This is embarrassing. I don’t exactly know how my father died.
I was at a doctor’s appointment last week, and because I was a new patient, I was asked to fill out a bunch of paperwork. Afterward, a nurse walked me through a family history questionnaire. When it was time to share my father’s medical history, I hesitated and then said:
“I know he had a heart attack (that he survived), and I know he was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma (that was treated). I think the cancer came back after several years of remission, and I assume it spread and became incurable.”
My father died when I was 18 months old. I remember my mother talking to me countless times about his death while I was growing up, but the memories are blurry. Retaining information about my father’s cause of death was never a priority. As a kid, just being fatherless was tough enough because anything that makes you different makes it more difficult to be just like everyone else, which, of course, is what you’re striving for in elementary school.
Today, I wish I had listened more closely back then. Now, being parentless, I am confronted with an issue that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “the fading problem”.
If my mother were around, I would’ve called her for the answer to the nurse’s question. Two months ago when I had a sinus infection, and I couldn’t remember which antibiotic caused me to break out in hives when I was 10 years old, I could’ve used her help too. Last week when I had an urge to make chocolate cake – not just any chocolate cake, but the really rich kind with powdered sugar sprinkled on top that my grandmother taught my mother to make – I resorted to a couple handfuls of peanut M&Ms. Because without my mother, I was without a recipe.
Now I don’t want you to think that my family history and sacred recipes are lost forever – There’s an old shoebox with typed Rolodex cards with recipes somewhere in a special storage attic in Maryland. And what I’m fuzzy about concerning my father’s medical past, I make up for tenfold regarding my mother’s medical experiences!
But without either parent around to remind me of things, it sometimes feels like my family blueprint (a figurative genetic code of sorts) is fading along with all the tucked-away recipe cards in the storage attic.
That said, the fading family blueprint is not something that’s top of mind every day, nor does it significantly impact my mood. Never has someone stopped me in the street and said, “Quick! When did your paternal grandfather die, and was your father a light to moderate smoker in his twenties?”
And lastly, to compensate for my mourning of the chocolate cake recipe, I’m creating my own recipes and traditions that I will eventually pass down to my children one day. And knowing that makes me content.
(I just hope they like tofu stir-fry as much as I liked Mom’s chocolate cake.)