your father was hard on himself too

i was talking with Alan, an old friend of my father’s from the 4B. I was feeling bad because my career wasn’t working out. I had taken a loan to start a business doing puppet shows to teach children good values — anti-bullying campaigns, anti-racist campaigns and the like. When I first did I had a lot of optimism because I got a contract from the city’s disability services office to do a series of shows about how children could and should accept children with disabilities into their class room. I had made a collection of puppets with disabilities — Rufus a blind puppet, Sarah a puppet in a motorized wheelchair, Chang who was deaf. But the mainstream plan had been sidelined in favor of a magnet school for children with disabilities in the Bronx and there was no need for my services; the contract was canceled. Alan had said I could have sued the city but he advised against it. Poor optics. This was when he said that my father was hard on himself too.

How could that be I asked him because my father was no designer of canceled puppet shows. He was a pediatric surgical cardiac ontologist. Four impressive words, and it meant exactly what you’d think. If a newborn baby had a tumor near the heart it was my father who would figure out which of the blood vessels in those two dueling spider monsters went to the heart and which went to the tumor and cut the right one and remove the tumor. These operations were done with a robotic micro-scalpel and he looked at the cluster of good and bad and borderline vessels on a screen. These took from eight at the short end to one procedure the longest twenty-one hours.

Alan explained to me that my father only got the hardest cases. And in those hard cases the web of vascularization that served tumor and heart were so intricately intertwined that only in 18.4% of my father’s cases did the procedure actually work. In the other 81.6% of the cases either the heart died, or the tumor lived.

But he saved some babies?

He saved some babies. He killed some babies. He let some babies die. Halvah? asked Alan, offering me some.

My father loved halvah. I took a bite and crumbled it off my incisors, and let the flakes dissolve in my saliva.

But that’s not the question you should ask. The question you should ask is how did your father’s success rate compare with the hospitals that performed the procedure without him, who did not call him in?


Their success rate was 18.38%. So the people walking around alive today because of your father are very few my boy. Very few indeed. Maybe a couple of dozen.

My father saved the lives of twenty-four human beings and he was hard on himself?

Very. Why do you think he took those Fiorinol?

Fiorinal, a yellow and green capsule containing aspirin, caffeine, and Butalbital, a barbiturate, was so named because it was developed at the Montefiore Headache Center as a treatment for tension headaches. My father took them by handfuls like peanut M&Ms, and was addicted, so the discontinuation of Fiorinal, if he had ever discontinued them, would have caused headaches as well.

Good luck with your puppets, said Alan. Perseverance keeps honor bright.

That night I took some yellow yarn out of a shoebox deep in my closet and started to make Tabitha, a puppet who would teach children about finances. I was hard on myself, but not as hard as my father had been.

But I was hard on myself about that.


3 thoughts on “your father was hard on himself too

    • I did, very much.

      It has me thinking about my parents & things they worked so hard to provide for us kids, how they often felt they’d missed opportunities to do more for the family. But what they gave was so so so much more than most

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