How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad


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breast cancer tattoo
photo credit: Bodies of Subversion: A Secret Hisotry of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin

Several months ago, and probably way past when I should’ve been asleep, I laid in bed with my face cradled lazily in one hand, with the other holding the rectangle of light we all use to travel aimlessly around the digital lands of the interwebs.

I stumbled onto a post with a series of really exceptional tattoos. I don’t have any myself, but I can appreciate the art of them when they’re artful, and the permanent cringeyness of them when they’re… not so artful.

Scrolling down I saw this floral pattern completely covering the chest and shoulders, a crop top in ink. A bit drowzy, I frowned in concentration, not immediately understanding what I was seeing.

And then my snoozy mind accelerated from dumb to 10,000. Realizing what it was, I thought it was the most beautifully punk rock physical “fuck you” to cancer I’d ever seen. A glorious middle finger to the ravages of a double mastectomy.

In that mental microsecond, I’m a young teen again, foreshadowingly awake well past a sensible bedtime, somberly listening to the moans of my Grandma through the walls of our house. She had come from the East Coast to live with us in her final days. It was the first close, personal experience I’d had with cancer and soap operas. I’ll gladly confess to watching an obscene amount of the daytime TV melodramas with her, before she left us.

In the next microsecond, I’m walking down a hospital corridor, my nervousness punctuated fittingly with the awkward squeak of my sneakers, on my way to visit a friend in the early but aggressive stages of cancer and its treatment. On my anxious way, I saw a nurse playing with a child, hairless from chemo and so young I couldn’t even tell if the munchkin was a boy or a girl. But I saw an adorable smile that was literally shining in the face of death. I completely lost it. I had to compose myself in a bathroom for a half an hour, knowing that I couldn’t meet my friend in that state.

Another microsecond crawled by, and I’m outside my friend’s bedroom in a line of tormented family and friends, waiting to take turns, one at a time, to say goodbye to the little that was left of him for the last time.

My thoughts came back into focus on the present, that night, and I stared at the picture. I whispered “I love this,’ and saved the image to my phone with no particular purpose in mind. I just loved it.

Nearly a year later, I’m sharing the picture here with you, still with no particularly specific purpose. I’m not trying to admonish you about your health or urge you to have your boobs smashed or your prostate wrestled in a checkup. It’s just not my style to stand on soap boxes and pretend I’m your Dad.

Cancer has touched everyone’s life. Maybe I was just so moved by it that I wanted to share this survivor’s magnificent reply to breast cancer, so they could be touched by one of cancer’s survivors.

Fuck you, cancer.


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