John Otterbacher
Author, Speaker and Adventurer

A Father’s Grace

My heart is talking to me tonight. The ache in my chest takes me back to my father, an

 evening together twenty years ago. We are watching TV in my parent’s living room. Dad’s heart

is damaged but it is not what will kill him. The Parkinson’s he has lived with for fifteen years is

closing in around him, taking him over. His world is literally bursting into flames, larger and

larger doses of medication distorting his perceptions.

              His hand flutters up from rest in his lap, gesturing at an eruption of fire on the rug in

front of the TV. 

              “Do you see that?” turning to me in alarm. 

              “It’s the meds, Dad. The meds.”

              I know about fire by now.  I have seen my own life burst into flames.  First a heart

attack, mild by unexpected.  Three months later, another.  After surgery, another.  Not my

father’s struggle with tremors that will only get worse, but fire nonetheless.

              “It’s okay, Dad,” reaching across to take his hand and smile reassurance.

              “Supper’s on,” Barbara calls from the kitchen where she and the kids are helping my


              I get out of the chair and stand in front of my dad.  He takes my extended hands

reluctantly, then hangs on tight, a proud man embarrassed by his inability to get out of a chair


              I step aside when he gets to his feet.  He staggers a bit, then reaches some tenuous

equilibrium.  I walk just behind him as he shuffles around his chair, through the dining room

and into the kitchen. We breathe a collective sigh of relief when he plops safely into his seat at

the table.

              I sit down across from him, a place I have relished since childhood.  Eating with my

father is a primetime event.  He doesn’t just like food – he adores it.  I’m not sure he would win

an eating contest with our dog Finnigan, but it would be neck and neck at the finish line.

              Dad lights up when the platters arrive. His lips move eagerly as his plate is filled,

silverware in hand.  Then he’s all in, first forkful making its tremulous way mouthward, food

falling off as it goes, shaking aggravated by annoyance, scraps tumbling down into his lap.  He

throws what is left on the fork into his mouth, then glares down into his lap with disgust.  The

muscles tighten in his jaw.  He exhales indignation.  He looks up at me, mouth set, and shakes

his head in frustration.  I get it, Dad.  Then the beginning of a grin – How does he do that? – a

smirk and a nod, all smile now, eyes flooding with warmth.

              We collapse into our chairs in the living room after dinner and listen in silence to the

clatter of dishes from the kitchen.  We look at each other and smile our good fortune.  This is

what we have – plenty – in a small room filling up with flames.

              And this is what I have now on a still soft night, the easing ache in my

 chest.  The glacial erosion of age on body and brain, lunacy when vanity wants more.  Losses to

be sure, but small indeed, unlike anything my Dad had to deal with. 

              My father has passed now, but lives within me. 

              Can I learn to live with his grace?

                                                                                                          What Remains, page 33


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Awards for Sailing Grace

Best New Non-Fiction Book, National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist, Best Book Awards, USA Book News Winner, Michigan Notable Book Awards

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