elephant in the room.

(a painting I did of my dad holding my brother)

A while ago I was speaking with a friend over the phone who said he didn't believe in monogamy.

"I think that when couples stay together for years it's really just for the sake of their relationship. I feel like they must be suppressing their feelings of dissatisfaction. How can someone be be fully satisfied by one other person for the rest of their life? It must be elephant in the room that they avoid..."

Especially because I'm mormon, I've spent a lot of time dreaming of the possible joys of monogamy.

"I just really do think it's possible. I mean, I look at the example of my parents. I was so worried about how they'd do with just the two of them together when all of the kids left, but they're fine. I worry sometimes that me moving back home kind of ruined it for them. They are so happy together. I think the only big elephant in the room of their relationship is that my dad has prostate cancer..."

And it's true. I grew up in a home of free discussion; where penis and vagina weren't dirty words (when used in the proper context) and where punishment for misdeeds in high school included a long lecture on the couch. I've always been proud of the open nature of communication that my family shares.

But on this one issue, my dad's cancer, it's hard to get much information. Of course it makes sense, but the silence surrounding it leaves me with an unpleasant sense of its gravity.

My dad recently received the results of his first blood test following his radiation treatment. I received calls from both of my sisters.
"Laura, do you know what's really going on with this? Mom says that the doctor said his PSA count is what he thought it would be. What does this even mean?"
Of course I didn't know what to tell them, and when I later asked my mom for more details, I left the conversation with little sense of clarity.

All of this has led to a silence of my own. I can't tell my dad how much I love him all in one gushing burst of emotion because it would acknowledge that massive, awkward elephant. I end up congratulating him and thanking him for small things instead.

"Thanks for mowing the lawn, dad."

"Thanks for taking my letters to the post office."

My parents have heated the house with a coal-burning furnace my whole life and I learned to resent it. I've blamed my allergies on it and have hated that my clothes always faintly smell of coal dust.
Last weekend when the weather turned cold, my dad lit it again. When he tinkers in the furnace, you can hear the clinking noises from anywhere in the house as they echo through the pipes. Lately, when I can smell the coal dust on my clothes or hear the clinking of the pipes, I know it's my dad keeping me warm and I feel loved.

"Thanks for lighting the furnace, dad. I can feel heat coming through the kitchen vents."


Cambrie said...

I didn't know that he has cancer. I'm sorry to hear that.

yes, now that you mention it I remember the smell of your house. (isn't it funny how you can remember smells from many years ago). I didn't realize that it was coal that I was smelling.

mim said...

Dad is rad! Thanks for all you do dad!!!

Jeff Denison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Denison said...

Thanks for this entry. My Dad has Lupus and has for a long time. When we first found out and he was doing his Chemotherapy it was tough to not know what to say or what was even going on. Reading this reminds me of those past experiences.