The last time I made my dad matzo brei, my hands shook uncontrollably. So much so, I could barely crumble the matzos into large pieces. Tears collected behind my eyes, the pressure stifling. I placed the crackers into a colander, running cold water over the matzos until they were wet, but not too soft—the right texture to mix with eggs, salt, and a generous amount of butter. We'd just returned home from my grandmother’s funeral. I was shaken from it, surely, but I was especially weighed down with the realization that my dad, too, will one day not be here.
Obviously, this is a given. No one will "be here" forever. Even still, reaching that state of awareness is somewhat startling. Parents are like superheroes. They never age, until they do. They’re invincible, until they’re not. My dad is no different.
Born in 1945, my dad is 71 years old. He was 48 when I was born (and 51 for my younger sister). Which is to say, he’s a good bit older than every other dad I knew growing up--a detail I was never not aware of. When a teacher or classmate found out his age, the response was always the same, “Wow, he looks so young!” That was true. I knew my dad was older, but it didn’t matter to me.
That was until about 12 years ago when he developed shingles. If you ever had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the nerve tissues near your spinal cord and brain and, years later, can re-emerge as an even angrier, older sibling: shingles. That's what happened to my dad. It materialized in the form of an excruciating rash and blisters, causing nerve damage in my dad's shoulder that required surgery to repair. Despite thinking the scar that snaked down his bicep was chic and wanting to try on his navy-colored sling (as any kid my age would)—at that point, I realized I hadn’t seen my dad helpless before.
The next time I saw him like this was after he had surgery on his nose to fix a deviated septum. To put it simply: My dad snores—badly. The surgery was supposed to correct that. But in fact, did nothing but cause his snoring to raise to freight train decibel and make it hard for him to breath. He was bedridden for weeks.
Then, a couple years ago, my dad brushed far too close to death the night before Thanksgiving. Standing on the side of the road talking to another driver who skid on ice and rear-ended us, I watched as an SUV hit the same ice patch, losing control and careening into him. Somehow, he managed to partially climb on top of the other car. And, somehow, walked away from the ER with little more than a bruised knee to show for it all. It's no wonder we default to thinking parents are indestructible...they're exceptionally talented at playing the part.
But since that night, I’ve had recurring nightmares about losing my dad. I wake up crying and shaking, yelling myself out of sleep. They’ve gotten worse as I see his hair turn grey, his posture become more hunched, his gait shakier, and a cold threaten to send him to the hospital. Each of these details is a reminder my dad isn’t superhuman.
Last month, my dad found out he will have to have knee surgery this September. It’s something, I know, that will be better for him in the long-run. He winces when he walks. My mom calls him “gimpy,” as he limps around trying to get the dogs to chase after him. Hopefully, the procedure will fix all of that. But, at the same time, I fear that this is indicative of what will soon be steady decline in his physical health. That this will be the first surgery of many for my dad. And the fact that I live approximately 14 hours and 933 miles away from him makes swallowing this exceptionally difficult.
If I could be with him this year for Father's Day, I’d make my dad matzo brei, his favorite breakfast. We’re not Jewish, but my dad finds the idea of putting crackers and eggs together ingenious. Sometimes he’ll eat it with ketchup, other times with raspberry preserves, and (like me) he oftentimes enjoys it with nothing more than a bit of cracked pepper on top.
If I could give my dad anything on his day, it would be this. We'd sit on the couch, matzo brei in our laps, watching a recording of the previous night’s Saturday Night Live. For a little bit, even if it was just while our plates were full, there wouldn’t be any surgeries or worrying. It would be just my dad and me—my superhero, as always.
Point being, if you have the opportunity to make your dad a meal this year, take a moment to appreciate the gift that it is and do it. And if your dad doesn't like matzo brei as much as mine, here are some more Father's Day breakfast ideas: