Perhaps the photographer for the Chicago Sun grumbled beneath his breath while he extended the accordion-style bellows on his camera, moving the lens closer to his subject, my father. The photographer probably resented making the 20-minute drive to Morgan Park in Chicago’s South Side just to photograph him on his birthday. It’s likely he would have traded places, if he could, with his fellow photog over at Comiskey covering the Boston-Chicago game, or certainly with colleagues overseas covering the war. The Allies had begun making considerable headway against the Axis and the photographers that covered it had ascended to the status of photojournalists. Their work made the front page, above the fold, with impressive cutlines like, “Dawn Attack Behind Enemy Lines in Sicily.” Instead, this shutterbug was saddled with snapping a shot that was destined to be buried somewhere near the classifieds–a photo of my father who turned thirteen on Friday, August 13, 1943.
My wife is pulling out a baker’s dozen of chocolate chip cookies when the phone rings, but I can’t hear the caller over the din of my four and two-year-old dancing and singing among the confetti of paper and bows. So I take the call outside, cradling the cordless between my shoulder and ear while I button my jacket against the December breeze. It’s my father’s wife, Christie, and I try to piece together what she’s telling me about him, but everything she says seems to come in fragments. Unresponsive. Hospitalized. It’s not looking good.
I ask questions, but don’t get answers. So I end the call with the promise of being by my father’s bedside first thing in the morning. After hanging up, I look through the window of my home at my son and daughter placing a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa on the brick hearth, the picture of contentment and tranquility.
The photographer posed my father underneath two wooden stepladders, next to a black umbrella, and holding a black cat. The props were intended to aid in his photographic representation of my father’s impending doom. Finding a boy who was turning thirteen on Friday the thirteenth was a superstition raised to the second power, which the editor of the Sun apparently couldn’t resist.
Who knows where superstitions really start, but for centuries the general public has associated the number thirteen with misfortune. Whatever its true origins, that unease persisted throughout generations until fear for the number thirteen was finally given the name triskaidekaphobia in 1911, the same year that fear for Friday the thirteenth was dubbed paraskevidekatriaphobia. By 1943 it was already a common practice among hospitals and hotels to be without a thirteenth room, and the Otis Elevator Company had accommodated the wishes of high-rise architects for years by producing elevator consoles that didn’t include the number.
If thirteen was supposed to portend of bad things to come, no one told my father. He dressed in his best outfit, a button down and pressed slacks, and sported a broad smile as though he was the luckiest boy in the world.
I try to fight the feeling that my father’s good fortune is running out while I nose our Sienna onto a country two-lane leaving our home in South Carolina headed to Pinehurst, North Carolina where my father is hospitalized. My wife, Jennifer, and I stare in silence at the road ahead, while our kids, still dressed in footie pajamas, are slumped asleep in their carseats. An hour earlier we had woken them with the news that Santa had come. They were still bleary-eyed, but enjoyed the spoils of making the “nice” list while Jennifer and I packed our Toyota for the trip. With the last bag loaded, the van’s high beams now slice through the predawn darkness. One hour until daybreak. Two hours until arrival. A lifetime to think.
After the photo shoot, the summer sun likely set low on the horizon casting long shadows in the potato field adjacent to my father’s house. Morgan Park was, as it still is today, a predominately working class Irish community. As part of the war effort, the federal government was forced to ration foods, so they encouraged citizens of urban areas to plant “victory gardens” to provide their own fruits and vegetables. The Irish, including those in Morgan Park, naturally turned to what they knew best and planted Yellow Potatoes, Fingerlings, and Russets. With the day drawing to a close, my father probably participated in his new habit of stealing away time, hunkered among those potato rows with his friends, smoking hollow grass reeds.
Maybe he bragged to them about the Chicago Sun sending the man with the fancy camera, or maybe they celebrated how the White Sox edged the Red Sox by one run earlier that day. The only thing I know for certain is that my father sat in the potato field to hide from his father who was physically abusive, who often eased his daily frustrations with acts of violence against his children. So my father and his friends would lay back in the darkness, bare feet buried in the soil, staring at the stars, dreaming of life beyond Chicago’s South Side. A final drag from the grass reed, followed by a flick of his thumb would have sent my father’s ashes sailing on Lake Michigan’s winds, like fireflies in the night, to a place far away from problems and pain.
