Wednesday, November 9, 2005

My father's voice

He's made it safely through brain surgery.  My father, that is.

Shot by a friend and photographer Dick Gotschall, this photo was taken last night after the operation. 

Location:  my father's hospital room at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio.  The nurses must have bent every rule in the book to make this photo happen.

Then again, why am I surprised?  People who meet my father think he is one of the nicest guys they've ever met. 

They probably would have done even more for him had he asked.  Seriously.

The photo includes (L-R) my Aunt Betty, Aunt Martha, Pastor Eugene Sommers, sister Marjorie Denlinger, brother Richard Denlinger, mother Magdalena Overholt, second sister Rose Miller. 

And, of course, at the center, the star of this whole show:  my father Earl Denlinger.  :-)

My father's operation went better than expected.  The shunt -- to drain the excess fluid causing pressure on his brain -- was installed successfully in a one and a half hour operation, as opposed to the four they planned.

The surgical team did one correction afterwards, going back in and taking a kink out of the shunt shortly after they finished the operation.

To the left, my family gathers around his bed.  I'm told my father was already cracking jokes as they shot the photo.  Such a kidder, he is.

My brother Richard reported that my father continued his recovery today, although he was in a great deal of pain, with some nausea.  All par for the course in this type of operation.

And the doctors plan to send him home on Thursday (today).

                         *     *     *

I've somehow been able to keep teaching here in Los Angeles across the last few days.

What was profoundly unexpected was the outpouring of support I got from fellow colleagues.  

On Monday night, I sent a short email out to all the faculty at my school requesting their thoughts and prayers for my father. 

In response over the last two days, I've received well over 30 emails and cards -- even one all the way from the East Coast from the founder of our school -- all expressing warm thoughts and prayers.  Gentle pats on my shoulders.  Quiet expressions of support from people I passed in the halls.

And so I taught for the past two days.

I imagined my father's life cradled in the energy field of God's grace as he went under the knife.

My father, who laughs so much, and who brings joy to the lives of those he touches. 

My father, a little frightened during our last phone conversation the night before, yet trusting with the same quiet faith that has nourished him over 70 years.

I am truly grateful and blessed. 

                        *     *     *

Several email responses to my last blog deserve to be posted here.  This one from a boyhood friend, Gerald Biesecker-Mast, a boyhood friend and communications professor at Bluffton College.

In the past couple of years, and especially in the past few weeks, I have actually thought about your father quite a lot.

I have been dwelling on a very particular memorythat of having been with you at your parents' place overnight, and rising on a Sunday morning to hear your father's voice reading the Scripture.

While the rest of us are getting dressed, combing our hair, and getting some breakfast, your father is surrounding us with the ancient words of Scripture.  He is speaking in a sacramental manner, a kind of chant.

I have thought about this memory partly because I am increasingly aware of how important the physical voice is in the revelation of the Divine.

I think that one of the great harms that fundamentalism brought about was our coming to understand Truth as some kind of disembodied abstraction  that we either accept or rejectlike the four spiritual laws.

And then the Bible is this Book that we look at privately, quietly, in the expectation of discovering little bits of turth that we can somehow apply to our lives.

But these texts are voices from of old, and they come to us from places that exceed our comprehension.  Our only chance of being transformed by these texts is to have them spoken to us, to listen to them, and then, of course, also to study and discuss them and argue about them.

I have started reading the Bible to my children, partly because of the memory of your father's voice.

Bless him.

                        *     *     *

And then three entries in direct response to my last blog entry.

The first again from Gerald.

I'm sorry that you still experience so much antagonism with your family and church background.

I realize how fortunate I am that my parents made a decision somewhere along the way (after they met my wife Sue, to be precise) to affirm my life's choices, even though these choices did not fit their original expectations.

I seldom have nightmares anymore, although just the other night I had one featuring bishop Fred Hostetler, my childhood nemesis.

I am fortunate to be working within a progressive wing of the Mennonite church, and to feel perhaps great continuity than your presently experience between the convictions that conservative Mennonites were trying to live out in a rather reactionary way, and the convictions that shape the church and academic community I presently work within.

                        *     *     *

Another from actor Bill Brown, who lives and works in Northeastern Ohio -- he's a fine writer about my father's age, who emails his throughts regularly.

