As he was nearing the end of his life, Mr. Fine often reflected on the past. He could not help but do so. As for his health, he had good days and bad. Sometimes he felt as if nothing was wrong. On other days he could just feel that his body was wearing out, and the illness was doing him in. He tried to keep the situation as a private matter between his wife, his doctor and his lawyer. Before it would be too late, his wife knew there were others to tell.
Mr. Fine’s contemplations were mostly about his son. He wondered if he should have done anything differently. Should he have been more strict? Less? Should he have pushed him into certain sports? Music? Something else? Should he have made him work harder? Perhaps he should have been less demanding regarding work. He just could not decide if his parenting decisions were correct.
When Samuel Fine was young he seemed to enjoy watching his father work. He would follow him around and stare at the things Mr. Fine was doing. At times, he just seemed to be “under foot” but Mr. Fine tried to be patient with this.
“Now just stand over there son so you will be out of the way, and I will tell you what I am doing.” At that Mr. Fine would explain the work. He would explain each step of his painting projects. He would give detailed explanations of how he was fixing anything mechanical or electrical. He wanted his son to understand the importance of maintenance and the value of repair rather than throwing something away. Mr. Fine was under the impression that his son was learning from all this.
When Sam was a little older, Mr. Fine had determined that the boy was big enough to assist with his projects so he invited the boy to partake in whatever he was doing.
“Sam, do you want to help with this painting project? Today we will prepare the front porch and stairs for a new coat of paint.”
“Not now, dad. I have to meet the guys, we are going to play a game at the park.”
“OK, son. Maybe next time we can work together.”
The next time, however, Sam would have something else to do. In fact, every “next time” Sam would have something to do. Every request for help by the father was met with “Not now, dad.”
For Sam, life was too busy for dad. He had a game, a school event, a meeting with the guys, whatever that meant. He had homework to do or he just did not feel well.
“Son, can you cut the grass today? I am feeling rather ill and the weather is nice.”
“Not now, dad. I am not feeling too good either.”
For many years, this was the way of things. Mr Fine would ask for assistance and Sam had a reason not to help. Sometimes the father would gently try to push, even insist, that Sam help around the house. Sam would push back, then go off to do whatever he thought was more important.
When Sam was done with college, he left home for an apartment with friends. After a few years, he got married and had a family of his own. He had a nice job, a nice home and children who were expected to do their chores.
Sam would come around to visit his parents, but usually picked a time when his father would not be home. He just did not want to face his dad. He could not explain the feeling, but it was something that he knew went back to his youth.
“Sam, why don’t you come around when your father is here” Mrs. Fine would say.
“Oh mom, he will just want me to help with some project that I have no time for. I just hate to have to say no and see that look on his face.”
“What look is that?”
“You know, mom, that wounded look.”
“That disappointment look you mean, don’t you, Sam?” Mrs. Fine responded. Sam had no answer. He said his good bye and went on his way.
The final test results
When his doctor advised there may be just a few months left for the father, Mrs. Fine disobeyed her husband’s request and told Sam of the situation. She had hoped they would end on a better note than in recent years when Sam rarely saw his father.
One afternoon Mrs. Fine found her husband staring out the window. “Mort, what are you doing?” He looked around as if he was in great pain and could barely turn his head.
“I was just thinking that tomorrow I will cut the grass. It looks like it’s time.” Mrs. Fine just shook her head.
After a few moments, the doorbell broke the silence in the room. Sam had arrived to see what he could do. He did not want to give up his mom’s confidence so he carefully chose his words.
“Hi, dad. I heard you might not be feeling too good today so I thought maybe I could help with something.”
Mr. Fine just stared at Sam as if he must be kidding. It was an odd sort of look that Sam had not seen before. At first, he did not know what to say and the two spent a few moments just staring at one another.
“Perhaps I could mow the grass or something,” Sam tried out on his father.
Mort Fine stared at the man before him. He was assessing what his son had become. He flashed back through the years of Sam’s life. He remembered the good things and the bad. He remembered his school days, his friends, his activities. He remembered his dreams and his goals. The memories of Sam washed over him like the ocean tide in a storm. Finally, Mort Fine knew just what to respond to Sam’s offer.
“Not now, son. I don’t need you anymore.”