Sunday, June 18, 2006


Pre-college, I had two best friends. Let’s call them Aiko and Marcy.

When we were just beginning high school, Marcy’s father suddenly came down with very aggressive spinal cancer, which quickly spread to other parts of his body. His chances for survival were not good, but Marcy’s family pulled out all the stops and did everything they could to try to keep him alive. They moved him out of state and into Sloan-Kettering in New York City, probably the best cancer research hospital in the country.

Unfortunately, however, despite all the doctor’s best efforts, Marcy’s father died. It was a horrible time for my friend, but she and her family did get through it, and in time they recovered, as families do.

For years, that was pretty much the basic summary I carried around in my head regarding this time in my friend’s life. That is, until years later Marcy and I were talking, and she mentioned something additional, which she’d assumed I’d known about, but which came as a complete surprise to me.

My father used to work in New York City, and he took the train in to work every day. When Marcy’s dad got sick, Marcy's mother sometimes used to catch the same train to go in to the hospital to be with Marcy’s dad. Marcy told me that often when her mother was taking the train, my father would see her and sit down with her to keep her company for the ride. It was a nice gesture, because although Marcy’s parents and my parents were friendly to each other due to their daughters’ friendship, they really didn’t hang out together socially, and my father didn’t know Marcy’s mom (or dad) very well.

At the time this was going on, my father occasionally mentioned to me that he’d seen Marcy’s mom on the train, so that wasn’t really a surprise to me. But what came next was.

Marcy told me that at some point during those rides, her mom explained to my dad that things were looking bleak for Marcy’s father, because due to whatever procedure he was going through, he needed some sort of transfusion (I can’t remember if it was blood or tissue), but he had some kind of extremely rare blood or tissue type that needed to be an 100 percent match or it could cause major harm. This blood/tissue type was extremely hard to find and Sloan-Kettering did't have any available and didn’t know when or where they’d be able to get any. Needless to say, Marcy’s mother was despairing of hope. My father couldn't do much but just listen and offer sympathy. When they got to New York, they parted ways.

Marcy told me that suddenly, two days later, Sloan-Kettering was informed randomly via their computer system that there was a blood/tissue bank somewhere that had collected a donation of the exact type of blood/tissue that matched Marcy’s dad’s type, and they were going to ship it to the hospital for her father’s procedure. The procedure was done, and her father was able to live for a few more months before he ultimately passed away. The family felt it was a miracle.

After the fact, Marcy’s family eventually looked into how this blood/tissue donation was found. And they discovered that my father had found it for them. My dad was a computer/IT-type guy, and he did systems support for a medical college/hospital. He used the college’s computer network to do a search of the entire country’s teaching hospitals to see if a donor for or reserve of the blood/tissue could be found. He found one place in the entire country that could help, he contacted them, and then sent the information to Sloan-Kettering. He never said a word about it to Marcy’s family, to me, or to anyone. The only reason they found out was because they asked the hospital. The only reason I ever found out was because Marcy told me years later.

It was only for a short while, it's true, but I can say this about my father: he saved my friend’s father’s life. And he never even thought it was worth mentioning to anyone. He didn’t need thanks or praise or recognition of any sort; he just knew he could help, and he did. It was an act motivated solely out of kindness and good will.

I love that story about my father. It’s probably the best story I could tell about who he is at the core, under all the complexities of his humanness (which we all have).

I talked about some of the negative aspects of my upbringing yesterday. I was in the mood to share one of the good stories today, on Father’s Day.

And it does make me think…what if the world had been less traditional back in my parent’s day, and my father could have stayed home and raised me and my sister, and my mother could have worked? It’s a situation my parents couldn’t have even imagined for themselves and one that I know they would have never chosen—it just “wasn’t done,” and my parents are big on following what’s “done.” But I wonder.

My dad was involved in our upbringing, but he deferred to my mother’s opinion as the primary caretaker. When he took care of us without her, though, he tended to be slightly less clued in to our every emotion. He assumed if we needed him, we would come to him. He also sometimes let us get away with things that my mother never would. And as a person who needed a lot of privacy himself, he wasn’t over concerned if we weren’t being constantly social. Clearly, the story above shows he wouldn't have needed the constant feedback, recognition, and gratitude my mother needed from us for every thing he ever did. My dad never had the impulse to play martyr, much.

My dad has a master’s degree. My mother, on the other hand, never got to go to college, something that I think she's always had a little bit of an inferiority complex about. I think perhaps to make up for what she saw as a “lack” that other women around her had, she may have decided to make motherhood her “profession”--something she had to excel at. She put all her time and energy into proving she could be the ultimate mother and wife--someone who everyone would acknowledge was much better at what she did than anyone else. She needed to show she was the most concerned, the most aware, the most involved.

That was hard on me, because to me it felt over concerned, aware, and involved. But it’s clear that really what it boils down to is that my mother wanted—desperately needed—praise and recognition. And we, her family, her kids, were the only source through which she could gain that praise or recognition; and so she used that source passionately to get what she needed. I wonder if she’d had another outlet for that passion, what she might have accomplished; if it would have allowed her to get the real societal recognition and respect and admiration she desired, and that unfortunately she had to use her kids as tools and conduits to get.

My mother and father shared many of the same values, and they both were pretty solid on thinking there was a “right” and “wrong” way to live, so I don’t know…but I wonder if my father (the low maintenance parent) had stayed at home and my mother (the high maintenance parent) had been able to have the career, if we would have all been able to maintain a more healthy in-between balance that would have made it so the post I wrote yesterday wouldn’t need to exist.

Probably not. But it’s an interesting thought, anyway.

Anyway, a good Dada Day to those who wish to celebrate it. To those who aren't, can't, or don't wish to, as an alternative, happy Dada Day. Either way, certainly lots to celebrate.


Blogger AlwaysArousedGirl said...

Powerful story. What a thing to learn about your father.

(Link at the end of the piece, to the alternate Dada-day, is broken.)

6/18/2006 9:40 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

AAG: Thanks, and oops. Link's fixed. Just a little joke. :)

6/18/2006 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Hiromi said...

Thanks for a *good* sniffle.

6/19/2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Hiromi: Let's call that kind a "giffle." Or a "goofle?"

In any case, you're most welcome.

6/19/2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger Evil Minx said...

"It was an act motivated solely out of kindness and good will."

It was exactly that. How woderful to be able to be so proud of a parent. What a truly beautiful story.


6/20/2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Minx: Aw, thanks.

Hey, I haven't had a chance to post on your blog yet, but hope the wee Minxette is doing well.

6/22/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

a sniffle? a giffle? a goofle?

I'm fucking sobbing!!!!!! Granted I've had 3 beers and am premenstrual and feeling rather fragile ... but even if I were hard as nails, this post would make me sob like a baby!!!!!!

6/23/2006 11:54 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Oh dear. All these posts I'm writing are making people cry. In a good way, I hope. But nonetheless, I've got an idea for something lighthearted and funny. It's in the works...

Ellie: Steady and PMS can be a lethal combination--or a lifesaver, depending, heh. I've always been partial to a chocolate and salt and PMS cocktail (chocolate covered pretzels, anyone), but hey, they *do* make chocolate stout, I think...

6/23/2006 12:03 PM  

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