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Before Fathers Die
by Barry Friedman

(No politics today)

Two fathers. Two sons.

“How much longer do I have, Ba?” my father asks. “How much longer?”

He’s not being maudlin. He’s not sick. He’s not asking rhetorically. He’s a retired accountant. He really wants a number.

It’s his birthday.

Sons of aging men engage in sort of a dress rehearsal for the day when we’ll know that number, for the flights and the arrangements that will have to be made, for the--in my father's case--honoring his wish to be buried in a cemetery on the south shore of Long Island, New York (he lives in Vegas), near his wife.

“I don’t care what,” he tells me, “you get me back to your mother.”

My father turned 87 on Monday.
Brian’s dad just turned 99.

Brian and I wait for that call that will tell us that his dad/my dad went in his sleep … had a stroke in the kitchen … was sitting at a blackjack table … had just come back from lunch.

Brian and I have thought about the photo albums we’ll go through and the closets that will have to be cleaned and which of the siblings will get which of the big screens and the purple hearts.

Brian and I know we did our best, though we also know we missed much, particularly finding out who the men were who were our fathers.

Death changes everything, I once heard, except the relationship.

There was the line in On Golden Pond when Ethel says to Chelsea, “Your father is eighty years old. He has heart palpitations and has trouble remembering things. Just when do you want this friendship to begin?”

Last time I saw my father, I asked if he ever thought about dying.

“No. A little. Yeah.”

On Monday, on my father’s birthday, he had his carpets cleaned, had blood drawn to see how long it takes to clot, and got a free buffet at one of the casinos.

On Monday, on my father’s birthday, Brian’s dad was visited by a hospice nurse.

My friend knows the day is coming.
I know the day is coming.

My friend? Why do I call him that?  Brian and I have never met, don’t know each other, except for Facebook. We met through a friend of a friend of a friend on a political blog.  

Brian posts about his dad; I do the same.
He worries about my dad; I worry about his.

Neither father knows a thing about Facebook.
Both are local legends on it.

As they should be.

Nobody has met anybody.

We’re different sons of different fathers; still, we’re brothers.

“Christ, my carpets were dirty,” my father told me. “Eighty-seven,” he tells me, “Eighty-seven!”

It’s been the same inflection for years. I remember:  “Seventy-nine! Seventy-nine! ... Eighty-four! Eighty-four!”

On Monday, on my father's birthday, Brian posted this about his dad (He calls him "Stud Puppet"--SP for short):

SP: "You have a real high voice. I can't make out what you're saying."

Claudia (the nurse): "I'm sorry. I know it's high. I will try harder, so you understand me."

SP: "That's all right. I don't mind. You have a nice figure."

It’s good being a son.

It will always be good.

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