My heart sinks a little every time I hear it. It's dinnertime at my family's house, and my dad has retreated to the bathroom where my mom and I can hear him throwing up his half-eaten meal. My dad, who I love, hasn't been able to really enjoy a decent meal in years.
My mom and I are painfully, acutely aware of his day-to-day struggle: avoiding restaurants as much as possible, his frequent trips to the bathroom, his watery eyes and heaving breaths, clutching his stomach by the time he returns from the bathroom and makes it back to his half-eaten plate.
When he comes back, I always ask meekly if he's alright. And he always turns to me with the same shaky smile that doesn't reach his eyes, chirping reassuringly, "I'm fine!". Knowing that he feels the need to hide it somehow breaks my heart even more.
In 2004, my 5'7" father weighed 268 pounds and was diabetic. He was in a dire state. He'd struggled with his weight for years, but some devastating news from his doctor gave him the wake-up call he needed: if he didn't do something to drop the weight, he would, in all likelihood, die in five years.
So, in an act of ultimate love for himself — and under his doctor's stern recommendation — my dad underwent lapband surgery that same year. For the next several months, Dad attended nightly counseling sessions that all candidates are required to complete before they are considered for surgery.
After the surgery, his recovery looked positive. And soon after that, the pounds started to drop. Eventually his suits weren't so snug. And then they became loose to the point of not fitting him at all. Physically, he was in his best shape in years — but the positive transformation was only skin-deep. He wasn't able to eat the same portions at the same pace that he once did and he struggled daily with that. The doctors reassured us that he would acclimate eventually, as almost all patients do — but that hope started to dwindle when weeks turned into months and then into years.
The surgery changed the size of his stomach, but it didn't change his addiction to food. This is why candidates have to go through months of counseling before they are deemed fit for surgery. It's to prevent what happened to my father. Except it didn't. The person who goes under the knife isn't the same person who wakes up after the surgery.
Flash-forward to the spring of 2012: my mom's birthday. Dad was having a worse time than usual. He wasn't more than a bite into his food and he was hurrying down the hall. There wasn't a single meal my father could enjoy anymore. One bite too many, and he felt sick to his stomach.
One day, tears welling in my eyes, I asked him point-blank: "Dad, do you ever regret the surgery?" "Of course not," he replied. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be here to celebrate Mom's birthday."
What he said was true. Sure, his life was at stake, but somehow, I don't think that was his biggest motivator to get lap-band surgey. It was about something greater than himself. His biggest motivator was my mother. He wanted to dance with my mom in the kitchen without huffing. The devoted love he felt for my mother, whom he's been married to for 30 years, is what really drove him — and still does.
Even if his "act of love" transformed him in ways that were not entirely positive, he was willing to struggle through every bite of every meal of every day for the rest of his life — as long as he could share those meals together with her.
For the first twenty-something years of my parents' marriage, my mother's means of showing love for my father was making sure a hot, homemade meal was waiting for him by the time he came home to after eight hours at the office (not including cross-state commute, two hours and back by car). I wondered why she didn't give it up eventually; give in to quicker, less ambitious meals. But she still cooked; she was unwavering — every day, knowing he would be unable to eat it, but still cooking it just the same. The surgery had upheaved so much in their marriage, but their love stayed the same.
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