Sunday is Father’s Day, and at some point, my father’s six sons (three of whom are fathers themselves)?#34;having nothing better to do?#34;will stop by to honor him with a visit.
A lot of people over the past couple of years have come up to me and asked about my health. I appreciate the concern, but the “Ken Trainor” being prayed for at Ascension Church is my father. He’s had Parkinson’s disease for almost 20 years now. He developed it before Pope John Paul II and outlived him. It’s a curious combination: A progressively debilitating neurological condition combined with a cast-iron constitution and excellent care from my mom and their angel of mercy, Beatrice Little. He may well outlive us all?#34;or at least set some sort of medical endurance record for Parkinson’s at an advanced age.
I have mixed feelings about all that. His life is radically diminished. He sleeps a lot now and can’t carry on a conversation for more than a sentence or two. That’s hard. Once upon a time, he was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, served with a Tank Destroyers unit during the Battle of the Bulge, was a graceful athlete who loved playing softball, and became a legendary youth baseball coach, which is how most people in Oak Park know him.
Above all, he is a good man, one of the best I’ve ever known?#34;a man who made it impossible for me to settle for cynicism or disbelief. Every step of his long decline he has given us his best. At each stage, his “best” has grown smaller, but that just makes it all the more impressive.
I spent an evening at Wrigley Field recently, found myself looking up at the pennants waving from the roof on the third base side, and thought about my dad. Five of the banners?#34;1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945?#34;represent World Series that took place in my dad’s lifetime. I wish the damn Cubs could win one before he goes. I’d give anything to see his face then.
This Sunday, I’m hoping to take him to Mass at Ascension?#34;his home away from home. It all depends how he’s feeling that day. He doesn’t have a lot to give anymore, but if you were to see him and say hello, what you would get in return is warmth. It’s a remarkable thing really?#34;as he has declined, he’s grown warmer, softer, gentler. Or maybe I just finally noticed.
A son and his father inevitably rub the wrong way from time to time. We were always on pretty good terms, but like anyone, I suppose, I didn’t appreciate him enough. Nowadays, he can be moody and depressed, even uncharacteristically childish?#34;and he certainly does his fair share of driving my mother and Bea crazy, but he also has his transcendent moments: a brief glimpse of his wit, a memory fragment to share. He can still rise momentarily to an occasion.
He got a raw deal, I guess. Most of his retirement years have been consumed by his condition. But it never made him bitter. My father doesn’t go in for bitterness. He was the guy who would always look up at a gloomy, threatening sky and tell us, “It’s definitely brightening up.”
If there’s an afterlife, he’ll be better off there, but at the end of our visits, as I stand by his bed, stroke his shoulder, and say goodbye, often when I turn to go, I’ll hear him say, “Good night, son,” the same way he’s always said it?#34;with extraordinary tenderness and warmth?#34;and I can’t help wishing he would hang around a while longer.
Some of us lose our fathers early.
Some of us are given the privilege of honoring them late into their lives.
I can’t imagine doing anything better this