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Cherishing An Outreached Hand — As A Father, And As A Son

Kevin Sullivan: "Even if my kids stop holding my hand tomorrow, we will eventually hold hands again. But by then, I’ll be placing my trust in them." (Brett Davies/flickr)
Kevin Sullivan: "Even if my kids stop holding my hand tomorrow, we will eventually hold hands again. But by then, I’ll be placing my trust in them." (Brett Davies/flickr)
This article is more than 4 years old.

My boys still hold my hand. They’re 7 and 10 years old, and I keep waiting, with dread, for the day when they stop. But for now, almost every day, I find their hands fluttering in the air, searching for mine, with a blind trust I feel I never really earned. Crossing the road. Walking through the grocery store. Darting through crowds at the ballpark. They grab my hand. I hold theirs.

And it feels great.

But I know one day when I put my hand out, they’re going to leave it hanging.

My boys still hold my hand. They’re 7 and 10 years old, and I keep waiting, with dread, for the day when they stop.

A friend once told me about his last time. His son was about 8 or 9, and they were crossing the street. He reached out his hand, but his little boy refused to take it. So my friend looked down and said, "Come on, this one last time." His son grabbed his hand. They crossed the street. And then, it was over.

Last month, I was leaving school with my 10-year-old and felt for sure he wouldn’t want his friends to see him walking down the street holding hands with his dad. But he reached out, threaded his fingers through mine, like always, and clutched my hand.

And it felt great.

So, I revel in it. Every time. Knowing that one day, probably pretty soon, he won’t reach out. He won’t need me in that way.

But recently I realized, I was wrong.

Even if my kids stop holding my hand tomorrow, we will eventually hold hands again. But by then, I’ll be placing my trust in them.

I realized this when I went home to Baltimore to visit my mother. She went into the hospital for a surgery related to her lung cancer — words I don’t like to say because the disease took my dad. Not right away, but ultimately.

After they removed the cancer, his lungs weren’t up to the job. All his energy was spent on breathing — processing oxygen. He shrank in front of our eyes, like the air coming out of a balloon. He became skinny. And his face withered. His ruddy, handsome, smiling face withered.

And eventually, he died.

So, I don’t say those words. At least I didn’t. But now, I have to.

When I got to the hospital, I was surprised. Shocked, really. My mom didn’t look withered. She looked good — like herself. She was in pain, but she didn’t look like someone who had gone through surgery. Like the air was coming out of her.

I caught up. Put my hand out. And [my mother] gently threaded her fingers through mine. Like when I was a little kid.

We talked about my brother’s new baby, about my new job. And finally, about Dad. How much he hated those damn breathing exercises. She probably doesn’t remember everything we said. The painkillers made her woozy and shot holes through her memory. But we talked, and then she rested.

When she woke up, she looked around, saw me and smiled. “We should go for a walk,” she said. It’s good to do that after surgery.

She wiggled out of bed, clasped her hospital gown around her, and headed for the door.

I caught up. Put my hand out. Andshe gently threaded her fingers through mine. Like when I was a little kid. She held my hand.

We walked down the hallway. And back.

And it felt great.

Related:

Kevin Sullivan Twitter Senior Producer, Here & Now
Kevin Sullivan was formerly Here & Now's senior producer.

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