My nine-year-old daughter Annie is the second most amazing person I’ve ever known, the first being my wife, Erica. I don’t think Annie would argue with that assessment, or be troubled by it. She knows I adore her, and that I can hardly wait to see what incredible thing she’s going to do next. If anything, knowing Annie, I think my assessment would elicit one of her bright, down-to-the-depths-of-her-soul smiles. In her mind, all would be right with the world –- her parents adore each other, and that combined love is showered on their kids.
Annie has tremendous depth of character and feeling, well beyond her years. She thinks about the world and her place in it. She worries about her relationships and whether she’s popular with her classmates. She worries about the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and kids who don’t have warm coats during the cold Boston winter. She has strong reservations about the wars the U.S.A. is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s a vegetarian, partly for moral reasons, but mostly because she dislikes meat. She’s smart. She excels at math and science, and she’s a great writer. She can grasp with ease concepts that might be difficult for her peers. Concepts like the Holocaust or global warming or the Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass I’m having in five days.
We’ve talked a lot about the surgery. Intellectually, I know she understands and agrees with my reasons for doing this. She grasps the idea that I need to lose significant weight, so I can live a long, healthy life. So I can watch her grow and mature. She’s only nine, but she wants me there for her bat mitzvah, for high school and college graduations, for when she marries and has kids. I’ll be Poppy Mikey, she says. (By the way, don’t think I’m neglecting Ari in any of this. He’s amazing in his own right for so many reasons, but at four, he’s too young to understand what’s happening.)
I’ve explained to Annie the mechanics of the surgery, how Dr. J. is going to divide my stomach into two pouches, one small and one large. I’ve told her how the small pouch will become my every-day stomach, where my food will flow after chewing and swallowing, and that the larger pouch will essentially be unused. I’ve explained that not only won’t I be able to eat as much, but that some of the food I consume won’t be absorbed by the new configuration. She knows I’ll on a liquid or pureed diet for a few months while healing, and that afterwards I’ll eat very small portions. She understands the surgery will lead to rapid weigh loss, which will mean a stronger, healthier Daddy.
Still, she’s terrified. I’m her Dad. That’s so much more than a simple title or role I play. I’m one of the two most important people in her life. I make her laugh and smile with my absurd sense of humor. I hold her when she’s crying and cheer her on every step of the way. She shares her hopes and fears with me, clings tightly to me when she’s scared and showers her joys and excitements on me like the warm summer sun. Along with Erica, I’m her rock and her anchor, and I’m the powerful wind in her sails.
I’m also the source of her most immediate fear –- that something will go wrong with the surgery, that she won’t get her Daddy back. And I don’t blame her. I’m scared too.
For months now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make her feel better, less worried. Ultimately, I can’t. What’s even worse is that I won’t be there to hold her hand when her fears are at their height. I’ll be asleep on an operating table. I feel guilty about that. It’s hurtful to Annie, because I won’t be where I’m supposed to be when things get tough -– holding her hand and telling her it’ll be okay.
I need to keep reminding myself, though, that it’s less hurtful than dying long before my time, from an obesity-related illness. It’s less hurtful than leaving Annie without her Dad, and everything that means. I can’t bear to think about the loss she’d feel for the rest of her life. I know she’d recover and go on without me, but she shouldn’t have to. By going under the knife, I’m taking a small risk now to sidestep an almost certain fate. It’s the lesser of two evils.
For all her intelligence and charisma, Annie is still just nine. She’s caught in a nine-year-old’s contradiction. She understands what’s happening, knows it’s the right thing to do, but she’s terrified. We just have to get through it together.
I love you Annie. I always will. No matter what.