I spent the better part of the day yesterday in a hospital room. And, when I wasn’t in the room, the rest of the day was spent waiting to hear news about my 86-year-old father-in-law’s double knee replacement surgery. Although this procedure didn’t have the urgency of the emergency abdominal aorta aneurism operation he had a few years ago, any surgery is risky business, and priorities are firmly jolted back to their rightful place.
There are those who march to the beat of their own drummer. Then, there’s my father-in-law; he marches to the beat of his own philharmonic orchestra. On most Friday afternoons, Felix and I spend an hour on the back deck of his house overlooking the San Francisco Bay, downtown San Francisco and even Alcatraz. We talk about whatever Felix wants to talk about, as he usually has a “Top-5” list of things he cares about. The list may be the same from week to week, or it may change slightly. But, the stories stay the same.
I admit (somewhat ashamed) that there are times when I don’t really look forward to this hour. In fact, there are times when I absolutely dread it. I know the stories that will be told. I know the jokes that he will tell (over and over!). I know what he’s going to [filtered word] about and pretty much everything he’s going to say. The funny thing is that every time I go over for the Friday afternoon smoke, I end up being glad that I did – especially on those rare occasions when I can get him talking about his life, instead of having to listen to jokes about bull testicles. (Have you heard that one?)
Even though I know he’s 86, I was still somewhat amazed to hear the nurses call out his birthday as, “11-14-21.” 1921! One of Felix’s weekly “Top-5” is to tell me about which of his friends are sick, having medical problems, or have died. Each week this list gets longer. And, even yesterday, as I waited in the hospital, it’s impossible for me to think of Felix’s mortality. Here he is – born in 1921 – having elective double knee replacement surgery so he can enjoy a better quality of life. Even as his friends are dying, Felix continues to be concerned with his efforts to “get busy living” (to plagiarize the great line from “Shawshank Redemption.”)
On days like yesterday, I’m reminded about the greatness that comes with the quirkiness. I hate myself for occasionally dreading the Friday cigar. I should be honored that he wants to spend that hour with me. And, I kick myself for being so selfish to think I can’t spare an hour for my wife’s father and son’s Papa.
In a way, Felix is the reason K-Man is even in our lives. True, like any good (Jewish) parent, he started right in on G and me about having kids. But, after five years of marriage, we still thought we’d be the hip, fun childless couple that traveled the world and played with our friends’ kids (and then gave them back each time). We were sure we’d be the couple that slept in until noon every Sunday and never had to worry about finding a babysitter on Saturday nights.
Until one night with Felix.
I don’t know what was so special about that night. He had some kind of extra gleam in his eye, or spring in his step. There was an extra enthusiasm in his stories and extended laughter after yet another round of the same ol’ jokes. As we drove home, I said to G, “If we are thinking about ever having a kid, we should do it soon, because I want your dad to know his grandchild.” And, know him, he does.
K-Man and Felix have such a special relationship. It’s a somewhat funny bond, as Felix hasn’t really been able to bend down and scoop up K-Man. But, K-Man will find his way to Papa and join him on the piano bench, massage chair, or the bed. K-Man gets a huge kick out of waking up Felix from his nap, “Wake up, Papa! Wake up!”
Felix has said over and over again that he wants to make it to K-Man’s Bar Mitzvah. Normally, such an occasion takes place around a boy’s 13th birthday. We keep telling Felix that we’re going to hold off on the celebration until K-Man is 21. Now that he’s got new knees, sticking around an extra eight or 10 years shouldn’t be any problem at all.
Get well soon, Doctor. When you’re up and around, we all look forward to many more nights of jokes and you can show the world that although you like to say, “Youth is wasted on the young” – it’s simply not true.