Your father is dying slowly. What do you give him?
The Grateful Dead offer a box of rain, Dylan Thomas offers rage. The devil offers himself a place on the throne of heaven to replace a mad, mad, mad, mad deity that loves a silly little society of bare naked apes.
Jokes. I offer your father jokes.
This is a time when gift cards, cash, neckties, razor blades and cologne won’t really make the cut. Razor blades will but let’s assume your pop’s in the mood to savor the last gleaming of the burning ship of his body. O captain, my captain, your fearful trip is nearly done.
I have had much better fortune charming mothers than fathers. I had a mother; perhaps that explains it. I fear I grew up undomesticated for lack of a father, like penguins greeting Captain Robert Scott in the Antarctic, completely unaware he would alternately love and eat them. There is no natural fear of the father in me, apart from an instinctual suspicion of ghosts.
So, as I am a paternal bumbler, I can only come at him as a clown raised by a woman, looking for love and obliviously digestible.
I offer him jokes, adventitious quips improvised from environmental factors: the weather, political developments, career woes and our mutually dreadful credit scores. I cannot be his buddy or his friend or his enemy. These are not native to my nature, so far as fathers are concerned.
When the dying is slow the living is lying. There are no secrets to going with dignity, there is no essential truth, there is no ameliorating aphorism that heals all wounds. Not today, not ever, not anywhere. We feel better wholly on the basis of what we believe in, and faith is as tempestuous as a candle when the word “alive” means incrementally less.
Good men don’t deserve good deaths, only good lives. Your father is dying slowly, so he must be living much faster than us. It looks like a miserable thing, like a broken carnival ride he’s waiting to get off. And in the meantime here I am with a sock puppet and a very stupid accent and a moustache made of grease paint.
I offer him jokes, because joy is a measurement of what life is worth. When he stops laughing, I’ll have knocked him dead.