Four months ago my father was sent to a rehabilitation center for therapy following surgery. He had gone in for a new style of hip replacement, the kind that features an anterior cut rather than a posterior cut. This type of replacement is supposed to allow the individual to recover in days rather than weeks.
My father was so hopeful, so excited at the thought of regaining a measure of independence. His walking had slowed down to mincing steps. He always lived a high-octane life, a highly independent life, up until the last year. He feared falling. We feared his falling. Neither he nor my mother were able to walk well, both were falling frequently. Heaven forbid that either one would give in and use a cane. That might mean they were getting old.
If positive thinking were a magical cure, Dad's surgery would have been a flying success. As it happened, the top of his femur broke off during the replacement surgery and his hopes were dashed. He lives with complete adrenal insufficiency, so his daily steroid dependency had weakened his bones over the years.
Rather than walking within a day, Dad was told that he could not touch his toe to the ground for 8 weeks. He did not want to go to a rehabilitation center. In his mind, it meant "nursing home," and the thought of a nursing home simply gave him the heebie jeebies.
We convinced him that he had to go for a brief time, that he would be able to get the therapy he needed on site much easier than he could receive it in his home. Mom had knee replacement surgery three weeks prior and wasn't doing well at all. She couldn't drive, he couldn't drive. My baby was due (and came) within 3 weeks. He didn't have much choice but to enter the rehab center.
I drove the 30 minute drive over several times to be able to be with Dad for his therapy sessions.
The male therapist was good at his job, good with his patients. He was a big guy, focused on his work, kind and empathetic yet pushing those who were capable to do as much as they were able to do.
I watched my Dad as he flexed and lifted his good leg and then his bad, striving to lift higher and further with each repetition.
I watched the therapist lift my father from his wheelchair to the work-out table. Dad's so little. I wish that you knew him, you would understand what I mean. Five foot tall, one hundred and fourteen pounds in a hospital gown. He's the size of my 12 year old daughter, but he's barrel chested and as strong as an ox. He never had legs, he had pistons. His steps beat a specific stacatto down the street of our small town. You could always hear Dad coming.
As the therapist's arms wrapped round my father's chest, from back to front, under his arms, I watched my father's face. I did not understand the look at first.
I expected embarrassment, perhaps. He does not like to be weak. I thought maybe he would be discouraged. It is, after all, hard to get old and the surgery did not turn out as he'd so highly hoped.
What I saw instead was, a man who was reveling in praise of another man. I saw the little boy, now old, whose father died when he was an infant. I saw the boy, who was raised by a kind but distant grandfather; the boy who never heard the words "I love you" from an older, stronger male. Raised in a different time, a time where love was tough and affection was not easily shown, my father was enjoying something he'd not had much of in his life. He had plenty of discipline, but not the warmth. He was receiving positive attention from a strong male presence in his life. The man wrapped him in a bear hug and praised him, and he beamed. The man praised him, and he nearly worked his muscles into a panic to please.
Boys need men in their lives. Apparently, this need, this power for good and affirmation from men to boys, from fathers to sons never goes away. Maybe this need is more apparent if it has never been met, yet barely noticeable if it has. My father came to the point after two weeks where he really did not want to leave the rehab center. It had nothing to do with needed care and everything to do with the boost his spirit received from male bonding and affirmation from a male role model. It explained many things, and gave me, the mother of six sons, much to think about.
Men, you have no idea of the powerful role you have in the lives of your sons and in the lives of other men. It is a power that apparently, never fades away.