Father’s Day this year had echoes from the past. It was a lovely day that included kayaking and a yummy dinner topped off with a chocolate angel food cake frosted with chocolate ganache. The pièces de résistance was a zoom call with our four grown children and their partners.
The echoes came later that night. Rabia, our dog, had developed a little cough on Friday that continued to get worse over the weekend. We had already decided to call the veterinarian on Monday morning when, in the middle of the night, she suffered a sustained coughing fit.
If you have ever heard a dog cough then you know how distressing it is – for you and the poor dog because neither of you know what’s happening. In the dark wee hours she came in and stood coughing by my side of the bed. “Hey, human, do something about this,” she seemed to plead.
I got up, took her into our smallest bathroom, closed the door behind us, turned on the hot water, and waited for the magic of steam. Sure enough, it worked. I don’t know if she thought, “Hey, human, that was pretty cool” or “Huh, you sure are weird.” Either way, she went back to her pillow.
Twenty minutes later she was back, that awful awful cough ending with a gag issuing from the darkness beside my bed. Clearly the strange malady possessing her was also igniting anxiety, which in turn made the coughing worse. That is how it goes with this dog in all situations – anxiety is the primary staple of her emotional diet.
What I did next seems ridiculous and unimaginable to me in the light of day. I took her into the living room, unrolled my yoga mat, and laid on the floor.
As expected, she curled up next to me and relaxed. The coughs erupted off and on through the remainder of the night, as did snores arising from where I laid on my back. But as long as I stroked her and stayed connected, she relaxed and the coughs sputtered away. When the sun rose so did we.
It occurred to me through the fog of that morning that I learned such behavior from fatherhood. Just like most other fathers (and mothers) I spent many nights rocking a sick child on my chest while falling asleep in a recliner. The act of cleaning up projectile vomiting in the middle of the night, changing the bed, and singing a frightened and miserable child back to sleep, makes dog-lounging seem like a piece of cake (but not chocolate angel food!). As wretched as Father’s Day night was this year, it was also a gift of memory.
As fathers (and mothers), we do things that from a distance sound awful, ridiculous, and horrid. Yet somehow they just get woven into the gift of loving. Unpleasant at the time, mysteriously, almost magically, such acts grow your heart a bigger size.
Postscript: Rabia went to the veterinarian on Monday and received medicine for kennel cough (for which she had already been vaccinated). So, other than some lost sleep, all is well.