Call Me:

My relationship with my father is far better since he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I know it sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s true. My father, the business magnate, the larger than life figure whose approval, it seemed, I had struggled my entire life to achieve, was now dependent on me for his most basic daily tasks. And I loved-hated it.

My entire childhood and adult life, I had always been struggling to prove that I was better and smarter than my siblings (and by association, as smart as he was). Struggling to prove that in our patriarchal society, I was his golden child despite being a girl. Struggling to prove that with every achievement and feather in my cap, he would finally, finally approve and deem me worthy- of what, I had no idea. I always wanted to get more approval than a raised eyebrow behind the newspaper and a quick nod. We were always close – I grew up reading the Economist while sitting on his knee, we vacationed to far-off locations, we laughed together at inside cerebral jokes that the rest of the family couldn’t understand. But there was always an emotional distance despite the closeness. Of sharing but not quite letting-in. Of always keeping one’s deepest thoughts locked away because revealing them would mean weakness. Of not needing anyone for anything, ever. Of vulnerabilities needing to be masked with overweening confidence. And so I learned to be the same way. The same as him.

But all of that’s changed now. We’re close now, the way I always thought we should be, sharing everything. There are no more boundaries. He now cries openly and frequently, sometimes in public. He tells me how he spends each night and most days dreaming about how his life used to be and pretending it’s still the same, because facing the reality of his dependence is more than he can bear. The green oxygen wire attached to the noisy machine snakes its way around his room, tethering him to its 50-foot radius. I schedule him for physical therapy (which he dutifully attends) and unnecessary doctor’s appointments, because anything is better than the vast, yawning expanse of time which just doesn’t seem to pass. He doesn’t have time to live, not living, not the way he used to, yet he has too much time before he dies. How do you tell a dying man who’s been insanely busy his whole life how to spend his time?

He implores me to stay close to him even when he lies down for a nap. I feel trapped and needed at the same time. I’m the one he wants by his side every moment. My family mockingly calls me “the chosen one.” I know I should be grateful for the time we have, but this is so different from any time we’ve ever spent before that I feel I’m spending time with someone else, not my father. I am his best friend, confidant, caretaker, cheerleader, advocate, and doctor all rolled into one. Evenings are the worst for him, as the time for sleep approaches and he knows he doesn’t have control over his dreams. Other people in his situation might dread dreaming about the past, but he dreads dreaming about the present. Evenings are the times he draws me close to him and cries and talks about how pointless his life is now and how badly he wants to end it all; a last measure of control for a man who has lost control over his independence.

I sometimes talk to his former self in my head. I think about how he and I would have responded, two people who always prided themselves on being coolly rational in all circumstances. I know I should cherish the limited time we have together, and I do, to a large extent. But it’s hard to value the time you’re spending with someone when your relationship as you know it has changed irrevocably, even if it’s become what you thought you wanted all along.