Essay: A Father's Gift

Jun 16, 2018

It's Father's Day weekend, and if you're fortunate to still have a dad in your life, hopefully you'll have the chance to spend some time with him, or call, or give a gift. But Lake Effect essayist Linda Flashinski is thinking about a gift she received from her father:

The day before my father died of a painful cancer, the nurses had to move him from a bed to a gurney.  In doing so, they lost their grip of him and dropped him onto the hard gurney.  In pain, he let out a strangled groan.  But that’s not what those of us who loved him remember most about the incident.  What we remember most is that, within moments of being dropped, my father, kind and gentle to the end, turned to the nurses and said, “Oh, dearies, you do such a good job.  Thank you for being here to help me.”  In his agony, he was worried about what distress his mournful groan may have caused others.

That was my father.  During the difficult days of growing up in a world where we fail so often, he was just the antidote to self-deprecation and self-despair that we needed.  When we did poorly on a test, when we lost a game, when we stumbled in some more painful, personal area of our lives, he would just smile his smile and assure us that we were really special, that things would be all right, that this, too, would pass.  And it always did, in time.  What never did pass was the sense we got from him and from my mother that the ground we walked on was safe and sure, that we could believe in ourselves, and that we could help others in this complicated journey because we had been so helped in our growing up years.

I was reminded of the hospital incident last year over the holidays when I was at the post office, waiting in line.  The line was long and, even though the three postal workers were diligently attending to their work, the cordon of people had backed up.  People shuffled and finally a man behind me said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, including the postal workers, “Well, isn’t this the U.S. government at work?  Just more incompetence for our tax dollars.” 

I looked up at the postal workers who continued stamping and sorting and giving change and smiling and saying “thank you,” and they didn’t flinch.  Still, it must have hurt.  My mind flashed back to my father who, being dropped onto a gurney, was able, even in pain, to turn to others who had failed and to tell them that he knew that they were doing the best they could in a trying situation.  I thought of his ability to see that most of us are just out here, struggling for the light that is often elusive, succeeding sometimes and failing other times, and being what we are – human and imperfect and growing with each mistake and each success.

We live in an age besieged with critics and complainers, with those who tell us what is wrong with everything – what is wrong with the younger generation, what is wrong with the older generation, what is wrong with liberals, what is wrong with conservatives, what is wrong with women, what is wrong with men, and more.

In this backdrop, it is intriguing to consider what the world would be like if more people looked to see what is good and strong and right around us.  For surely, we see it every day.  A government providing roads and trash pickup and immunizations and free public education.  Young people working in school, striving toward productive and caring futures.  Senior citizens serving as mentors and tutors to the young.  Volunteers in virtually every organization asking how they can help.  And children whose eyes, despite the problems of our times, still reflect light and love and hope and tomorrow.

It's not easy to be human.  Sometimes we speak too harshly to those we care about.  Sometimes we fail at our job.  Sometimes we don’t add up the accounts accurately.  Sometimes we give a test that is too difficult.  Sometimes we don’t study enough.  Sometimes we prescribe a medication that doesn’t work.  Sometimes we take the order down incorrectly.  And sometimes we drop an ill, elderly patient onto a gurney.  Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just plain do it wrong.

But imagine what a world it would be if, in the face of someone else’s mistake, we remembered our own shortcomings and considered what it is to be human.

Imagine what a world it would be if we told others with our actions, our words, our eyes, that we know that they are who we are – all too human and trying, just the same, to do what they can in what light there is.

Lake Effect essayist Linda Flashinski lives and writes in Caledonia, Wisconsin.