Parenting in Vein

My dad was weeping in his hospital bed. Being the thoughtful, dutiful son that I am I told him to stop thrashing around. "It's 3:00 am," I pointed out. "Some of us have to work in the morning, you know."
It depends who you ask, but in my family we have always believed that my dad won the second world war single-handedly. As such, my father was not given to weeping. Indeed, "Ball Turret Gunnner Altshuler" might have been voted "Least Likely to Weep," class of '41. Maybe a number of subsequent birthdays had slowed him down. Or having his gall bladder removed had put a crimp in his evening. Either way, he was sobbing and I was trying to sleep. Did I mention it was three in the morning?
General Eisenhower and Someone Other than my Father
"You sound like you are in some distress," I suggested. In too much pain to articulate, my dad nodded weakly. "When was the last time you pushed the morphine pump?" I went on.
Before the operation, the folks at the hospital had explained the function of the morphine pump at length: "Push the button; get morphine," they repeated. It seemed straightforward enough. I knew my dad understood. Because after the third iteration of the instructions, he interrupted testily, "I get it," he began. "Push the button. Get morphine."
"When was the last time you pushed the morphine pump?" I repeated.
"I. Haven't. Pushed. The. Morphine. Pump." My dad replied.
"Well, that would explain the pain and the weeping." I said. "You may remember being anesthetized and sliced open a few hours ago. You haven't hit the morphine pump even once? No wonder you are miserable. Why haven't you hit the morphine pump?"
"I didn't want to become an addict," he said.
"Dad," I replied. "You are 87 years old. You don't have *time* to become an addict."
***
So my dad pushed the morphine pump a few times. Apparently the device worked as described because he slept pleasantly for the better part of 26 consecutive hours. Then, against medical advice, he proceeded to check  himself out of the hospital.
My understanding of how an 87-year-old man comes to pad barefoot down the bright hallway is as follows: at 5:00 am, a nurse woke up my dad and took out his IV. At 6:00, another nurse woke up my dad again with the intention of putting the IV back in. My dad lost interest. I guess shooting a machine gun from a plexiglass bubble underneath a B-17 requires muscular arms. But a lifetime of lawyering may have allowed for some atrophy. The nurse stuck my dad repeatedly but could not find a vein. After the seventh unsuccessful jab, my dad said, "That's enough."
My dad gathered his belongings from the closet and headed for the elevator and the hospital parking lot. "You can't leave," the nurse sputtered. "You can't just walk out."
"I have practiced law in this county for 50 years," my dad replied. "I'm pretty sure I can."
***
So there you are. The hospital has some stuff--power, experience, expertise, morphine, needles, staff, information. But the patient, in this case my dad minus one gall bladder, maintains his autonomy and authority against all odds. The hospital is sadly misinformed if it believes it truly has control.
As parents, we may suffer from a similar misconception. We provide food, clothing, shelter, tuition, and Netflix. We arrange play dates; we plan trips to Disney; we purchase televisions, sweatshirts, and tofu hotdogs.
But when it comes to parenting, we better get it right. Because if we truly muck it up, our kids can check out emotionally. No matter how much influence we think we have, it is our sacred duty to use our power for good. If we are not connected with our kids, they may disengage. If we are not attuned with our kids, they may follow another path. If we are not aligned with our kids, they may seek other influences.
Good intentions are not enough. Even with the metaphorical weight of a hospital's endowment, infrastructure, and eleemosynary function, parents have to do their absolute best with their most important job. It is critical that we try to get it right.
And because so many readers are family friends, I will mention that my dad, now 93, continues to be a hero, with or without a gall bladder or a ball turret. He doesn't use email though, so respond to me if you want to get a message to him.

4 thoughts on “Parenting in Vein

  1. Arlene Kahn

    Thank you for another spectacular message. As always, I appreciate the wisdom of your thoughts and words. Appears the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

    Reply
  2. Terri Bolado

    Hello David,
    It is always a pleasure reading your e-mails. This one, about your Dad, resonated with me because I just went through a similar experience with my Mother, who recently underwent colon surgery on November 1st. I remained at her side throughout her ordeal, and slept on an antique recliner for two nights before I was able to figure out how it worked! Thank God she is back home and doing great! Please give our best regards to your father, and thank him for his brave service to our country…God Bless him!

    Reply
  3. Claire Law

    David, I always enjoy reading your posts. You write in such an entertaining manner. I look forward to reading your new book “Get your kid into the right college – get the right college into your kid”. The second part of that is so important! Many kids want to “get away from home” and neglect to examine, explore and entertain attending an in-state college. You know I care deeply about affordability and access to the right college. If parents have given in to every one of their kids’ whims – on a silver platter – they will have a hard time persuading them to look at perfectly fitting colleges that are affordable. Thank you for this book. Claire Law

    Reply
  4. silverstein maggie Maggie

    David, your a gorgeous essay about your father. He’s our hero, too. And your mom’s not too shabby either.
    All good wishes to you & your family.
    And you know I still think warmly of you as my stand-up partner when we were up against Judy Blume & Norman Lear.
    Cheers,

    Maggie

    Reply

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