My father has been sick for a long time. More than a tenth of his life for a man of 82. Not that we kids knew he was so sick back then - all he would say for years was that he had a 'chronic' condition that he controlled with drugs...not to worry. And of course we, full of ourselves and our lives didn't because if Tuan said so and mom didn't make a face when he said it then that was that. We call him Tuan which means "Master" in Bahasa the lingua franca of Indonesia. We grew up there along with half a dozen servants and their families and their relatives who also called him Tuan - he was responsible for them too.
He wasn't an easy father - he is a very fastidious man, demanding about the details of his life. He could be acidly critical of us if we didn't measure up. I remember as a teenager trembling with rage because after I had mowed the lawn he - without saying a word - went out and mowed it again. And the things that he cared about were often trivial and he would never let them drop: like a tiny pebble you can't get out of your shoe, becoming bigger and more painful with each step. But strangely, the bigger the crisis, the greater our failures the less critical he became "Dad, I need to borrow some money" "Don't worry I had to borrow money from your Grand dad, will $20,000 do?" Never mind that by the time my father was an adult his parents had gone all but bankrupt and couldn't have lent him a dime - by jumping down in the mud with us he took some of the sting of failure away.
I'm spending a lot of time with him going to and fro to MD Anderson for treatments and meetings with his doctors. He's been at this for eight grueling years and it shows - he forgets things and struggles, searching for words. I hate to answer for him, I want so much for his doctors to see the acute, commanding man that I remember but they turn to me and I relent, I speak for Tuan, for the Master. He's thin as thin can be - "concentration camp inmate" my mother calls him. Yet he never complains about his condition - about the fact that his food isn't hot enough or the floor isn't clean - yes, but not about his pain or his exhaustion or what has to be his desire to just down tools. To stop fighting and go gladly into that good night. I've never talked with him about why he's persevered where most men would have given up but that's because I know the answer.
My father believes his life means something. That his survival, his bloody minded perseverance is a witness to how Reeves face the world and all of its slings and arrows: uncomplaining, stoic with a smile and a wisecrack for the nurses. A witness particularly for his grandchildren - they're almost grown now and he knows they have little time for him and even less time for his advice. But he believes deep in his being that his witness, his faithful perseverance unto death will tower in their minds so long as they shall live. And he knows it will make them stronger for having witnessed it.
My father is a hard man. As hard and precious as diamond.