Stuff My Father Won’t Tell Me … Part 4
My dad would be lost without his work.
He spent thirteen days in the hospital. We wondered what he would do when he got home. We all had heard the stories of men who died not long after retirement. My father is intent that this will not happen to him. You would be utterly amazed to see the remarkable recovery he has made. Just six weeks ago, he was a jaundiced, dehydrated cancer afflicted patient whom I feared we were going to lose. Had you seen him the day he entered the hospital, you would know what I mean.
He is now a renewed man, dressed in suit and tie as he’s always done, riding with me in a taxi to his office. I do not mean to suggest that my dad’s cancer is gone or that it is in remission. It does not seem to concern him too much, but he is committed to living his life as happily as he can.
“Thirty north Michigan please,” my father directs the cab driver. I have ridden with him in cabs all my life. Takes me back to an earlier time when my father, my brother Ron and I would hail a Marathon Checker cab which-in addition to its regular back seating-had two “folding stools” anchored to the floor. Great for kids.
“Son, get out on the curb side,” he reminded me, pointing toward the right passenger door with the thumb of his right hand as if he were hitch-hiking.
“Yes, Dad. I know,” I reassure him even though I’m fifty-four years old and have known about exiting from the curb side ever since I was five years old and sitting on the folding stool. But it’s okay because that’s his job.
It reminds me of what my younger son Zac told me when I called him the other evening. He was out with a couple of buddies celebrating his twenty-first birthday.
“Hey Zac, happy birthday. You alright?’’ I asked, knowing full well he was. I tried to cover my intrusive tracks with lots of small talk.
“Dad,” his patience almost expired, “I really didn’t need this phone call,” he said emphatically.
“I know Son but I did.”
Do you know what they say about “boys being boys”? Well, it still applies to them as dads too!
My father’s office address was 25 E. Washington in the Marshall Fields Building located at the corner of Wabash and Washington. A grand old building, you could buy candy bars and cigars at the United Cigar concession on the ground floor and ride in an elevator run by a uniformed operator who operated it by a hand crank. If he wished to sit down, there was a “flip-out” stool bolted to the wall.
Many if not most folks run home from work. My dad has always run to the office. As a matter of fact, he is one of those people you hear about. You know … the few who enjoy what they do so much that it can hardly be called “work”. Practicing dentistry is what he loves. In this sense, since 1953, when he opened his dental practice in partnership with his brother, my Uncle Hirsh, he has not worked a day in his life, if you know what I mean.
My dad has always done well financially and earned every cent. A lover of nice things and natty dresser who has always adorned himself with classic fedoras and colorful suit coat handkerchiefs, I can confidently say the time he spent at the office entitled him to lead the lifestyle he so enjoys.
Fifty-five years of practicing dentistry is a long time. It’s been the major focus of his life. Mind you, my father has been and continues to be a responsible parent and grandparent. His children never lacked for anything. I didn’t have one college debt to pay off, and I can easily cite countless other examples of his responsible generosity.
Now, ... all of that has changed. It is simply time to close the doors. Seems simple to us. For my dad, however, it is a difficult thing to do. Uncle Hirsh is readier than my father to retire although he is the one treating patients, both his and my dad’s. Neuropathy of my dad’s fingers prevents him from treating patients any longer. At eighty-seven years, he remains a dedicated dentist whose patients are loyal, many of whom he has been treating for more than half a century. They still show up for their appointments as they’ve always done. His patients are not just folks with dental problems. They are his friends. He genuinely cares about them.
As a matter of fact, he and I have spent the last several afternoons at his office with the alleged objective of shutting it down. It has happened to some extent, but it’s a slow process hampered by his inclination to “schmooze” with patients and disinclination to throw anything away. My brother spent many hours going through my dad’s papers the week before last, and believe me when I tell you there are a lot of them.
Both my dad and Uncle Hirsh are packrats who never seriously learned to apply computers to their business. They still record mostly everything by hand with notes on scraps taped to file drawers. I mean it’s enough to make you crazy. They've never even made it to the age of “post-it” notes.
(to be continued)