Pinehurst might as well be on the other side of the world. Driving to visit my father normally feels like a short jaunt, but now I can’t get there soon enough. It reminds me of my impatience as a boy during family vacations, asking my father, “Are we were there yet?” when only a few miles from home and hundreds still to travel. My father would flick his cigarette ash through his Volkswagen’s opened moonroof, blow smoke through his nose, and lie, “Almost there, kiddo.”
To help pass the time, my father would pay me a nickel if I found a cow, a convertible, a sign for a new state line. When the car’s drink holder was full of coins and the ashtray with crushed butts, my father would stamp out his last smoke and tell stories like the Legend of Falling Rock–the son of the Indian chief, Rising Sun, who, as the story goes, has yet to return from an expedition.
“That’s why there are signs that say, ‘Watch for Falling Rock,’” my father would say while negotiating the curves of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “To this day, the chief is still waiting for his son to come home.”
After arriving in Pinehurst, I take the steps by twos to the hospital entrance while Jennifer takes the kids to check into a hotel. I find my father in his room alone. He’s covered with a single white sheet and coverlet, asleep in the fetal position. He looks vulnerable, and weak, and frail. But there’s also a serenity in the moment–just me, my father, and the silence. He looks like a child in perfect repose and I think how often roles reverse in life. I think of all the times my father tucked me in as a child, as I pull the bed linens up to cover his chest and kiss him on his forehead.
As a boy, my father cowered in his bed, pulling urine and sweat stained sheets up just below his eyes. He listened for the sound of creaking floorboards in the hallway, watched for shadows to pass through the light that knifed under his doorjamb, and waited for his father. But he couldn’t keep watch forever. My father’s body eventually gave way to exhaustion and he fell asleep. The empty Coca-Cola bottles he had stacked against his bedroom door were his last line of defense. They didn’t prevent the intrusion, but when the door swung open the gnashing of glass from the toppled bottles was enough to wake my father, giving him a chance to defend himself.
I can imagine the hallway sconce flooding my father’s room and the illumination glinting off glass bottles, refracting grotesque prisms of light across the wide-board, hardwood floors. But it would have been the shadows cast on the clapboard walls that told the story, the ghostly image of a father beating his son without provocation or reason.
I’ve been told my grandfather could be charming, quick-witted, and was as brilliant as he was unpredictable and abusive. He was violent when he was intoxicated and violent when he was sober. I’m not sure if he had whiskey on his breath that night or not, but by all accounts my father was lucky to live through it. And so began a lifelong trend for my father of close calls, brushes with death, and his luck always being tested.
After that night, there would be no need for my father to stack bottles against his bedroom door again or hide from his father among the potato rows. That was the last time my grandfather beat his oldest son. Soon after that night my father graduated from Fenger High School on June 27, 1946 at the age of fifteen and left home.
I step out of my father’s room into the hospital corridor. I’m not trying to avoid my father so much as the reality of the moment. I just want to put some space between myself and the emotions I feel welling within me and clear my mind. Being in my father’s room reminds me of being by my mother’s bedside five years earlier when cancer claimed her life. Since that time my wife and I have lost three grandparents, three uncles, and two aunts. The prospect of losing my father as well is almost too much to bear, and I feel certain that dealing with Christie will only make matters worse.
My father married five times during his life. His first marriage ended when his wife, Beverly Lou, died of a heart attack one day while waiting for a bus in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure what impact that had on my father’s future relationships, but he followed that up with four more failed marriages: Yvonne, which didn’t last a year; Giuliana, the mother of my two older brothers, Adrian and Rod, which ended in divorce after nearly ten years; Louise, my mother, divorced just shy of a decade too; and then there’s Christie who’s more than twenty years younger than my father and actually closer in age to my oldest brother.
Maybe it’s that proximity in age that creates the odd sibling rivalry of sorts in her mind, fostering jealousy over the close relationships we each have with our father. Christie is often possessive of him during normal family visits, so I don’t know what to expect from her given the circumstances we face.
I take a walk outside in search of fresh air and a cell phone signal to call Adrian and Rod who are en route from their homes in Northern Virginia. I call under the pretense of giving them an update on our father, but I really just want to know when they’re due to arrive. I don’t want to go through it by myself.
