Why I am Going to Hell.

Ah, fall. How I loathe thee. I may be the only native New Englander who hates the fall season. I like football and the fact that ski season is coming, but that’s about it. The days are shorter, the leaves fall off the trees and leave them barren and depressing, and you can’t get a parking space in this city to save your life (college students). But, I’m determined to make this fall a good one and part of that is laughing a lot (Ok, and drinking Harpoon Pumpkin Cider. But we won’t spread that around).

So, I’ve talked before about getting away with crazy stuff when your parents are deaf. How about when one of them is deaf AND blind? That’s right, kids. I’m going there. My dad, on top of being deaf, was blind in the last couple of years of his life due to diabetes complications. This, of course, meant that he didn’t really get out much, and when he did, it was mostly for Doctor’s appointments, or to visit the Lighthouse for the blind, where he was learning Morse Code.

This didn’t mean he didn’t still have his pride, however. Like any ladies man (and lordy, was he ever one of these), he took a lot of pride in his appearance, including his hair (of which he had pretty little). One fateful afternoon during one of our visits, he turned to me, sliding his hands through his thinning crop and asked me the question that strikes fear in my heart to this day: “Will you give me a trim?”

Let me iterate a couple of key points here. First, this was before a burgeoning crop of tutorials on Youtube. I was flying blind. There was nobody carefully explaining each step to me on grainy video in their basement. Second, you think my microwave fire setting record is bad?? Arguably, my track record with hair and hair cutting is worse. I once accidentally cut a chunk of hair from my own head (incidentally, I also burned one, but that’s a whole other story), and as my dad probably forgot- I balded (this needs to be a verb) pretty much every Barbie I ever owned.

You know the deal. You start out thinking you’ll do a “super easy” asymmetrical bob. You chop it and you just need to take off a TEEEEENY bit more on one side…and so it goes. Before you know it, Barbie looks like she’s either slowly becoming a porcupine, or in the first stages of a hair transplant, with short prickly hair sticking out of the holes in her head.

So, there I was, contemplating his request, when my grandfather ever so helpfully piped up, “I have some haircutting scissors!” How was I to refuse? How hard could it be to cut the short hair of a man with not much hair? I wrote (tracing letters of each word) on my dad’s back, “Y-E-S-I-C-A-N.” He was grinning and so clearly happy that you’d think I was Vidal Sassoon. I prepared him and went to work. Keeping my hand steady, I cut in a straight line- from one side of his head to the other. Putting down the scissors and stepping back, I took in my handiwork.

He looked like Shemp.

He put his hands in his hair and said, “This feels great!”

Horrified, I did the only thing a girl can do when she has accidentally given her 48 year-old blind father a bowl haircut.

“L-O-O-K-S-G-O-O-D”

He grinned. I stood there paralyzed. He ran his hands through his hair again. I shuddered.

“W-A-N-T-T-O-C-L-E-A-N-I-T-U-P-A-L-I-T-T-L-E”

He nodded agreeably and I went back to work. Using an upward motion, I hacked away at the very clear…hem-like affect? (for lack of a better phrase) I had created. It was like trying to blend a sculptural hedge. I sighed with relief when the distinct bowl shape started to disappear… Until I realized it had a pretty clear zig-zagging pattern. ***cue Barbie flashbacks***After the time when I was three and I left a butterfly barrette in his hair after playing hairdresser and he went to CVS for something, I don’t know why he thought that was a good idea.

In the end, it didn’t turn out so badly, I suppose. My grandfather thought it was an improvement, anyway. Then again, his eyesight and sense of style was questionable, at best. My dad was happy, though. And me? Well, obviously, I’m probably going straight to hell for lying to a blind man.

