I had a secret game I played with my sleeping Dad, way back when my parents’ bed was too high to climb onto, but I was old enough to climb out of my own bed and cruise the house in the early hours. I woke up first in our family of six, and loved to creep around the house in my little yellow footie pajamas.
I would silently pad across the hall to my parents’ bedroom, to Dad’s side of the bed, and standing up tall, I would reach up and gently place just the tip of my little index finger into the palm of his hand, lightly brushing or tapping his skin. After a few taps, he would quickly close his hand, grasping my hand in his. He was always so gentle that I could pull my hand back, thus “escaping” his grip. Then the game was on, and I would repeatedly tap my finger on his palm, pulling arm back just in time to avoid getting caught. Over and over. I was a very quiet kid, so I don’t think I made any noise during our secret game. He was so patient with me on those mornings, never ever swatted my hand away. He never let a tired morning sigh or groan escape. There was never a sign that he didn’t enjoy being woken up early in the dark by his preschool daughter.
I took the time to look at his hands growing up while he carved turkeys, cut the roast, raked the leaves, talked to his patients… noticing the shape of his carefully clipped fingernails, his knuckles and broad fingers. I memorized them over and over. They were strong hands with a strong ready grip on a fishing pole, golf club, steering wheel, or glass of beverage. He was quick to help others on with their coats, lend a guiding hand on someone’s back, or trim hedges in the yard for what seemed like hours on end.
I don’t remember how the game ended. Did Dad roll over and crack an eye open at me or roll the other way and go back to sleep? Did he get up to make breakfast? Or did I creep back to my room? I don’t know. It was all about the game, and his acceptance of my intrusion at that early hour, our secret silent game that we never spoke of. Ever.
Now his hands are liver spotted and not as muscular. It has been 30 years since he practiced, but the surgeon’s hands are still purposeful and focused. He is 88 years old, and gently brushes his teeth, takes his medicine, combs his hair, signs his name, grips his walker, and holds Mom’s hand with those hands.
He also reaches out for my arm to help him get settled into bed or stand up from the couch. He reaches out to my hands now. And I am so glad to be there. I wish I had more time to be there to hold his hand and help him in these darker days. I am not going to turn away from his hands.