I Become a Father, Again, Sunday June 19, 2011

I acquired another offspring on Father’s Day. It is ten in the morning as I am writing this. Last night there was a horrendous storm that passed through the area in the middle of the night, so much thunder that it totally disoriented my almost-deaf dog (she pee’d in an inappropriate place). There was enough lightning outside to look like fire from behind our drawn blinds. Both my wife and I were awakened by the thunder, even my doggie, and the lightning looked like the sky was on fire. Or the house next door (I checked).

In the morning my wife went to gather in the morning papers and she found on the grass, next to the papers, a tiny tiny baby bird that must have fallen from the tree above. We checked the tree above for signs of a nest or a searching mother bird but couldn’t locate either.

Aside: Tribute to my Daddy

When I was a little boy, we lived on a street in a little house with a screened in back porch. It’s what I remember most about the house. The back porch was mine. I kept animals on the porch and my parents assented. My father even brought me a white doctor’s coat with a head mirror to strap on my forehead and I ate breakfast with him every day in the summer and then we both went off to work. I searched the neighborhood for animals to nurse on my back porch. I had many birds and even developed a relationship with the local humane society who would assist me in my activities. I honor my father especially on this day for participating in my fantasy. I should have become a veterinarian and I probably would have if my dog Ralph had not gotten shot on the morning of my Russian Intellectual History exam (see below).

On Father’s Day, cont’d:

My wife asked me what should we do? I know what to do, I said. We looked it up on the internet anyway. I made a shoe box, heated it up, put holes in it, gently placed the bird in the cotton nest and fed it with a chop stick. The bird ate like crazy, its eyes opening and closing, its mouth gaping to ingest the chopped up cat food and water.

We kept feeding it every half hour and then found a wild bird rescue house not far from our own, called them up, and sure that we couldn’t find its nest or mother, took the birdie over there.

Took the Birdie to the Rehabilitation Center. It turned out to be a wonderful place with 200 birds they were nursing back to health. Our bird was starving and the added wonder is our bird is a Flicker, or a woodpecker! Everyone seemed surprised about that, I surely was, since I had not seen a woodpecker in our front yard but Susan thinks she has. This is turning out to be a more exciting story and they welcomed our little bird and if the bird grows, they will try and return it to our tree from where it came.

Aside: Doc Elliot or My Dog Got Shot

Ralph was my inheritance at the University of Michigan. I moved into an apartment on Thayer Street that Ralph [and his consort Francine] never left. Every morning I would go off to class and Ralph and Francine would wander around Ann Arbor. They were both hounds of some kind. Francine disappeared. Ralph’s owner gave up on taking Ralph home so I assumed ownership of Ralph. Ralph was not a dog to be owned, however, and we led independent existences but Ralph followed me around for the next five years or so. I don’t think anyone ever really owned Ralph.

My last year in Ann Arbor Ralph and I shared a single room upstairs on S. University Avenue. A complete dump — I paid $50 a month. A couple of my window panes were Sam’s Levi plastic shopping bags. The dog would wander around all day and return in the evening. He would stand on the porch a floor below and bark when he returned. He had a ferocious bark. That was the routine, no questions asked, no attachments, but he returned every night, extremely loyal in some no expectations Buddhistic, unattached way (I wish I had conducted all my relationships this way).

He was somewhat wild, Ralph, unintegrated to social life in Ann Arbor and not the kind of animal that would take to a leash or Frisbee on the Diag[onal]. He fought a lot with larger dogs that all the fraternities owned so I worked out a deal with a country horse doctor named Doc Elliot, near Ypsilanti, who appreciated Ralph for who he was and respected the kind of relationship we had.

My last year in Ann Arbor I was able to get into Dr. Mendel’s Russian Intellectual History class, which was one of the most popular classes on campus and it took me until the last year to get in. We read all the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, in addition to the philosophers, etc., and his lectures were brilliant and the class eye-opening, challenging, startling, life-changing I might even say – for me. I worked very hard in the class and Dr. Mendel limited enrollment and I was poised for an A of the noblest nature.

