|By Tom Heart|
I was sitting on an examination table. Across from me was a doctor in his early 40’s, bald, glasses, wearing well-worn brown slacks and a polo. He examined my stomach, asked me about my poop, my pee, looked in my eyes. Then he ordered a blood test.
“What do you think it is?” I said. “I’m not dying…right?” I always ask this question. I think a lot about life and death, especially since I have children. For the first time in my life I have a reason worth really living for, and it just seems like that would be the most probable time for God to take me out of this world. That, and I only go to the doctor when I honestly think I might die. I really dislike doctors, mostly because of my father. He left my mother when I was 9-years-old and died from a prescription drug addiction when I was 19. Most of my memories of him are the two of us driving from one doctor to another, in an attempt to get some physician to prescribe him Vicodin.
I’d come to the doctor because I’d been having stomach pain, mostly in the evenings, for about two weeks. Like most people, I’d put my symptoms into Google, and come up with everything from an ulcer to stomach cancer. Both equally scared me because my father had stomach surgery in the late 80s for an ulcer, and that was one of a few surgeries that lead him to become addicted to painkillers. I can still remember seeing him with his shirt off, a long red scar from his navel to his chest bone.
“No, I don’t think you are dying. But I do think you should take this seriously,” the doctor said. He went on, describing different things I should look out for: pain in one side of abdomen or the other, blood in my stool, blood in my urine… And like I do with most doctors, I pressed him for a diagnosis. I told him about what I’d found online, and he said, “I think it’s an ulcer, but I want to see the blood work first.”
And it was then that my heart really sank. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying not to be like my father. He went through four marriages, setting up families like franchises. I have a slew of half and step siblings, many of which I don’t even know what to call anymore. During my teen years he mostly called me for jail money, or when he was trying to impress a woman. In so many ways I feel like I learned what not to do as a father from his example, and yet we have the same hands, same size feet and waist, same laugh, same double cowlick. I am clearly his son. And when I found out I might have an ulcer, I was struck with a fear that regardless of how hard I have tried to make my marriage last, stay clear of drugs and alcohol, and be a stable and loving father, I might be heading in his same direction, almost like genetically it was my fate.
“That really freaks me out,” I said. The doctor furrowed his brow, and asked me why. I told him as quickly and concisely as I could about my father, his surgery, and his addictions. “He died 10-years-after that surgery,” I said. “I just… don’t want to put my family through something like that.”
The doctor gave me a half grin, one that seemed to say, “Things have changed.”
“If you do have an ulcer,” he said. “We don’t really handle things like that anymore. Most likely you will have to take a combination of antibiotics and antacids. It’s much simpler now. I doubt a surgery will be needed.”
He smiled, and sent me to the lab. I waited for some time to get called back, and as I sat, I played the "what if" game. From what people told me, before my father had surgery, he was a good guy. He cared for his kids, went to work, paid his bills, had a clean record, went to church… It seems like he was over prescribed painkillers, became addicted, and went in a downward spiral. I wondered how much differently his life might have been if he’d never had stomach surgery. If he’d been able to simply take some pills to heal his ulcer. Would he still be here? Would he have been the father I always wanted? Would he have been able to know my children? To have been a grandfather?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that my father’s drug addiction changed my life in ways I still struggle to define, and when I think about my own children, and the strange curve balls that life can throw, I wonder what I will have to avoid. I wonder if I will be able to be the father I want to be, or if something will get in the way, like what happened with my father. I spent so many years hating him, but as I’ve become a father and husband, with age, I’ve started to better understand him. To realize that his life was a mix of not only choices, but also circumstance.
I met with a nurse, and she took my blood. Then I drove home.
When I got home, I kissed my wife, and I hugged my children.
I don’t know what it is about living through a parent with addiction, but it didn’t make me stronger. It made me more fearful. It made me look at my wife and three children, all under one roof, and realize how wonderful and fragile family is, and how something as simple as stomach surgery could change everything.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.