I was sleeping late. I had just
published the first issue of my local newspaper, Atlanta
30306, and was recovering from three all-nighters earlier
in the month. The phone rang.
The call was from either a brother
or a sister. I don't remember which now. My dad had been
walking down the hallway at the Northside YMCA on Roswell
Road, going to his daily swimming aerobics class, when he had
a massive stroke.
I drove quickly to Piedmont
Hospital and ran into the emergency room. I thought about how
Dad had cared for me there through broken bones, an
appendectomy and so on. Now, I was going to see him.
I found him in a room, unconscious.
It was so quiet. I just stood by his side, helplessly. A nurse
I hadn't seen standing in the corner told me I could touch
Touch him? I thought.
How? I looked at his hands. I remembered grasping them
in handshakes for years. I remembered how later, after our
family discovered affection, hugging him, and even in recent
years, kissing him. But I had no memory of ever just holding
his hand, as a child might grab a parent's hand to cross the
I placed his hand in mine and just
held it. It felt so large; bony, yet soft. Why have I never
done this before? I thought. Was it my insecurities or
his? Perhaps both. It was the last time I touched my
father. He never regained consciousness and died later that
I revisit that image often and have
drawn much comfort from remembering that simple act of holding
hands with my dad during the last hours of his life. A
seemingly small gesture, but one that allows two people to
connect so quickly, so closely.
My own eleven-year-old son knows
this and is, thankfully, not bound by the inhibitions of
earlier generations. One time, after my dad's death, I was
walking in a mall with him and his cousin of the same age. His
cousin asked him why he was holding my hand. He said nothing,
but quickly released my grasp. That was it, I thought.
The defining moment. Even though I had felt a little
self-conscious holding his hand there in the mall, I knew I
would miss his touch more than he would ever know. Yet, a few
weeks later during another weekend together, he quietly
slipped his hand in mine. I felt connected again.
This summer in Paris, we walked
along the Seine as I led him and his thirteen-year-old sister
to cathedrals and museums. He grabbed my hand, and we walked
together for several blocks. My daughter, who had stopped
holding my hand at age nine or ten, sped up and looked over at
the clasp. I knew she was going to say something as only a
sister, much too cool for such a display, would. Then she
caught my eye and my smile. Uncharacteristically, she
retreated and said nothing.
And so we continued along the
riverbank, a family of three, she comfortable in her
detachment, my son content with his innate instinct to connect
with others, and me, somewhere in between.
Sometimes, we have a choice of when
to let go. Sometimes, we don't.