Tag Archives: Fathers and Daughters

A Blessing in Disguise: My Postponed Petscan and Our Difficult Summer

15 Aug

WIN_20131105_064915If you’re doing the math and paying scrupulous attention to my scanning schedule, then you’ve probably noticed that I am a few months behind on my biannual scanathon (scansation, scancapade?).  In truth, if you are doing the math and paying attention to those kinds of details, you probably need to develop some hobbies to pass your time more pleasantly….but I digress.  Over the spring, several friends and family suggested I ask the oncologist if I really needed to be seen twice a year, or could we move to an annual scan schedule.  He did not go for it, and suggested I have the PET in August instead of June.  At the time a two month reprieve felt like a pretty lame consolation prize, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

As some of you know, May and June were an incredibly difficult time for the West Coast Greenbergs. July and much of August were no picnic either, but May and June were brutal. For those who have followed our family’s comings and goings on Facebook, you know that Amy was terribly ill with pancreatitis, a brutally painful condition that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  Seriously, over the course of my life I have only witnessed three people suffer tremendous physical pain. I have a friend who went through extended and unbelievable suffering with some slipped discs in his lower back.  In my father’s last days he suffered greatly from pressure in his brain brought on by a relentless advance of melanoma, and then there’s Amy’s suffering brought on by an inflamed pancreas whose own enzymes were eating away at its tissue.  Just awful. Her’s may have been the worst suffering I have ever witnessed.  

Amy’s illness required a lengthy and arduous recovery. She had two extended stays in hospital, one for four days and one for ten. Both stays required lengthy fasts (the cure for pancreatitis is to give your pancreas a rest, and so Amy was on nothing but IV fluids for four or five days at a time).   She was forced to radically change her diet, dramatically reducing her fat intake and eliminating alcohol altogether.  She lost about 10% of her body weight, and she was out of work for more than a month. Her suffering was heartbreaking, her recovery slow and tense, and the whole experience has left both of us depleted and even a little depressed. There really are no words to express what it’s like to see the women you have spent the better part of your life with, the person you watched bring life into this world, be taken down so powerfully and painfully.  The first morning she was in the hospital, I burst into tears, and I have felt pretty unsteady ever since.  Naturally Amy felt even worse! The whole experience defies explanation, which may be why I have been so reluctant to blog about it.  Only now, over two months after her initial attack, has our family and its routines begun the return to normalcy (whatever that is).

Truth is, nothing about this summer has been normal. We entered this season knowing that towards its close Emma would leave us for a lengthy gap year program in Israel (9 months to be exact).  I am simultaneously thrilled and sad about this.  Thrilled because I think it is a wonderful opportunity for her to strike out on her own so far away from home, to learn new things, meet new people, and to understand what it’s like to live in what I have found to be a wonderful but difficult and frustrating country.  I am sad for a number of reasons, including the fact that the physical distance between us will make all things more difficult, from being able to help her in a time of emergency to just talking on the phone.  I am sadder still because her departure signals the end of an era in our lives.  No matter what happens when Emma returns, if she stays with us for a few more years, or if she heads off to a school a great distance from us, we are fast approaching the moment when our daughter’s interests, employment, and commitments will become more pressing to her than time spent with us.  To be clear, I am not saying that Emma will not dedicate time to her parents, maybe even a lot of time.  Still, I’ve been where she is now.  So many things compete for our attention and interest as we become adults—friends, partners, school, work schedules, children.  These things become all-consuming and make demands of us that often tear us away from our closest and most immediate family. I miss the days when Amy and I were Emma’s whole world—her teachers, protectors, and caretakers, her most hilarious entertainment, her tour guides through life, and her most comforting security blankets. No doubt our relationship began to change years ago, but her upcoming departure (less than two weeks from the time I wrote this piece) has reinforced just how fluid and uncertain our roles in Emma’s life have become.

Ultimately, not having my scan in June turned out to be a blessing.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to add the stress and worry that invariably accompanies my scan (no matter how confident I am of its positive outcome) with the tremendous stress and worry we all felt about and for Amy and the difficult mix of joy, sadness, and uncertainty that surrounds Emma’s trip to Israel.  Nevertheless it has to be done, and it will be soon enough.  Per his request, I recently texted my oncologist. The imaging office called me a few days later to set up the appointment.  September 2nd is my carb free day, and my scan takes place early on the 3rd.  The results show happens sometime the following week, and shortly thereafter, God willing, Scantasia, our semiannual celebration of what I hope will be continued good news.  

By that time, Amy, Emma, and I will be about a week into our new lives, each of us trying to adapt to the significant shift in our family dynamic.  The one thing that I know that will not change is our love for each other.  When I told Emma of my impending scan, she insisted that I call her the minute I get the results.  That request was extremely comforting, and naturally I will reach out to her and the rest of my family the minute I hear the news.  Shortly after that, I will tell all of you.  Your continued prayers and words of support mean a great deal to me.  Now, more than ever, everyone in my family could use some good wishes and positive vibes. 

As always….stay tuned.


She’s Leaving Home

7 May

About a month ago, Amy and I took our daughter to the airport for her first solo trip across the continent.  For a little more than a week, Emma exchanged one set of crazy family members on the West Coast for a set of equally crazy family members in the New York Tri State area.  No big deal, right?  She’s 18, perfectly capable of getting around on her own, and she was in good hands with our family back East—at the very least she was in no worse hands than if she were right here at home with her meshuganah  parents.   But as we walked her to the security line at LAX (an airport I despise almost as much as I hate the wildly inconvenient JFK in New York), I became a little melancholy, a little clingy, and even a little weepy.  To be clear, I didn’t have a full blown meltdown—nothing like it.  Instead, I found myself balancing on that emotional razor’s edge between the great joy and pride I feel for the young woman my daughter has become, and the great melancholy I feel for the loss of our little girl who has, seemingly in the blink of an eye, disappeared from view. 

