While both of my parents are significant influences in my life, I have to give the majority of the child rearing credit to my mom. Mom fed us, dressed us, bathed us, got us to school, chauffeured to activities, read bedtime stories, fixed boo boos, and knew all the details of her three children’s lives growing up.
There are some memories I have of my dad during my childhood which stand out, like the time I ran screaming from him when he asked to do my hair during a summer trip to Colorado. It was in fact the first and only time I can recall him showing any interest in doing my hair and it was my mom’s job… Or so I thought, until she pointed out how upset he looked at my response. Remorsefully I agreed to let him try to which he responded, “Nevermind.”
My dad may not have been successful at styling his daughters’ hair, though, he did have a knack at resolving my childhood nightmares. I had a reoccurring nightmare which likely stemmed from cartoon watching and stranger danger lessons in early elementary school. To a six year old, the Care Bears being kidnapped was a wickidly frightening dream and one I would wake up from crying. Whether from brilliant parenting insight or just an effort to keep me from trying to sleep in my parents bed, my dad reassured me in a way I found strength and confidence. My dad told me to fall asleep holding my teddy bear up to my head and it would scare the bad dreams away.
It was a simple piece of advice from my dad and helped me sleep soundly through my childhood. A few weeks ago I was fondly remembering how this memory made an impression on me when the realization hit me, my dad lied to me. The teddy bear didn’t scare anything away, it was a false sense of security which tricked me into sleeping. Now some people might say “so what, you got to sleep.” Except my parents raised us with the belief and my dad maintains it is important to never lie to children. He stands by the necessity of being truthful, not misleading with fairytales or disception. Granted, this does not mean full disclosure to kids, there are times to limit topics into adult conversation. For my parents it was important to set the example for always being honest.
In a quiet moment with my parents I broke the silence by asking my dad if he remembered this childhood advice. I told him how I affectionately remembered the influence it had on me and my nightmares, he closed his eyes and smiled. “It was a lie,” I pointed out, “The bear didn’t scare anything away, you lied.” I felt so cleaver to finally uncover the one example in my lifetime where my dad was intentionally dishonest with me and hung to the thought for only a moment.
“It wasn’t a lie,” he said softly, “I helped you to change your perception so you weren’t afraid.”
As soon as he said it I understood what he meant, since a fear of a dream is unique from real danger. The power I was given by the teddy bear wasn’t false at all, I was able to envision the protection it served me and it did provide me safety from my Care Bear nightmare. The change in my perception gave me the confidence to control how I felt and what I didn’t need to fear.
Our conversation was broken up by a lab technician coming into the hospital room to take more blood samples from my dad. He laid weak under the florescent lighting on an emergency stretcher, medical machines beeping with IV fluid being flushed through his body. Dad’s skeletal frame had been deteriorating over the past six month, starting as a back ache escalating to full blown crisis. Knowing what we know now, I wrestled with the guilt of thinking he just wasn’t trying hard enough to get well.
Dad was admitted to the ICU and the following few days were met with a whirlwind of doctors, blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, medicines and finally a bone biopsy. For a man who had escaped injury and illness throughout his life, it was a nightmare come to life to watch him dependent on help from others. My mom, siblings and our significant others rallied to support Dad during his hospitalization. After an emotionally taxing weekend, we surrounded my dad when a doctor confirmed the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.
Six days after entering through the emergency room, Dad was sent home and began preparation for cancer treatment. Taking advice from my sister-in-law to heart, I have not looked into the statistics of the disease and only focused my attention on gaining knowledge of treatment. I am not naïve about his frail condition or the long road ahead, instead I am making a choice not to dwell in what we cannot change. Dad’s advice of the teddy bear and nightmares seems to be relevant even more today. By changing our perception we can develop strength and avoid fear, keep our minds open for opportunities and be confident about handling what the future brings.
My dad continues to reinforce life lessons and bring a positive influence into my life, as does my mom. Through all of this, my mom has stayed the consistent caregiver. She makes meals, helps dress, chauffeurs to doctor’s appointments, and maintains all the details of dad’s needs. Mom even helps him with his hair.
For family and friends who are interested in knowing more about his diagnosis and treatment, Dad and I are keeping a journal to document the road to recovery on Caringbridge. You can find him by searching his full name.