When I was a four year old, my dad used to play a game with me where he would be my trusted steed and we would march around the house to discover various pieces of treasure. It can’t have been good for his knees.
We also played a lot of hide-and-go-seek. One unforgettable time, he stretched out against the wall and remained perfectly still. I completely missed him, but when the ruse was up, I learned the powerful lesson that certain times you can’t see something right before your eyes simply because you aren’t expecting it to be there. This has been an invaluable lesson for me as I went into research and academia.
When I was eleven, my wrists and fingers, along with my right knee, swelled and became incredibly painful, the doctors who diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis believed that staying away from any physical activity would be best. The only sport I kept doing was baseball and my dad coached the team. My friends were excellent athletes and I guess I knew that I just couldn’t keep up with my illness so I turned into a comedian.
The team went on to win a major championship and I would regale my dad at home with imitations of him or the players or myself. Pantomimes of the game, send ups of key moments and he would laugh. He never said anything to me about the arthritis. He would come home with voodoo treatments like black mud from Argentina. I had to put the mud on my hands and knee as he was convinced it would take the pain and swelling away. While I grew out of the arthritis in my late teens, I kept the comedy and to this day use humor as a way to cope with things that make me want to cry.
I suddenly came into my own at university. It seemed like a place I had waited a long time for. I felt most at home in the library. I went on to do a Masters and then PhD. I’m an impatient person and find myself wanting to finish other people’s sentences. It was always a relief to talk to my dad because he was so fast. His insight was like lightning and so I never had to explain. We could just use a shorthand language to exchange ideas.
It wasn’t until my son was in a dire situation at school with abusive teachers and an administration that was manipulating the kids who had reported that I truly got a glimpse of my dad’s “other life.” He was in the midst of retiring when my son was in jeopardy, but instantly went back to work to protect him. He wrote legal letters to the school and advised me each step of the way as to my son’s rights.
It made me realize when he was playing horsey and hide-and-go-seek, those were games he came home to after practicing law all day. When he was coaching the baseball team that was when he had quit his big law firm and started his own company with all of the incredible stress that entails. I never knew. All he showed was how to find treasure and how to throw a curve ball. When I was at university, he was still working hard at his very successful company that supported my endless studies. And it all came clear to me as I watched him fight for my son’s rights to attend school and play his sport safe from teacher abuse.
I loved my dad in the past and my love only increases in retrospect.