John Otterbacher
Author, Speaker and Adventurer


My father’s world bursts into flames, larger and larger doses of medicine in a losing battle with Parkinsons. His hand flutters up from rest in his lap, gesturing in alarm at the eruption of flames on the rug in front of the TV across the living room.

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

“It’s the meds, Dad. The meds.”

I know about fire by now. I have seen my own life burst into flames. A heart attack, mild but unexpected. Three months later, another. And another. Not my father’s slow-motion descent – imprisonment in his withering neurology, the tremors that will only get worse.

Fire none-the-less.

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

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

I get out of my chair and stand in front of my dad. I extend my hands. He takes them reluctantly then hangs on tight, a proud man embarrassed by his inability to get out of a chair unaided.

I step aside when he gets on his feet. He staggers a bit at first, 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 down into his chair. An unsteady voyage to be sure, but no head-banging dive in the direction of the Frigidaire.

I sit down at the table 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 food. I’m not sure if he would win an eating contest with our dog Finnegan, 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, utensils in hand. He’s all in now, first forkful making its tremorous 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 directly at me, mouth set, shaking his head in frustration. I get it, Dad. Then the beginning of a grin – How does he do that? – eyes softening as it takes over his face. A smirk, a good-natured nod, another. All smile now, eyes flooding with warmth.

After dinner, over-eaters both, we collapse into our chairs in the living room. We listen in silence to the clatter of dishes from the kitchen, and smile our good fortune. This is what we have – plenty – in a small room filling up with flames.


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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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