During the Korean War in the spring of 1953, the American forces fought along side troops from Ethiopia, Colombia, Thailand, and of course South Korea. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill was well underway after the Chinese had initiated a night attack days earlier, catching American troops off guard. The pop of rifle fire could barely be heard over the percussion of the incoming 76mm and 122mm communist mortars that exploded into makeshift barracks, sandbag bunkers, and soldiers, spraying shrapnel, dirt, and body parts for yards. To make matters worse, it was monsoon season and Cheorwon, South Korea was being battered by wind and rain for days on end. Soldiers did the best they could, crouching in the mud and muck and returning fire whenever possible. I’ve been told that among those men mired in the trenches was my father, three months away from his twenty-third birthday.
When the enemy attack dwindled to just an occasional crack of gunfire, the American forces must have felt they had successfully defended the South Korean border, but the Chinese were actually posturing themselves for a three-pronged offensive on the north, east, and west sides of the hill that the American forces were trying to defend. When weather and warfare abated long enough to allow it, my father smoked the unfiltered cigarettes that came packaged with his food rations and other necessities, filling his lungs and calming his nerves. Much like in Morgan Park ten years earlier, my father hunkered in the dirt, hid from the enemy, smoked, and dreamed of life beyond the south side of Pork Chop Hill.
When the Chinese were finally in position, they resumed bombarding the hill with artillery and gunfire with increased ferocity, and mortars were dialing in, getting closer to hitting their mark. At one point my father saw two soldiers near him hit by shrapnel, melting their flesh to the bone. My father and other soldiers were pinned down, seeking shelter and returning fire when they could. Often times the only refuge available was a small, manmade foxhole. One of the few photos I have of my father from the Korean War is a black-and-white 3×5 of him kneeling in a foxhole with the spade still propped against the freshly dug earth. He had just hollowed out an area about eight feet by three feet and a few more feet down. The dimensions look roughly the same size as a burial site, as though my father had just dug his own grave.
I must have passed by the Pinelawn Memorial Park Cemetery a thousand times without noticing it until now. My brothers and I drive by it on our way to the hospital where we plan to meet with the doctor during her morning rounds to discuss our father’s condition. I feel better with Adrian and Rod finally here, as though the three of us being together somehow gives me hope for a turnaround, like life will return to normal. But seeing the acre of granite headstones challenges my optimism.
When we arrive at the hospital, Christie is already in our father’s room, seated in a recliner, sucking water from a plastic bottle, with her attention turned toward the wall-mounted TV, but stands when we enter the room. We’re cordial to Christie and she’s cordial to us, everyone participating in the delicate, well-choreographed dance that’s been honed over the years to keep the peace. But that facade begins to crumble when we get past pleasantries and ask about our father.
“Why isn’t he hooked up to anything?” I say.
“Like what?” she says.
“Like a feeding tube or fluids for hydration?”
“I told them I don’t want them poking him.”
“Don’t you think we owe it to him to buy enough time for doctors to figure out what’s going on?” Rod says.
They seem like simple questions, reasonable requests, considering that our father had been at a rehab facility for a fractured hip just days earlier and had been fine other than the pain and inconvenience of therapy. Maybe Christie feels cornered or that the questions we’re asking are a challenge to her capacity as a caretaker. Whatever it is, we must be pushing her buttons, because she becomes irate.
“You don’t understand what I’m going through,” she says, jabbing a finger in our direction. “He’s my fucking husband!”
Christie has been a good wife to my father in many respects, especially early on in the marriage, so I want to believe her motivation is based on having my father’s best interests at heart. But we’ve been told that she’s been unfaithful in the past and that in recent years she’s been abusive to our father during disagreements, on one occasion even shoving him to the floor. I want to believe what she’s saying, but I can’t get past the feeling she’s just ready to move on with her life.
“He’s our father,” I say, while eyeing the bruises up and down his arms with suspicion, the type Christie always attributes to blood thinners, “trust me, we understand what’s at stake.”
“I have his best interest at heart!” she says.
“We don’t know that,” Adrian says, letting his words trail off after I nudge him as if to convey that it would be pointless for us to go down that path. It would feel wrong to get into a war of words with our father lying there between us.
