My father, toughest bird at the table

This was a very special Thanksgiving for me, and not simply because I spent it with my father in Florida who, much to my pleasant surprise, was not dead. There were a lot of close calls in August and September, but my father is, apparently, a vampire.

To wit, on Sept. 13, my daughter and I were visiting a college in Chicago. Right between her tour of the school and her tour of the theater department, I got a call on my cell phone from an ICU nurse in the hospital where my father was supposed to be recuperating nicely. Nope.

ICU NURSE: Is this Chris … (insert here spectacular, incomprehensible babbling as she tries to figure out how to pronounce my completely unpronounceable last name).

ME: Yup, it’s me.

ICU NURSE: I’m calling from the intensive care unit at your father’s hospital. We think he just had a coma.

ME: I don’t think you have a coma. You have strokes and seizures and heart attacks. Did my father have one of those?

ICU NURSE: We don’t know yet. But he may be in a coma.

I am happy to report that he had had none of the above and, in the end, was not even in a coma. He had had a bad reaction to an antipsychotic they had administered. Why were they giving my gentle, good-natured father antipsychotics? As result of what one physician called “hospital psychosis,” my 82-year-old dad had suddenly become the Incredible Hulk. Five weeks in the hospital can do that. No one could restrain him, despite the fact he had lost 30 pounds in the month he had been living on IV drips.

There were a lot of those moments where people at the hospital thought my father was off to join his ancestors. And yet five days after this incident, he actually went home to his condominium. (“Home,” in this case, is not a euphemism for anything.)

So, my family and I just had Thanksgiving dinner with him at his country club. Yes, this is the very same country club where in August I was busted by the Elderly Fitness Police for using the weight room. Especially diligent readers will recall that two of the country club’s finest escorted me from the premises as if I had just been arrested on “Law and Order,” because I am not a member but still had the audacity to lift a few weights while my dad was in the hospital.

Earlier this week, I asked my father if it was going to be OK for him to be seen celebrating Thanksgiving with me — a noted criminal — at the country club. “Or,” I wondered, “will it be like dining with John Dillinger in Chicago in 1933? Will everyone in the room know that I’m a hardened fitness club criminal, but tolerate me as a renegade outlaw?” Maybe it would be just like when Johnny Depp took Marion Cotillard to a hot Chicago nightclub in the movie, “Public Enemies.” After all, just about every single person who belongs to my dad’s country club had been alive in 1933.

My dad said it would be fine. His big concern was that my family is vegetarian, and the country club confuses tofu with nuclear waste. They sure as heck weren’t serving Tofurky.

“It’s OK,” I said. I reminded him of how well I had eaten when the two of us had dined together at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Miami in February. I had creamed spinach and mashed potatoes, and he had filet mignon and a heart attack. I’m not kidding. He really did have a heart attack three weeks later. There may not have been a cause-and-effect, but the whole experience was still a little too close to patricide for my tastes.

Yet my father was back in that country club gym by April. And this past Thursday, he really was the toughest old bird at the Thanksgiving table — and that is something for which I was very, very grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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