I’ll say one thing about my dad – for a man whose idea of overwhelming affection is a hearty handshake, he’s completely unfazed by the more intimate details of physical existence.
Over the years he’s held my head over the toilet bowl as I vomited with the alarming vehemence of all small children bringing up their dinner, helped my mom take showers post-surgery because she didn’t feel comfortable with a home nurse, held my uncooperative brother down so he could get his shots, uncomplainingly bought lingerie and sanitary products when asked, and never allowed his natural squeamishness (if he has any) to get in the way of gathering important information such as the consistency of stool samples.
When my mother tells me her tummy hurts, I ask her if she’s been to the doctor yet. I don’t really need the details, which I wouldn’t understand in any case. When my mother tells my father her tummy hurts, he interrogates her extensively on the current state of her digestive system before doing anything else. He not only wants the details, he’s conducting research for a long talk with the doctor, the pharmacist, and however many nurses he can get to talk to him, at the end of which exercise he will arrive at a decision as to whether my mother is mildly sick, seriously ill or just plain faking it to make his life miserable despite her outraged assurances to the contrary.
You can always tell when he’s been spending too much of his time worrying about my mother’s health – it’s when he stops discussing the intimate details of other people’s health issues the way people of a certain vintage do, and starts talking about ours. It’s never pleasant to hear about other people’s struggle with cancer or general decline or lingering death from a mysterious disease that was later revealed to be the common flu or something equally innocuous that went undiagnosed thanks to the doctor’s incompetence. But it is uncomfortable on an entirely different level to sit in an acquaintance’s living room and listen to an extended discourse on explosive diarrhea and the many challenges it can present.
Perhaps it’s generational or maybe as you get older you become so used to your body’s constant complaints, you no longer feel the need to keep certain information to yourself because you know everyone around you is either similarly afflicted or will be at some point in the future. There is no longer any need to pretend your intestines are gas-free, that your poop doesn’t stink and indeed arrives in neatly wrapped packages that flush discreetly down the drain, your body is virgin territory for infection of any sort (especially funky ones that spread), you’ve never so much as heard of halitosis and every single one of your joints is in perfect, flexible, sexy condition.
I still feel, however, that this is no excuse for Daddy to walk into a supermarket, dial my number, hold his phone inches away from his face in typical fashion, and then proceed to yell at the top of his voice:
WHAT SORT OF SANITARY NAPKIN DID YOU SAY YOU WANTED? BRAND X, BRAND Y OR BRAND Z? BRAND Z? WHY DON’T YOU BUY BRAND X? IT LOOKS LIKE A BETTER PRODUCT AND IT APPEARS TO BE A FAST SELLING ITEM.
Strong opinions are a family failing.
[Tangentially, Nicholas Kristof]