My father had to pee, but the enemy fire was so intense that he was forced to urinate while lying on the ground. The Chinese had American forces surrounded on three sides and he was literally scared pissless. But when my father’s commander screamed to his troops, “Fire mission, stand-up!” my father found himself standing with his comrades, returning fire. He once confessed to me that his motivation in times like those was far less a devotion to flag and country and more the potential fear and shame of letting down his fellow soldiers.
Any number of scenarios, none of which seemed good, could have taken place that day. If my father had been caught by the Chinese, he would have been a POW. If he was lost in the chaos, he would have been MIA. If he was gunned down, he would have been KIA. If he was injured, but didn’t make it to the MASH unit in time, he would have been DOA.
Amid the complexity and confusion of war, one thing was clear to my father. He didn’t want to become an acronym.
“DNR” is Sharpied in a crude, black scrawl on my father’s hospital wristband. DNR, as in Do Not Resuscitate. DNR, as in Do Not Revive. DNR, as in Do Not Remedy the goddamn situation. I feel helpless and hopeless. It’s as though we’re supposed to just stand there, waiting for him to die. And so we watch. And we wait.
After my father returned home from Korea he continued with life as normal. He got his bachelors in education from the Chicago Teachers College, a Masters in Child Psychology from The University of Chicago, and taught in the inner city schools for three years. But after his first wife died and his second marriage ended in a quick divorce, my father was ready for a change. In 1960 he accepted a job in personnel, working for the Department of Defense at Kagnew Station, an American Army installation, in Asmara, Ethiopia, where he met and married Giuliana and had two children, Adrian and Rod.
The problem was that Ethiopia had difficulties with corruption and Asmara had a Gambino-style crime syndicate, involved in everything from racketeering to stealing booze and toilet paper from the Officer’s Club. When my father found out what was going on within his division he exposed the criminal enterprise by reporting it to his superiors, but instead of cowering the criminals fought back.
When my father received death threats he did precautionary things like taking a different route home each day, but he pressed forward with his internal review of Kagnew Station’s staff. They abducted his father-in-law at one point, but released him the next day, hoping my father got the message. Instead, a couple officers from Kagnew Station were assigned to watch my father’s house for a few days until things blew over, but even trusting them became difficult when my father learned that a police uniform had been stolen from headquarters. Every time my father applied more pressure, they upped the ante, pushed back harder, trying to call his bluff.
When a sniper called my father and said he could see his sons playing in the yard, described the clothing they were wearing, and said how easy it was to see them through the scope of his rifle, my father felt as though he had pressed his luck far enough and finally folded. He placed a call to Washington D.C., demanded a reassignment, and after seven years in Africa, my father was transferred to the Pentagon, bringing the power struggle in Asmara to an end.
Christie has a power-of-attorney over my father, but it’s the power over us that she seems to enjoy most. She must come across as nothing more than a compassionate spouse to the medical staff when she asks if my father can have a softer pillow or an extra blanket to make sure he’s “comfortable.” It’s the same keyword she used when she wouldn’t allow the medical staff to insert a nasogastric tube to feed him or an IV of sodium chloride solution to keep him hydrated, all under the premise that doing those things might be painful.
Without a clue as to why my father isn’t responding to any treatment, his advanced signs of decompensation, and a spouse with the legal right to make medical decisions on his behalf, doctors acquiesce to Christie’s every demand. Despite her constant insistence that my father not be poked or prodded in any way, when doctors recommend administering morphine, Christie seems at peace with the decision. So a nurse plunges an IV catheter into my father’s vein and begins pumping a thousand milligrams of the opiate into his bloodstream, and later two thousand, and later still, even more.
After a potentially fatal auto accident while on a travel assignment for the Department of Defense in Macon, Georgia in ’89, my father begged for pain killers. He had minor lacerations and was battered and bruised with shades of crimson and violet that blossomed across his body. But the pain from that was minor compared to the agony caused by his broken back.
When the brakes failed in the borrowed car my father was driving, the sedan snapped through a metal guardrail and barrel rolled down the embankment of an offramp, before finishing on its roof. My father cracked thoracic vertebrae in the process, but somehow he crawled on his hands and knees back up the embankment to the highway and flagged down a passing motorist, before losing consciousness.
After surgery, my father spent the next several months hospitalized in Macon wearing a plaster cast that covered his torso. Truth be told, he was just lucky to be alive, but the pain was so unbearable at times he often felt as though he would’ve been better off dead.