You may recall that Lynn and I met your parents at the Lake High School opening of your stage adaptation of A Tale of Two CitiesThey were most cordial to us.  I got theimpression that they took some pride in what you had done.

But it is hard to overcome the disappointment of parents as to lifestyle.  I had one such experience with my father.  I was studying for the ministry and, indeed, had four quarters of study in seminary. 

I had been struggling for over a year as to whether I should continue and, after much prayer, thought and discussion with my wife and mentors, I elected to drop out of school.

I never had a quarrel with the church, nor did I dislike seminary.  I simply came to the realization that I was not called to the pastoral ministry.  And over the years I have come to realize that this was the right decision.

My father wrote me a three-page letter when I dropped out of school, saying essentially that not only was he crushed, but he felt others who were supporting my entrance into ministerial studies would also be hurt. 

We had a long discusssion about this in the Summer of 1998, and I think we made our peace on this issue.  He died a few months later so I was glad we talked. 

I believe that Pop was from a generation where the parents made plans for their kids and often were unhappy when the children didn't live out their dreams.

Although you may not be the conservative Mennonite your folks desired you to be, I still get the impression that, down deep, they love you and are proud of you.

                        *     *     *

And from Tamara Rosenberg, a fellow artist here in Los Angeles.

Just read your most recent blog entry and I feel compelled to comment.

You stated up front that you do not like to discuss your upbringing and yet, in this particular entry, you discuss it so eloquently, powerfully and poignantly.

I must insist that your greatest and most unique contribution as a writer could potentially spring forth from that which you most resist writing about.

In comparing your experience with one on par to a child of the Taliban, you crack the politicized walls separating "us" and "them." 

Repression is repression, no matter what literature you use to justify it and the resulting scars on society are essentially the same.  And it happens within our own boundaries in the same manner as it does abroad (though George, et al, would have us believe otherwise).

Forgive my impudence, but I'd feel remiss if I did not suggest that you expand upon your current thesis regarding the overall effects of any kind of fundamentalism and submit the resulting material for publication. 

The Atlantic Monthly comes to mind....

Best wishes,

                        *     *     *

And finally, from an essay I wrote in 1999 while I was still teaching at Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio.

Since childhood, I have loved hearing my father’s laughter.  An important part of dinner involved telling the latest jokes we hadheard. 

Dad always told the funniest ones, with the butt of the joke usually being himself, and he laughed harder than anyone else. There were even times when a joke was so funny that – and this is a literal report – he literally rolled on the floor laughing.

It took me several years of teaching before I realized that my father’s pedagogical methods really work.  Laughing and learning are not too far apart. 

Laughing at yourself is a requirement for any good teacher, sincestudents distrust anyone who takes himself or herself too seriously.  They want to see that their teacher is human before they will follow his or her example. 

So I’ve made humor part of my curriculum. 

Although my jokes don’t always work as well as my father’s did, my students are kind.  “At least you try to make jokes, Mr. Denlinger,” one of them told me recently. 

Although he never entered the teaching profession, my father’s example still inspires me.


freeepeace said...

Hi Steven, happy to hear your father's surgery was a success.  It's a great photo.

Hopefully Sir K. will update his blog more often, as he opens up to the idea of sharing.  Passive-aggressive behavior is so draining.  I'm sure he gets that.  Glad to know you two are healing old wounds and building stronger ties.  And yes, animals (especially cats, they say) are amazing energy readers.  Sir K. will hold it all for you, if you let him.  Hope he has a good shrink.  ;)

stevendenlinger said...

Sir Knavely has found considerable release in sharing.  What a wise observation you've made.

His shrink is an excellent one.  He's always so relaxed after his sessions, but he has a tendency to go on and on afterwards.

Thanks for the support.


vxv123 said...

Very happy for you, Steven.  Glad it all went well,


cloudlessangel13 said...

I am so glad that your father's surgery went well.  My thoughts were with you over the past few days.  I am so relieved that everything went well with you and your family.

stevendenlinger said...

Thanks, Kelley.  I talked to my father twice yesterday -- and he sounded just like the dad I know and love.  He's recovering nicely, has been reading these comments people have made about him, and seemed grateful.