Dr. Mendel was notorious for high standards, no compromise, no exceptions. The morning of the final (it was at 9:30 AM) Ralph came wandering in at 9 AM and sat facing the corner of my room. Ralph, I said, turn around. He wouldn’t turn around. Ralph, I said, come here. He sat facing the corner.

I went over to him and tried to turn him and he yelped and my hand was covered with the blood that was issuing from what looked liked his right front leg. I got some warm water and a towel and cleaned out (the best I could) what looked like a puncture. I had to make a decision.

Blood was still issuing from the wound so I threw Ralph into the car that the girl who used to live downstairs had left to me when she split for California (the Sixties), and drove out to the countryside near Yspilanti and Doc Elliot.

Doc Elliot took one look and felt around, gave him a shot, and a couple of minutes later came back with a bullet he took out of Ralph’s leg. Your dog’s been shot, Doc Elliott said in his typically abbreviated horse doctor way.

It was already about noon. I asked Doc Elliot if I could use his phone and called Dr. Mendel. I had never talked to him personally before. I reached him.

Dr. Mendel, this is James Goodman, I’m a student in your Russian Intellectual History class. I missed the final this morning, I’m so sorry. I loved the class completely but – well – my dog got shot.

Your dog got shot. . . Dr. Mendel repeated slowly, I thought maybe he was mocking me.

I pushed on: My dog got shot. Yes sir. In the leg. I’m with Doc Elliot right now.

Mr. Goodman is it? Well, Mr. Goodman, generally a final is not made up unless there is a medical emergency. Your medical emergency. But your dog got shot? That’s good. Can you get in here this afternoon and take the exam?

Yes sir. I took the test later that day. I received an A, by the way, in the class and I have never lost my love for the nineteenth century Russian novel but the reality of caring for animals clarified for me.

Aside #2:

Twenty years passed from the adventure with Ralph, Doc Elliot and Russian Intellectual History. I had gone on to an abbreviated career in puppetry and wild animal training a graduate degree in Classics and rabbi school. I was now a father.

Ralph had not integrated well into suburban Detroit home life with my father and mother so I had found a place for him with a hunter in upstate New York.

I was living in St. Louis, Missouri, when my third child was born with a series of medical problems. We had contacted a gifted surgeon in Ann Arbor who offered a surgery that was not offered in our area so we decided to take our little one to the University of Michigan for the surgery.

The surgery was serious and we were in the hospital in Ann Arbor for a good week. Every day I would go to the local Chabad to pray the daily prayers anonymously, I just wanted to say the prayers and get back to the hospital. One day I went for the afternoon prayers and the rabbi asked me if I would like to stay around for a short meal afterwards. Sure, I said.

He sat me at the head table with himself, though I had not introduced myself to him or anyone and no one there knew me. That evening was a special meal honoring one of their benefactors who had passed away.

During the course of the meal, they described the man they were honoring and it was Dr. Mendel, the Russian Intellectual History teacher mentioned above. I was sitting with his wife at the table.

I started to tell her the story, twenty years ago, about my memory of her husband and when I got to the part of My Dog Got Shot I realized I was too deep into the story to get out effortlessly. I felt like an idiot for telling this ridiculous tale at the dinner table to his wife honoring her husband.

And what are you doing now? She asked me.

I told her I was here for the surgery of my child.

You are still taking care of creatures that cannot take care of themselves, she said sweetly, which is why I include Aside #2 in this story.

It’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to all of you Daddies who began your fatherliness just that way – taking care of beings that could not, in the beginning, take care of themselves.

I often regretted not becoming a veterinarian or something like that, but then again, I persist in my essential nature witnessed by the bird story that began this Father’s Day.

That’s all for now.

jsg, usa