Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Father's Eyes

Eric Clapton penned a tune in 1998 in which the British rock superstar sings soulfully about the father he never knew: "How did I get here? When will all my hopes arrive?" He answers four times in a poignant refrain: "When I look in my father's eyes."

That song has been in my head for the past week following a visit from my parents, older sister, and her 11-year-old step-grandson.

All in all it was a pleasant visit. I had not seen my sister in almost 10 years, had not seen my parents in many months, and had never met this step-great-nephew. We enjoyed a night at Hammons Field in which I did NOT nearly get hit by a foul ball (first time THAT'S happened!), a first-ever trip to Incredible Pizza, and some fine dining around Springfield. We also got to show off the house we're buying.

My step-great-nephew is an extremely courteous, well-mannered young man. He quite obviously and unashamedly loves his step-grandmother. He also has a warped sense of humor which resulted in several prank cell phone calls we both quite enjoyed.

But back to that Clapton tune. My father is 78-years-old and has Parkinson's Disease. He is no longer the strong man I loved, and sometimes feared, growing up. My father never mistreated me or my siblings. He and my mother went out of their way to support us in whatever we chose to do. They attended every music concert, sporting event, and play in which any of us participated. They agreed with me when I decided I wanted to play in the band, and when I decided I no longer wanted to participate.

My father was never a tall person, barely reaching 5-feet in height. In high school, my buds often spoke gleefully of finally being taller than their dads. I was taller than my father in 6th grade. Now my father hunches over when he walks. Or rather, when he shuffles.

When we were little kids my father would simultaneously arm wrestle my brother and I, nearly beating us before suddenly losing all strength and allowing us to win. Now, my father's right arm constantly shakes.

Many Sunday's I heard my father's distinct tenor in the church choir. He would sing at many weddings. His voice would remain calm under almost any circumstance and sooth me when I was frightened. Now, he slurs his words.

I've looked into my father's eyes many times in life. I've seen disappointment when I screwed up, forgiveness when I apologized, understanding when I felt lost, pride when I succeeded. I only saw anger once, and that's when some bullies picked on a little kid. Then, forgiveness when they apologized.

My father took care of me when I was growing up. Now he needs me to take care of him. His brain has been attacked and he is no longer able to control his body. When I look into his eyes I see a little bit of fear. My father knows what is happening to him, and knows there's nothing he can do about it. I'm saddened by this revelation.

And yet, I also see the love my father has for his family. I see the pride he has for my accomplishments. I see he still believes in me.

"How did I get here? When will all my hopes arrive? When I look in my father's eyes."

Thank you, Mr. Clapton.