The Case with “Michael.”

In this featured series we examine case stories that reflect the masculine identity of today. Follow these fictional case stories if you want to get wiser on the behavior of the modern man.
All cases will end with a question, concerning the dilemma, that you can comment on. The solution for that dilemma will be revealed in the following week.

This week we follow Michael’s dilemma concerning his father who’s terminally ill. Michael can’t figure out why he’s angry with his father rather than feeling pity for him under these dire circumstances. 

I’m tipping the driver in the cab. A modest amount but I had to give him something. A small reward for being silent in the cab. Driving without asking questions. Maybe he could tell on my face? That it wasn’t susceptible to words. Words of any kind, especially those of comfort. Comfort is false promise. Hope as well. And I didn’t need promises of any kind.

I remember I had to dig deep for my coins. My hands were a bit shaky, you see. I thought I pulled my act together but apparently I wasn’t ready for the second one. The second act …  the one where my father, who’s now in the hospital, tells me what verdict the doctor narrated from his chart. Cancer? Fuck. And what should I do after the verdict? Should I lean back into my chair? Dwell on it and then pass on my words, my false promises? The comfort and hopes? Those are just the obligatory pauses before the hammer starts to nail the coffin.

I exited the cab and grabbed hold of my bag. It was light and then it occurred to me: I forgot a present. Fuck! What could you give an old man in a hospital bed?

I entered the hospital, passed the sliding doors. There they were, all the women and men in white and green uniform. The priests and the grave diggers of today.

What do you mean by “priests and gravediggers of today”?

That they never really can tell you anything… that they hand out these verdicts that can shape your life with this clinical certainty. But the outcome is often different, so radically different.

Alright. Please, go on.

I managed to get his room number from Information and navigate through the maze. Push the elevator button to the 12th floor and wait—and wait. I got a bit angrier with every floor. By the time I reached the 12th my anger boiled and tears slowly ran down my… yeah.

Why were you angry, Michael?

(…)

Michael? Why were you angry?

He’d always badger me for not working hard enough. For being too lazy. He worked, from early hours and would come home after we went to bed. Sometimes, I would hear him making noise in the kitchen. The sound of a bottle being opened. He drank. A lot. He smoked – a lot. And he had the audacity to tell me to work harder, to be tough, to be… now, I’M walking down the hospital aisle, taking care of him. Taking time off work because he had to live in such a fucking stubborn manner. On his own fucking terms all the time. It drove my mom crazy. Well, it used to, she left him 3-4 years ago.

So you blame your father for his condition—for him being in the hospital?

I don’t know… No.

It sounds to me that you do.

Maybe…

Alright. What happened next?

I approached the room he was in and I froze. I stared at the room number outside the aluminum door. The number was “1203”. You know the feeling when you see a number, it can be any kind of number, and it stirs up a memory? For instance, every time I see the number 23 I’m reminded of my uncle, whom I visited very often when I was around ten. His house was on number 23.

So what memory did number 1203 stir up?

(…)

Michael, what memory did it stir up?

(…)

It’s OK, Michael. It’s OK.

No. It’s not OK. Not any of this, in here or out there, is OK. It’s all fucking bull shit. It’s not OK. None of this is fucking OK.!

What’s not OK, Michael? Finish that thought. What memory did the number stir up?

Alright… I was twelve and it was my birthday. I never enjoyed being the center of attention as a child which was, well, odd, since children are so consumed with their own world and shouting whatever that’s in that world to anyone who’s within their immediate vicinity. But my mom insisted and she persuaded me to invite a bunch of class mates and what have you. She couldn’t accept the fact that I only had one or two real friends. Luckily, they were present and I glanced at the table which was occupied by strangers. Strangers on your birthday is a peculiar thing. We’re under this spell, this odd-ball constellation that the birthday itself is our day and having strangers celebrate it with you, it’s so uninviting…

Anyway, they didn’t belong there. Any of them. And I remember we waited for my father. He had to work late again, as usual. I kept looking at my mom, observing her from afar. She was all over the place, organizing, cleaning up, but not in her usual “everything-has-to-be-so-neat” fashion but in an almost frantic way. I mean, kids don’t care, they’re just happy to eat cake, drink sodas and mess up the place. That’s what kids do, they mess up the place! So why couldn’t she just relax? Sit? Why did I have to witness my mom work herself senseless on my birthday?

Eventually my father showed up with a gift. It was a big box, big enough to make me forget how much I hated birthdays. I unwrapped it and it was …

(…)

What was it, Michael?

It was a water gun. A big, green water gun. The same gift as the one my mom gave just hours ago. She was furious. Apparently, they didn’t coordinate gifts. When I was 12 I knew, I knew my mother and father lived separate lives.

Number 1203 made you think of that memory?

Yes.

But you were born in September?

I know.

Are you sure the number was the trigger of all that? Not your impending visit with your father who’s ill?

I guess you’re right. It certainly would make more sense.

What happened next?

I calmed myself down, took a deep breath and entered the room. He had tubes, in and out. He looked weak. Gray. It wasn’t my father on that bed. It wasn’t that stubborn, hard-headed man who shaped my childhood. All I could see was a disease.

But was it cancer? Was it diagnosed?

We were still waiting for the results. A doctor suggested that it could be an array of age-related diseases. The toll his life had on his body has aged it prematurely.

Were you still upset with him, in that room?

Yes.

But he didn’t mean to get ill, it was a “force majeure”, an act of God. Why were you upset?

Don’t you think I know that? All reason speak against me being upset, being angry on an old man in a hospital bed. But I was. I feel horrible about it but I was so very angry… I still am.

Did you see or call Sophie after the visit?

Who?

Sophie, your mistress, did you call her after the visit?

No, I called my wife. Or, she called me, actually.

… but you did see Sophie afterwards? You wanted to see her immediately, more than ever.

You’re right. How did you know?  

I think, Michael, now is the time for us to really talk about your affair.

Why does the therapist want to discuss Michael’s situation of infidelity all of a sudden? Write your suggestion in the comment field. The answer will be revealed next week, and the best reader comment will be featured on the blog.