon for my own good. He pulled into my driveway, and I asked if he wanted to come in. “No thanks, I have to get back to mom.”
I hugged him, went inside and began to write.
Happy Father’s Day. I love you.