For a few years, now, it seems that my entire relationship with Emma is a balancing act, a joyous, frustrating, reassuring, and unsettling effort to figure out the shifting borders of parental and filial authority, accountability, knowledge, expertise, and wisdom, while simultaneously reassuring each other of our mutual love.  She is a bright, confident young woman with an impressive range of interests, tastes, and passions, and I am a somewhat overly sensitive, frequently anxious, and excessively self-reflective middle aged man who, up until recently, was accustomed to being her teacher, mentor, and (in conjunction with my wife, of course)  undisputed authority on expectations concerning her conduct and behavior.  Perhaps I am fooling myself on that last part, but at least Amy and I had the power to reward and punish into Emma’s mid-teens. 

Today our roles are fluid.  Frequently, Emma is my teacher.  She has introduced me to the joys of spoken word poetry, Buzzfeed, and Dr. Who.  She has opened my eyes to the difficulties and indignities suffered by young women, and she has helped me better understand the range of social-sexual categories claimed by a generation of young women and men who refuse to be pigeon-holed into society’s expectations of hetero and homo sexuality.  I am continually impressed by the depth of her intellect and emotional intelligence.  That is not to say that I have nothing to offer in return.  I do.  Emma still has much to learn about deli, pizza, and, of course, cookies.  Like my father before me, I have introduced her to the joys of classical music and opera.  I struggle mightily to turn her into a proper New York Giants fan, but, sadly, to no avail. Since, at different times, I have been a very bad and a very good student, and a teacher, I have many lessons to offer about the right and wrong ways to get through college, about communicating with her professors, proper study habits, doing research, critically assessing sources, and developing a more sophisticated “written voice.”  And, most significantly, Amy and I spend a fair amount of time teaching Emma to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility and self-direction, while sharing with her the difficult ironies and sometimes harsh realities of life.

Precisely how we share these lessons with Emma, and how much credence she is willing to give to our words of wisdom, has become a source of uncertainty and contention.  For several years, now, our parental authority has diminished, as Emma develops her own insights into and opinions on what is appropriate, right, and fair.  She is an Angeleno, and like so many born and raised in this city, her sense of time and punctuality are at odds with mine (native Angelenos are routinely late).  We frequently bicker over what time she should leave the house in order to get somewhere on time. We differ over the relative urgency of a range of issues from the cleanliness of her car and room, to the appropriate amount of time it takes to respond to e-mails.   And when our opinions differ, we clash—emotions run high, arguments ensue, and feelings get hurt (sometimes hers and sometimes mine).   Moments of anger and frustration are soon followed by moments of deep sadness and regret (at least on my end…I can’t speak for Emma).  And while Emma continues to give every indication that she will be an extraordinary adult, something inside me continually worries about how she will make her way in the world.  Those worries lead to criticisms, which I know annoy her.  But for God’s sake, I’m her father, how can I hold my tongue?  I am sure that Emma, and probably Amy, would tell me that it’s quite easy and that I should just shut my big mouth every once in a while.

Added to all of these fears, frustrations, and anxieties is the reality that Emma will leave us soon. Her trip to New York was the first in what will be a series of departures.  This August she will leave for a nine month gap year program in Israel.  Her return to Los Angeles, and to our home, will be a temporary respite from her ongoing journey, as she will no doubt leave us for college, work, and, someday, to start her own family.  That knowledge fills each exchange, each laugh, each hug, each argument, each tear, each moment with a sense of urgency and importance that both frightens and excites me.   My daughter is entering a new phase in her life, a phase that has diminished, and will continue to diminish, my ability to influence, inform, and (of greatest significance) protect her.  As we continue down our respective paths, any relationship we have will be driven far more by mutual choice than mutual obligation.

Naturally, I have been on the other side of that relationship dynamic.  Like all parents and children, my folks and I went through a fairly tumultuous transition period, one that didn’t really get sorted out until my mid-thirties.  I was pretty obnoxious to them, and in some ways my continued residence in LA well after it became clear that I stood almost no chance of succeeding in the entertainment business was a way for me to avoid them.  Today, of course, I live here because of all the personal and professional networks we’ve established in the City of Angels, but I feel and regret the great physical distance that separates me from my East Coast family quite keenly.  This was particularly true when my dad was dying, but the feeling continues to trouble me as I watch my mother and I, both, get older.  I really wish that I had come around sooner, that I had come to see one of the most important facts about the relationship between parents and children, namely that our time together is a great gift and is limited by forces well beyond our control.  I have tried to convey this and other important lessons to Emma, and I think she gets it.  Nevertheless, as I watch her begin her journey into adulthood, I begin to wonder if she will want to spend time with me as I age and decline. 

When I share these thoughts with the parents of grown children, they remind me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for a world without us.  One memorable discussion with the parent of two kids in their late twenties directed me to the insights of the great poet Khalil Gibran.  In his epic poem, The Prophet, Gibran tells us the following about the relationship between parents and children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I suspect I could have just shared these verses at the beginning of this essay and been done with my post.  While I cannot say for certain that the words are true, they somehow say so much about the great paradox of parenting, a riddle that gets more confusing every day.

As always….stay tuned.