Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Din That Follows Silence: The Perpetual Sorrow Of Father's Day

I leaped for the phone. I’d just come off an overnight shift at The Associated Press that ended mercifully after only ten hours. It was a slow news cycle.

Honestly, I preferred the one 39-hour shift, the ten consecutive days of working double or triple shifts, the two-hour break between back-to-back work weeks, during the two or so years my father was dying of cancer. It was much easier to focus on the world’s problems.

For nearly two years, I would catapult to the eighth and final floor leading to my walk-up studio on Thompson Street between Bleecker and Houston, if I heard that primitive landline ringing. It was almost always my father’s oncologist, and if I didn’t pick up, it would be hours until I could get him to call back.

This Thursday morning was different. As I lifted the the cheap cordless phone handset, it felt leaden, almost glued to the bulky base.

There was a pause. The oncologist, always in a hurry, would begin speaking as soon as I answered. It wasn’t the oncologist, and few others knew I had a landline. People knew to call me at work or on my clunky Sanyo flip phone, which came “free” with the thrifty calls-only contract. Texts were extra.

The silence dawdled. I said nothing, as tears began to well and my throat tightened.

“Yes,” my sister eked out.

“Yes,” our father, Michael “Brother Mike” William Gural, was dead.

Eighteen years ago today, my father was waked at Kapinos-Mazur Funeral Home in Ludlow, Massachusetts. Western Massachusetts, like a pressure cooker, traps affliction as as soon as I cross the state line from nearby Connecticut, boiling over with wealth that's to be spread among the very few. He was waked again that Sunday at Holy Trinity Monastery and buried at the cemetery in remote Jordanville, in New York's forgotten Herkimer County. The monks permitted me to act as a pallbearer, lugging his casket, carrying his ravaged 6-foot-1 frame in a suit stuffed with paper to mimic the flesh that cancer devoured, along the dirt road from the church, past the seminary and the sprawling grounds that once served as a working dairy farm, to his freshly-dug grave.

I waited until today, the anniversary of his wake, where people from decades of western Massachusetts life gathered one last time to remember the professor who silently effected social change by opening minds and veering students away from careers in finance toward pursing any creative passion. Perhaps many are angry that he kept them from jobs that pay bills and even assure some semblance of financial security.

I kept silent this Father’s Day, mentioning my dad (silently) as my son Michael Alexander and I watched remote Liturgy and in prayer ahead of meals. I didn’t want to distract from celebrating my 10-year-old son’s father, as my own childhood was focused more on the dead and the dying — someone was always dying — than it was on
celebratory events like birthdays.

Did I make the right choice? The guilt was contained until early this morning when intestinal pangs began wringing out my stomach like a highway diner sponge. I rarely suffer gastrointestinal strife, as my degenerative and autoimmune diseases cause constant chronic musculoskeletal pain. These pangs are born of repressed emotion, or rather the repression of expressing those emotions on Sunday.

I’m sorry, dad. And I feel even worse for my mom. I wasn’t physically there for her when died 18 years ago, and I wasn’t there this past Sunday.

My mother never expected him to die so soon. He was Iron Mike, long before Tyson. He never smoked. He wasn’t a drinker. He read every food label like a convoluted Irish novel. He swam daily, still honing the competitive strokes of his multi-athletic youth. Licensed as an electrician and familiar with, even proficient at, nearly every skilled trade, he toiled around the house and yard when he wasn’t teaching or helping someone else complete projects that would have cost them thousands. Voracious reading was his only recreation.

Those pangs that rocked me awake around 2 a.m. are a blip compared with the emotional and physical spasms and twinges that torment my mother, all day, every day. Those seconds of silence on that phone call 18 years ago Sunday are akin to the constant clatter born of living in isolation that spares her no respite from immedicable headaches.

I won’t keep silent again. I can’t bear the din that creeps up.

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