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I Tricked My Dad When I Knew He Was Dying

by Catherine Kenwell 5 months ago in values
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I'm a harbinger of death but my white lie was worth it

In January 2021, my dad apologized to me. “I know I missed some of your birthdays,” he said. “Is there anything you’d like to have?”

Now, my dad was not a man of great means, and I was raised to expect little and appreciate everything I was given. But my dad was 88, and I was turning 59. And he had forgotten my last few birthdays; it didn’t matter much to me because I was just grateful my dad was still around to celebrate with me. Six years earlier, my mom had died the day before my birthday, and after that, we really didn’t celebrate.

“Actually,” I boldly replied, “there is something I’d really like. I’ll have to order it, though. It’s made custom.”

I didn’t add that I’d already ordered it, and it was being custom-made, and I was going to buy it anyway.

See, I’d already intuited that my 59th birthday would be the last I would share with my dad. I’m afraid I am a harbinger of death. I knew my mom was dying before anyone else did (except for perhaps, my mom) and now I felt the same about my dad. It’s a horrible and beautiful gift because each moment becomes infinitely more poignant and more precious.

A few weeks later, a well-wrapped and padded envelope arrived in the mail. It was just as I’d imagined. A bracelet, made from vintage typewriter keys, spelling out ‘u, writer;’.

And so, after gleefully clasping the bracelet onto my wrist, I marveled at it for a few moments, then drove over to my dad’s apartment to show him what he’d ‘bought’.

“How much was it?” he asked.

“$50. Do you like it?”

“Uh, yes? It’s different,” he answered. “Oh, I see. U, writer. You are that, for sure.”

I wondered what he was really thinking.

“Grab me my wallet,” he said. And he took out a crisp $50 bill. It was like he knew how much I’d ask him for.

Now, I never asked my dad for money, and $50 certainly didn’t come close to covering the cost of the bracelet. After several missed birthdays, the cost really didn’t matter to me or to him. In fact, I’d already bought and paid for the bracelet on my own.

The money didn’t matter. But death-herald that I am, I knew this was my last opportunity to receive a birthday gift from my father.

And I took advantage of it.

My dad had always been my biggest fan, and he shared my Chicken Soup for the Soul stories with his friends and neighbors. He’d call me his little princess, and he was incredibly proud of me.

Alternately, he shook his head in shock and disbelief when he read my horror stories. At the time, I’d been published in almost 20 horror anthologies, and I’d written and published my first horror novella.

“Where on earth do you get these ideas?” he’d laugh. “Did we do that to you when you were a kid?”

The short answer was yes.

The longer answer was more complicated.

My dad and I used to stay up late to watch classic black-and-white Universal horror movies; by the time I was eight I’d seen Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, Brides of Dracula…you name it, I’d watched it. Forget David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman; Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were my favorite actors.

My older brother was into horror as well; I augmented my horror film knowledge by reading his collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines.

I read every scary book I could get my hands on, and more than one wasn’t at all appropriate for an eight-year-old’s imagination. But I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t get scared enough.

In contrast, my home life felt much more frightening than any celluloid monster. My mom was bipolar, and as a kid who didn’t understand her often violent mood swings, she terrified me. I don’t think my dad could get his head around it either, because he’d unwittingly exacerbate her episodes with his hair-trigger temper.

As a result, I withdrew into a fantasy world of monsters and ghosts and haunted houses. Somehow, it felt safer to me.

So yes, I guess my parents are somewhat responsible for my penchant for scary stories; my mom didn’t live long enough to witness some of them being published, but I know that like my dad, she’d be proud of me.

And when I say that simply looking at my treasured ‘u, writer’ bracelet spurs me into writing like a demon, perhaps it’s not such a stretch.

But I’m sure glad I tricked my dad into spending $50 on a gift that means so much to me—so much more than the assortment of keys and what they spell out.

This year, I’ll be spending my birthday without my dad for the first time in 60 years. Of course, I’ll be wearing the bracelet. And I’m anticipating the arrival of some ghosts.


About the author

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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