In one con­ver­sa­tion af­ter Dad got sick, our re­la­tion­ship changed com­pletely

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - M. WIL­LIAM LENSCH

A sin­gle talk trans­formed our re­la­tion­ship.

NOTH­ING STAYS the same for long. Things and peo­ple change, of­ten for the worse, it seems, but once in a while, very much for the bet­ter. I grew up on a small farm, liv­ing a life that I took for granted. I had a dog with­out a leash and moun­tains in whichever di­rec­tion I looked. My fa­ther worked in the city as a welder. He was quiet; dis­tant, you might say. He was not highly ed­u­cated, but he was smart, with an engi­neer’s way of look­ing at prob­lems. He was a man made of leather, brass and to­bacco, who tried to teach my brother and I use­ful things, in­clud­ing re­spect. He also had a tem­per. I did not like him very much.

One day I came home from school and his car was al­ready there. Once in­side, I was told by my mother that he didn’t feel well. His back hurt. My fa­ther never missed work. I re­mem­ber peek­ing around the cor­ner at him as he lay on his bed.

Mul­ti­ple myeloma, I learned, is a type of blood can­cer. It starts in the cells that nor­mally make an­ti­bod­ies for the body to use in its im­mune re­sponse against in­fec­tions. When those cells be­come ma­lig­nant, they make ab­nor­mal an­ti­bod­ies, crowd­ing out the use­ful ones. As the can­cer grows, the per­son who has it shrinks. The dis­ease saps the body’s en­ergy, and the ab­nor­mal ­an­ti­bod­ies cause prob­lems for other cells and tis­sues. Bones even­tu­ally look like Swiss cheese, and when they break, they may never heal.

For the last year of my fa­ther’s life, his ­en­tire day con­sisted of ris­ing from his hospi­tal bed in the liv­ing room and walk­ing to his chair to sit and think.

He was in that chair when I came home one day dur­ing Year 7. I do not re­mem­ber where my mother and brother were, but the two of us were alone. He asked me to sit down.

What fol­lowed still moves me th­ese decades later. He told me about his life, his fam­ily grow­ing up, what it was like in the Pa­cific dur­ing World War II, his loves, his heart­breaks. It was as if a pipe had burst, his in­ner self rush­ing out to me in a great flood.

He had been speak­ing for maybe an hour or more when I re­alised that he was do­ing more than telling. He was ask­ing to be for­given. All it took was un­der­stand­ing that that was what he needed, and I for­gave ev­ery­thing, im­me­di­ately.

When he died, I didn’t re­turn to school for a few days. My big­gest dread go­ing back was PE class. It was poorly su­per­vised and bul­lies ran the show. I was stand­ing there in my shorts when an all- too- fa­mil­iar voice bel­lowed, “Lensch!” It was a guy who had given many of us a few lumps over the years. I turned to face him and said, “What do you want?” The other boys didn’t say a word as they waited for the beat­ing. “I heard your dad died,” he said. “Is that true?” I qui­etly replied, “Yes.” He didn’t punch me. He didn’t even move. In­stead, he said, “I’m sorry.”

I was shocked. I’m sure I cried. Those two words are how I have re­mem­bered that kid ever since.

What do you do when your ‘en­e­mies’ re­veal that they are also hu­man? I think you ei­ther for­give and move for­ward or hold on to re­sent­ment and live in the past. I’m cer­tainly not glad that my fa­ther got sick, but at the same time, I re­alise that if he hadn’t, I might never have come to love him.

He had been speak­ing for an hour when I re­alised he was do­ing more than telling

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