How I Deal With a No Good, Terribly Awful Bad Day

Growing up, my dad taught me several things:

  •   ALWAYS make sure the ladder is secure before climbing onto the roof.  If you DO find yourself in a free fall, try “tuck and roll.”
  •   Installing an ironing board that folds down to sit over the toilet in the laundry room is a bad idea, even if the room is super small (it took ONE pant leg in the toilet to make him take that thing down).
  •   Stuff your face when in the orchard picking apples.
  • There is nothing better than a dog.
  • You get what you pay for.  Buy quality.
  • There are a lot of schmucks out there (“You know.  Ronald Reagan. President. Actor. Schmuck.”  That’s a direct quote.  I do not feel strongly about Reagan one way or the other.).
  •  Adding red wine to chicken will turn it purple (not an issue, since I don’t eat meat, but knowledge is power!).
  • Driving a speedboat onto the beach like a maniac, will, indeed, get rid of SOME barnacles on its hull.
  • Wooden roller coasters are the best kind.
  • If you find yourself in the drugstore with odd implements in your hair because you let your kid play hairdresser and she didn’t take them all out before you left the house…just roll with it (it was a butterfly barrette, ok?  It was pretty.).
Dad and I- obviously, this was the 80's.  And interior decorators, my parents were not.

Dad and I- obviously, this was the 80’s. And interior decorators, my parents were not.  It is also possible I am drooling in this picture.

Above all, though, what I learned from my dad was the power of humor and the importance of hope.  Growing up, my dad was the consummate ladies man and bad boy.  He was an all-star baseball player, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a chronic flirt with a penchant for numbers.

Appearances can be deceiving, though.  He was deaf, he had juvenile onset (Type I) diabetes and later, he would find out that he had Friedrich’s ataxia, a disease that erodes the cerebellum.  Eventually, this would rob him of his ability to walk, and the dexterity that allowed him to take a car engine apart and put it back together (he could build ANYTHING). When my dad passed away, he was blind from diabetes complications, profoundly deaf and confined to a wheelchair.  He was on dialysis from kidney failure (another diabetes complication) and he was hospitalized again and again as infections and other complications wracked his body.

I write this not to make you pity him, but I tell his story so that people can understand how truly amazing it was that he had not lost hope.  Hope that his life would improve.  Hope that he would be able to rejoin society.  Hope for his children.

For the last few years of his life, communication was exceedingly difficult.  He was trapped in his body- he couldn’t hear, but he had plenty to say.  When we first realized he was going blind and would no longer be able to read lips or see sign language, I had to think fast.  When I was a child we played a game before bed time where he would trace letters and words on my back.   So, I told his girlfriend (he was in FL, I was in RI at the time) about our game and told her to give it a try.  She called me later that day and reported back that she started tracing out the letters of my name on his back, and he started to cry when he realized what she was doing.  He remembered.

It was our game that became his lifeline.  Other than “two taps for yes and one for no,” every sentence was painstakingly spelled out on his back.  At the time of his death, he was learning morse code, hopeful that this would make communication easier, and that he would be able to travel with a companion (his own Annie Sullivan, if you will).  He had turned down my offer of a kidney if we were a match, but was hopeful that dialysis would continue to work.  He talked about the future.  He still laughed and joked.  Often, he’d poke fun of himself.  Sometimes he would tease me (mostly about my love life and shoe obsession).  Sometimes he’d tell stories of his youth (he was an incredible story teller and very very funny).  I would rest my head on his shoulder or if we were sitting on the floor, on his knee so that he could feel me laughing as he spoke.   Towards the end, it felt as though he was cataloging his life- getting the stories out while he still could and making sure his history would carry on.

It does carry on.  Even though it’s been six years since I’ve heard his voice, his laugh, or gotten one of his really really great hugs, it is always, always with me.  I watched my dad die.  I sat and held his hand with my brother holding the other.  I was with him when he went out of this world like he was with me when I came into it.  It changed me irrevocably. I lost 80 pounds and turned my life around.  I take better care of myself. I take chances.  Every single day, I am thankful I can see, I can walk, run, do a cartwheel, ice skate, ski, play volleyball, walk on the beach, and so many other countless things. When I complain about the small stuff, I try to remember my dad- quick-witted and sharp minded as ever, but trapped in a body that didn’t work, and how he refused to quit.  He refused to accept that this was the hand he had been dealt. He had his rough moments, but he handled it with humor and he even handled it with optimism, when optimism was hard to come by.

So, yeah.  Maybe I had a bad day. That’s ok.   It’s relative, really.  It’s ok to wallow for a bit, but sooner, rather than later, I know to pick myself up and dust myself off.  I have to believe that things will get better.  I have to try not to sweat the small stuff.  How can I not?  After all, I AM my father’s daughter.  Happy Father’s Day.