To The Doctor Who Saved My Father’s Life,
I can’t refer to you by name because I never actually met you. But the nurses have assured me you are indeed real, and a very busy, trust-funded, white man. While I’m sure you’re used to praise for your “lifesaving” treatments, I, on the other hand, have only one question for you: What the hell have you done to my father?
In case you have no recollection which ‘my father’ I am referring to— as I’m certain you perform miracles daily on 60-something, tire-fat guys who see exercise as a punishment for having the garage too far away from their houses—let me jog your memory a bit. Mine is the one you ruined by saving. Okay, I get it. I sound ungrateful. Fair. I mean, you probably have women showing up on your doorstep all of the time with their fresh cherry pies and paternity tests, thanking you for freezing their omelettes. Old men with Portland, Maine accents that sound slightly British from watching Downton Abbey marathons probably take you to their golf clubs, standing in awe as you recount that same story over and over again (the one where you were in surgery for 19 hours separating a set of 7 year-old conjoined triplets with cleft lips, who had fallen out of a hot air balloon while escaping their torrid lives in Greenland). The chaps might glibly laugh that the triplets were, all three, probably Democrats, anyway.
“Well, it’s not for me to judge,” you would say with a chuckle, your e-cigarette pinching the left buttock in your back pocket.
Yes, doctor, you angel of a man, did save my father’s life. His quadruple bypass surgery was textbook, and the sternum infection that developed soon after had nothing at all to do with your care. In fact, your hospital has assured our lawyers and their lawyers’ lawyers it had nothing at all to do with the diet of canned pineapple squares and microwave fish sticks your hospital fed him daily, either—all gluten free. That infection also surely didn’t manifest itself because you forgot your Class of 1983 graduation ring in my father’s gaping chest cavity where it grew a tail. Nope, my father’s infection was all of his own doing. The dirty rogue deserved his punishment. The real problem, however, is that yesterday my father told me he loved me.
“Well, that’s splendid,” you might say.
No sir, it certainly is not. My father is an asshole. When I was born he tried to name me ‘Bud Light’ just to win a $20 bet with his AA group. Before you came along, he smoked three packs a day—more on weekends, less when sleeping, all inside the house. As a kid, he taught me to ride my bike by chasing me down the road in his truck yelling, “do or die, duck legs!” He fried his vegetables in bacon fat because he thought it made his skin shinier. He killed my pet pig, Hammie, so he could fry his vegetables in bacon fat. When my brother brought his vegan girlfriend over for Easter, my father poured steak blood into her mashed potatoes. She’s a vegan, I reminded him. “No, she’s just autistic,” he said.
Still not convinced? On our school break when other kids were going to Disneyland with their fathers, Dad took us to the local carwash and told my baby brother to open the door to find the secret waterslide. He asked my first ever girlfriend if her third-wave feminism was simply a yet-to-be-diagnosed STD. But I knew he was a changed man the second my father woke up alive.
My first clue? He asked to see all four of us children. Before his surgery, my father was pretty sure my sister and I were the same person, and that my mother had walked by a pair of old pants to get pregnant with my middle brother. Now he actually calls us by name. Like last week when I popped over to mow the lawn, Dad stood in the driveway like he was Gwyneth Paltrow getting her Oscar.
“Thank you, Polly. Thank you so much. Yes, your father is a crier now.”
Then he actually hugged me. I’m sorry, but what?
Can I tell you the worst of it, though? Since you screwed around with his heart, my father has decided he’s in love with my mother again. Us kids have watched their tortured marriage for decades and have actually bought each of them divorce lawyers on three separate Christmases. He has taken her for granted like a rock star for 42 years. Now he pops into her bedroom at night, “just to see if she needs anything.” My mother is terrified! We all are. We don’t know this man.
You told us his recovery time would be a few weeks. You warned us that he might have some stiffness in his chest from the incision. He might need a bed pan. We got that. But you never told us our father would disappear.
Maybe it’s the drugs you have him on? I do get the medication logic you sent via that animated video presentation: the pain of heart surgery warrants barbiturates, which cause stomach ulcers that require anti-nausea aids, which cause gas and verbal diarrhea, which both require sleep-aids, which cause sleepwalking and anxiety, which makes way for blood pressure stabilizers, iron enhancements, and potassium boosters. Add the Viagra that came for free, the antibiotics for the MSRA superbug he picked up in the gift shop, the uppers to help his mood and then the downers to cancel out the uppers–because no one likes someone who is too happy–and he’s covered. But I’m worried. The blogs say that anaesthetic can effect a patient’s mental function making them irritable, angry, or bitter. I could only wish! What happens if that’s the way my father always was? What are we left with when that’s stolen? I’ll tell you what: a well-adjusted man who writes haikus about birds and has taken up life drawing. A man who has three copies of The Shack on his bookshelf. A man who watches Touched By An Angel on syndication. A man who keeps a poop journal. Just now, I overheard him talking to his spirit animal.
I’m sorry if you fail to see my upset but if I wanted a father who loved me unconditionally I’d watch episodes of Full House. As you can see you have done our family a grave disservice. We sent my father into surgery a repressed, misogynist jerk, and we fully expected him to come out that way, or not at all. Please reverse these changes immediately. Maybe he needs a wolf’s pancreas or a boar’s stomach? Whatever. Just fix it. Because who wants a nice dad? No one.