I woke up at 3:15am this morning to make my dad breakfast since I had to leave at 4 to catch my flight back to New York. I prepared oatmeal for him — three parts water to one part soy milk, mixed in ground flax seed, oat bran, and chia seeds, and grated apples to get some fruit and sweetness in. I mixed it up in a pot and left it on the stove. I fed his fish their separate types of food in their two tanks and cleaned up the kitchen before my mom had a chance to get up to see me off. Before I left, I went into his bedroom to say goodbye. He hadn’t slept very well last night because of one of the eleven medications he’s on as a result of the surgery, and he had to wake up to pee almost every hour, so I knew he’d be awake. I told him to take care, remember to do his breathing exercises, not to cross his legs where his graft wounds were healing, and that I’d call him when I got back to New York. I kissed his forehead and said, “I love you, Daddy.” He waited a moment and responded, “I love you.” And I left.

It’s only the third time I’ve told my dad verbally “I love you.” He wasn’t raised in a family where words like that were spoken. The first time I said it was just last year when I got home after Ed passed away. I told him that then, and for the first time, he said it back. The second time, I said it in the pre-operation room last week before the doctors gave him his anesthesia for the surgery.

My feelings around my family are complicated… because while I enjoy spending time with them, I reach my limits very quickly and realize how much they can exacerbate me with their set ways and their narrow views of the world. But I love my dad. It terrified me to think that I could have lost him to a heart attack; I’m still shaken by the idea because it’s always been a lingering fear in the back of my mind given our family history and his age. But this surgery is one step in the right direction — to repair his heart physically, but also hopefully, emotionally, as well.

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