The next morning I brewed coffee for myself and boiled water for Dad’s steel cut oatmeal. Once both were done, I poured milk in each, easing the amount in my coffee but flooding the oatmeal for Dad. He liked it that way, said it was how he grew up taking it. Afterward, I drizzled a little honey over the white surface, creating a golden swirl that sunk to the bottom.
When I delivered his breakfast, he asked me to feed it to him, saying he struggled to move his arms up to his mouth. This was how it was going to be for the foreseeable future, I thought.
Did I sign up for this?
I guess I did when I agreed to move in with him. I never expected this, of course. His fat jowls wobbled as he slurped the milky oats into his chapped mouth. I fed him every last scoop and he sipped the remaining milk from the bowl. I set the bowl down on the bedside table and took a sip of my coffee and grimaced. It turned lukewarm. I hated lukewarm coffee. I spit it back out into my mug. Dad saw it; he watched with his bloodshot eyes. He knew making me wait was why it was lukewarm, but he didn’t apologize. Instead, a slight, almost pleased smile cut across his fat face.
I picked up Dad’s black Bible and turned to the Psalter. “I thought I’d read the Bible to you,” I said. “Since that’s what you always did in the morning.”
He smiled. “Thank you, boy,” he said and lifted his corpulent arm and warmly wrapped his large, hirsute hand on mine, shaking it firm, like I had done him a great service.
It was odd. That simple phrase, that kind gesture, that desperate look in his eye rang true and cut deep, and I struggled with the antinomy. Dad and I never had a strong bond, at least not in the way you might think. I took care of him mostly out of duty and yet I wanted for our relationship to be something more, something greater. A friendship.
Making his oatmeal and reading him the Bible was one avenue to that goal and his kind gesture looked like an actual open door to its possibility. But it stung all the same. Why? Why did it hurt?
I opened his Bible to Psalm 102. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the red marker sat within the crease and guided me to it. Verse five read, “In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.” Dad was the antithesis of that. He didn’t groan, but stayed quiet, and he was increased beyond measure. Yet, in his excess, he was found wanting.
When I finished the Psalm, I read from the proverbs, and the gospels and ended on a chapter of Romans. I hoped perhaps something from this would help us talk. I wanted to drive a conversation so I said, “These words are beautiful.”
He chortled, his neck fat jiggling. “What do you know of it? You left the faith years ago.”
“Dad…you know that’s not true.”
“You’re certainly not living it out.”
“I’m sorry you think that.” I felt my temper rising, but contained it. “Perhaps we have different views on what that looks like.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself to feel better.”
“Where is this coming from? This doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“And what did I sound like before?”
“You were patient.”
“Well,” he said, smacking his lips. “Maybe my patience has run out?” The way he licked his fat lips, there was almost something offensive about it. Disturbing.
I slammed the Bible shut and set it on the edge of the bedside table and walked out. The Bible fell and splayed out, bending the pages under the weight of the cover.