My father’s life is slowly slipping away. The morphine drips, the clock ticks, and his breathing is becoming more shallow.
In the ’90s, Jack Kevorkian earned the moniker “Dr. Death” for the notoriety of his assisted suicides of terminally ill patients. He would hook them up to an apparatus that allowed them to self-administer a lethal cocktail of saline, sodium thiopental, potassium chloride, and pancuronium bromide. When Dr. Kevorkian’s medical license was revoked by the state of Michigan he no longer had access to those chemicals, so he developed a second device that allowed his patients to self-administer a fatal dose of carbon monoxide. In both cases, death was instantaneous.
At the time, doctors in the medical community took to the airwaves to discuss Dr. Kevorkian’s violation of the Hippocratic Oath and humanity. Many of those same doctors participated in administering lethal doses of morphine to their patients, depressing their respiration until they could no longer breathe at all. The difference between their methods and Dr. Kevorkian’s were that his results were immediate and theirs could take hours.
The morphine drips, the clock ticks, and the only other sound in my father’s room is his quiet respiration as he continues to slide from earth to eternity in the static of white noise.
During a follow-up visit in ’96, my father’s doctor slid the stethoscope across his back, asking him to take one last deep breath. Satisfied he’d heard enough, especially given what the other tests had yielded, the doctor pulled the stethoscope from his ears, draped it across his neck, and took a seat on the swivel stool in front of my father to deliver the news. First the bad: my father was showing signs of the onset of emphysema. Then the good: my father was fortunate it was detected early and if he quit smoking immediately it wouldn’t get any worse.
When my father got home that day, he rounded up every pack of cigarettes he had, as well as an unopened carton of Winstons, and even the Bic, throwing away his pack-a-day habit in the trash for good. After a lifetime of smoking, my father quit cold turkey on the day I turned twenty-two. He called to wish me a happy birthday, but also to tell me how fortunate he’d been to catch it early, attributing that outcome to his lucky number being multiplied for good measure. “It’s March 26th,” he said. “Double thirteen.”
My father’s youngest brother, Lowell, thirteen years his junior, lives in Rockingham, only forty-five minutes away from the hospital if you race like Earnhardt used to around the Rockingham Speedway. Uncle Lowell made it there in less than thirty.
When he heard that my father was hospitalized he wanted to see his brother and be supportive. But now that he’s here, Christie, for reasons we don’t understand or question, tells him he isn’t welcome. Uncle Lowell pats my father on his shoulder and walks out of the room, not wanting to cause a scene. My brothers and I follow him to a waiting room down the hall.
Looking at Uncle Lowell is like looking at my father. He has the same wavy hair, light on the pepper and heavy on the salt, the same gentle brown eyes framed by deeply etched crow’s feet, the same large hands, and even the same gestures. I find comfort in those similarities as we sit and talk.
“Been too long since I saw you guys,” he says, taking a seat and picking up a Popular Mechanicswith no apparent intent on reading it. “What’s it been? Eight, nine years?”
“Nine,” I say. “It was at Dad’s seventieth birthday party.”
“That’s right, the Friars Club-style roast you guys gave him,” he says, thumbing through the magazine, but never looking down at the pages. “You were a riot. What was that joke you opened with?”
“That it was nice to be back in North Carolina,” I say, “where tobacco is considered a vegetable.”
Uncle Lowell laughs again, just like he had that night, until a minor bout with smoker’s cough brings his laughter to an end. He tosses the magazine back down on the stack, pats the front of his coat until he finds what he’s looking for, and pulls out a pack of Marlboros and a silver Zippo. After he stabs a cigarette between his lips, he stands.
“Be right back,” he says, the cigarette bouncing from his mouth like a conductor’s wand. “Gonna have a smoke and give your Uncle Douglas a call with an update.”
I got a call from my father in the summer of ’97 to tell me goodbye. His cardiologist had advised him to get his affairs in order and contact his loved ones. Days earlier my father confided in his general practitioner that he’d been experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. His doctor immediately referred him to a cardiologist who discovered that my father had an enlarged heart that pumped inefficiently, congestive heart failure, and plaque laden arteries caused by years of heavy smoking, making a triple bypass both a necessity and an incredible risk.
