I Didn’t Know My Father Loved Me…then on his last days, this happened.
A True Story
I used to be a Sports Massage Therapist before I became an author and I have worked on thousands of people throughout my Sports Therapy career, and there’s one thing in common with all of the people I’ve had the pleasure of working on — they all have unique, incredible stories.
The story I’m going to share with you today is of no exception. The story begins with me working on a gentlemen, performing a PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) technique. And, as you read, be ready, because you may be brought to tears, or at least grow a smile.
So, without further ado, here it is…
As I press on an area between Jim’s belly button and the front hip bone of his pelvis called the ASIS, he asks, “Is that the Sore-As muscle?”
“It’s the psoas muscle.” I correct him, putting a little more pressure on his muscle, doing what is called trigger point therapy while performing Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation — an active movement technique.
“It should be called the ‘Sore-As-Hell’ muscle.” He smiles. It’s his usual joke. He then looks at me, eyes a little wider than usual. “I’ve been thinking of my father lately.”
Jim is 78 and has been a client of mine for about 10 years, so I’ve had the pleasure of being in his presence for quite some time now. His father passed away many years ago, way before I met Jim and I had never heard Jim speak of his father much at all, until now.
Still pressing on his psoas, I move his leg left and right with my other hand, stretching and contracting the targeted muscle, asking, “What did he die of?”
“How old was he when he died?”
I take my finger pressure off of his psoas, walk over to the head of the table, and sit on my stool and face the top of his head. I press both hands on the sides of his neck, and start my neck assessment.
“He was a complete jerk my entire life.” Jim sighs.
I can tell he still has anger with his father. Even now.
“You know, growing up,” he continues, “He never once told me he loved me. Never told anyone he loved them, not my mom and not my brother. He was Russian and I think he had a hard life, just like his own father. When I was young, he’d point at me, saying, ‘You’re a bad boy. Bad boy!’ He never gave me a compliment.” Jim shakes his head, still disappointed and pained.
I take a deep breath, bringing my focus to the anterior scalene muscles close to the front of his neck. They are tight, which is unusual for Jim. It’s one of the stress muscles, meaning that scalenes can be overused when breathing shallow, and when you’re stressed, your breaths quicken and rise from your chest, rather than from your belly. The scalene muscles originate from your cervical vertebrae (neck) and attach to your upper ribs (ribs 1 and 2), and when you breath quickly, they become shallow breaths, lifting the upper two ribs by contracting those scalene muscle.
I then remember something Jim once told me about his own life. “Didn’t you leave your parent’s house at fifteen years old or something like that?”
“Well, my brother left first. He was only 14. He’s older than me, and it was several years later that I took off and left home. I was 16. Before my brother left, he told me he couldn’t take it anymore. He moved in with our cousins, leaving me there alone, so I got the brunt of what my brother used to get, making my life in that tiny apartment…hell. So, at age 16 I enrolled in the Air Force to get as far away from dad as possible.”
“You enrolled at age 16? I thought you had to be 17 to enroll,” I say.
He laughs. “I lied to them.”
“You did? Wow.” I’m clearly surprised. He’s a small man and I wondered how anyone could have ever thought he was 17 when he entered the armed forces. He probably looked much younger than 17, but who knows. “So, what did you do in the Air Force?”
He waves his hand in the air, dismissing the question. “Ah, nothing. I was a file clerk. I learned how to type and that’s about all. I was stationed in Japan for two years. I, at least, was able to travel on an aircraft carrier to get there. That was neat. It took two weeks to get there by boat.”
“What was that like?”
He laughs again. “I learned that if you kept walking around, avoiding any eye contact, and act busy, then you really don’t have to do anything. Everyone was doing there jobs, but I didn’t do a thing. I just slept and ate. And, when I finally arrived in Japan, I spent two years filing, typing, and having sex, then came home.” He shrugs, as if saying military life was easy as pie. “After I got home, I’d call dad every so often throughout the years. I’d say, ‘Hi dad!’ and he’d reply with, ‘What car are you driving?’”
“When mom divorced him, I knew he was sad, but each time I’d call, he’d ask what car I was driving. Whenever I told him I loved him, he’d grumble, quickly changing the subject.”
Jim frowns. “At least, when I was young, he taught me how to paint. As a kid, whenever I painted with him, he would say the meanest things to me, like I was the worst thing that ever happened to him.” He rolls his eyes. “He was Russian and grew up with a hard life. I bet his dad beat him.”
I cradled the back of his head, touching the suboccipitals attached there. “Is that tender?”
I place his head in a position that can help me easily release the tension in his suboccipital muscles. He moans. “That always alleviates a lot of tightness when you do that.”
“Did you see your dad at all after coming back from Japan?”
“No, I was never around. Like I said, I did my best to call him whenever I remembered to, but that wasn’t much. My brother never spoke to him, though. My dad was a son-of-a-you know what, so no one ever talked to him much. You know, there was one time when I was three years old…it’s so weird that I can remember this…but I was doing something that little kids do, playing or something, and he comes into my room and spanks me, calling me ‘bad’. And, I didn’t even know what I did.” Jim points in front of him, mimicking his father. “’Bad, Bad, Bad!’ Why didn’t he just tell me what I did? Well, that’s how he probably grew up and so I got a lot of what he got. I got a lot of it.” Jim exhales as his suboccipitals release. I place my fingers on the back of his neck, gliding them down his levator scapula and trapezius, one of the best ways to relax those group of muscles.
“Did he ever call you?”
“No, no. Well, he did when he was dying. So, I went to go see him.”
“At the home you grew up in?”
“He left there long ago. I went to the hospital and there he was, dying in a hospital bed. I knew I was his only visitor and he looked terrible. Skinny, very skinny. His face was sunken in and his eyes looked sickly.” Jim screwed up his brow. “He looked like death. I mean, I saw death in him.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen that before,” I reply. “I was there when both my grandpa’s were dying, not too mention all of the hospice work I’ve done.”
“Well, I walked over to him, feeling so sorry for him. I did love him, imagine that. I sat down on the edge of the bed, telling him how much I loved him. He then asked me to help him up. So, I lifted him up, helping him to sit next to me. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I told him I loved him again. He squeezed much harder, then looked me in the eyes and for the first time in my life, I heard him say it. He said, ‘I love you, son.’ He put his head on my chest and cried and cried. I held him as we cried together. This was the first time he’d ever said anything nice to me and this one wasn’t just nice, it was meaningful. There was truth in it and it hit me in my heart. I could feel his love and I knew right then and there that he got it. It took him his entire life to get to this moment, to finally get it, and I was the one to teach it to him. I taught him to love. That’s why I was there, in the hospital, at that moment.”
If eyes could smile, I could see it in Jim’s eyes. His whole body relaxed and he started breathing easier. It was almost as if Jim, himself, understood something for the first time–his father wasn’t a terrible man. He was a hard working, scared individual that may have thought that raising a son meant you have to be hard to prepare them for a tough, uncaring world. In that way, perhaps, he was giving love.
Jim smiles. “That’s why we’re here, for those precious moments. It’s love. And, my father passed away a day after that, and he got it. He figured it out and understood the whole meaning of life in that moment and I was there to witness it.”
And, like always, Jim puts his arms in the air, praising the ceiling or praising God, saying his usual, “I’m blessed. I’m so, so blessed.” Then he, himself, in that moment, “get’s it.”
Blessings to you,