He took his cardiologist’s advice, placing calls to Adrian, Rod, and me. My father’s voice was weak and gravelly, but we talked for over an hour, saying all the things that often go unsaid between a father and son. I could tell he called, in part, to make peace with his past, apologizing for the marriage between my mother and him failing, the pain he knew that had to cause, and for not being around more when I was a child.
My parents cited “irreconcilable differences” when they divorced. The main difference they seemed unable to reconcile was that my mother was Baptist and my father was agnostic. One lived by faith and the other by facts. I never understood how that detail was overlooked or ignored in process of their courtship, but I guess I always assumed they fell victim to the old adage, “Women get married thinking men will change, but they don’t. Men get married thinking women won’t change, and they do.” Nevertheless, their divorce was sixteen years earlier and I was well past having any hurt feelings.
“It’s water under the bridge,” I said, but I was curious if his feelings on faith had changed
since he faced a risky surgery, so I added, “Any change in your beliefs?”
“No,” he said.
“Then what do you believe?”
“I believe in truth.”
“Is there truth in religion?”
“Only local truth. If Jerry Falwell had been born in Saudi Arabia he’d be pounding the Koran instead of the Bible and yelling, ‘There is but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.’”
“Well, what truth do you believe in then?”
“I believe in scientific truth because it’s universal. The theory of gravity, or relativity, or Darwinian theory are as true in Istanbul as they are Richmond, Virginia.”
“What’s true after we die?”
“I don’t know, but I’m at peace with whatever lies ahead.”
Before my father dies, I whisper in his ear all the things you might expect. I tell him I love him. I tell him I’ll miss him. I tell him it’s okay to let go. And I tell him I hope he finds the truth he’s always been searching for.
After my father dies, his body is taken to Bole’s Funeral Home, but there’s no funeral. There’s no memorial service. And after four hours in the crematorium, there’s no body. Christie takes my father’s remains to their lakefront home in a corrugated cardboard box just large enough to hold five pounds of dust. Maybe she puts the box on the granite countertop in the kitchen where he used to make his famous spaghetti a bolognese con funghi. Or maybe she puts the box on the coffee table in the living room where my father used to sit every Sunday and complete The New York Times crossword in ink. Or maybe she never bothers to bring the box in from the trunk of her Mustang. It’s hard to know for sure.
Before leaving Pinehurst, my brothers and I say bye to Christie. She tells us she needs some time to sort through her emotions and process the grief. She says she’ll keep our father’s remains boxed and promises that when the time is right we can get together to spread his ashes. Of course we doubt that time will ever come. Weeks later, our suspicion will be confirmed when Christie sends us an email, letting us know she’s held a private ceremony and spread our father’s remains at their home on Lower Monroe Lake. She’ll do this to be malicious, but by excluding us she’ll actually be doing us a favor. It will free us to imagine our father’s ceremony any way we want. I will imagine that the sky was clear, the weather warm, and that the sun filtered through a latticework of branches, dappling the water’s edge. And I will imagine that when my father’s ashes were cast, they sailed on the lake’s winds to a place far away from problems and pain.
But now, after leaving my father’s home, parting ways with Christie and my brothers, I stop at an Exxon to fill up the Toyota. I pull up next to a leather clad biker who’s disregarding the NO SMOKING sign and the warning that details how ignoring that directive could result in blowing us all to hell. Nevertheless, he continues fueling his Harley before taking one last drag from his cigarette, flicking the butt to the ground, and grinding it into the asphalt. After I finish fueling, I point the Sienna south to head home and, for reasons I don’t understand, tilt the rearview mirror down. Maybe I can’t look myself in the eye, or maybe I catch a glimpse of my kids seated behind me and I think I might lose it, or maybe I just realize there’s no looking back.
But then I smell the smoke still lingering on my jacket. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, hate the stench it leaves on my clothes, the way it makes my eyes burn, the way it sticks in my throat. I hated when my father smoked, even when he switched to a pipe on occasion with a scent that was sweet and earthy. But none of these feelings occur to me now. Instead, I just breathe deeply.
I once read that our memory is most closely related to our sense of smell. Something about the olfactory cortex’s physical proximity to the amygdala and the hippocampus, but I don’t care about the science. I only care about the familiarity of this moment, the palpable sensation that I’m sitting next to my father again.