Saturday, August 24, 2013

To Be a Father

When my wife and I decided to get a dog, I wanted a big dog. Martha wanted a small house dog. We ended up rescuing an idiotic hyperactive basset spaniel mix. Cute but for too energetic for us after a long day at work, so we almost immediately began searching for our second dog. We needed another dog that could babysit our new dog. If that sounds hard to find, trust me, it is. We went through about 15 or so candidates before my wife happened upon a frightfully thin, recently spayed, stray castoff in a no kill shelter. We took our dumb spaniel to meet her, and it was like the two had known each other their whole lives. The basset/spaniel, Snoopy, was jumpy and energetic, but our new no-longer-stray, Jasmin, was shy and retiring. They complimented each other perfectly, and we all felt like a complete family.

It wasn't smooth sailing though. For starters, Jasmin was and still holds the title for the filthiest animal I've ever seen when I first met her. She was literally caked in layer after layer of dead skin, dirt, debris, and flea bites. It took most of an evening just to get to the point where we could see she had a double layer coat with the second layer being brown. Also the first night, after that epic bath, I put K-9 Advantix on her like a good dog owner should. Well, Jasmin, for some reason I still don't quite understand, decided to scratch the solution on her back and then lick off of her paws. Within an hour she started vomiting. I was panic stricken. I just got the dog, and now she was going to die in my kitchen. I quickly dialed the emergency company line on the back of the package. The none-too-sympathetic phone tech informed me to just watch her and go see a vet if she got worse. So for the entire night, I sat next to her and watched her for signs of worsening health. She vomited a few more times but was completely fine by morning. I was wreck, but it was obvious I'd found my dog.

Jasmin also had a few quirks in her personality that we weren't informed of prior to adoption. It didn't take us long to figure out that Jasmin had spent some time on the street. Snoopy was a two-breed house pup and had always been, so when he tried to strut and preen around Jaz, a smart Heinz 57 Virginia street hound, she was quick to put him in his place. He outweighed her by about 5lbs and was noticeably stronger, but Jasmin would routinely whip his tail without much effort and then punctuate her dominance by humping him. I had never seen a female dog hump another dog before, and Jasmin put so much energy and violence into the ritual, she would literally shake our hardwood floors. I can't explain the sight of to you, dear reader, but it remains one of fondest memories of living in Virginia.

But being from the streets, Jasmin had learned long ago that you can't count on your next meal. As a result she had the habit of looking for food at all times, especially in our trash cans. As much as you love an animal, few things test that love like showing up at home after a crippling day at work to see your place literally covered in trash you were sure you had gotten rid of the previous day. But we adjusted quickly, making sure all of our trash was inaccessible in a trash cans and not just easily tearable trash bags. We all also learned to not leave food of any sort within reach of a dog that with a 4ft vertical. I lost something like two sandwiches and a whole order of cheese fries to that hound before I learned the lesson. That dog also had a bad habit of hiding food for later. We figure that was a trick she picked up from savvy squirrels in the woods of Virginia. We didn't mind the food hiding until 3months later when you happen upon a half-eaten chicken wing tucked skillfully behind some boxes. In order to mitigate this behavior, we decided to feed her whenever she was seemed hungry. You know, to show that food would always be there. Well 6months and 12lbs later, we realized that the dog would eat herself to death if given the chance. Literally, there are times when she looked like a black sausage roll with legs. I strict diet brought her weight down and kept her healthy from that point forward.

You've heard of dogs that like to dig holes? Snoopy loves holes, but Jasmin wasn't one for holes. Jasmin dug tunnels, long, deep tunnels that would wind and stretch out across our entire yard in Virginia. By the time we moved, our yard which had been well maintained before Jasmin, was a lost cause and a monument to what one dedicated dog excavator could accomplish if she really put her mind and paws to it. Watching Snoopy stand behind Jasmin and get absolutely covered in dirt as she buzz-sawed through the Earth, throwing soil through her back legs, is another vision from Virginia I'll cherish my life long.

Though she had faults, they were far outweighed by her virtues. Jasmin was a tireless protector. No one could knock on the door, ring the doorbell, or look at one of her parents crossways without Jasmin's bloodcurdling howl to set them straight. It could be inconvenient in the middle of the night or when the offending doorbell was actually a part of a TV commercial, but I appreciated her efforts none the less. Plus, there was never any dog born that loved her people more than Jasmin. She never asked us for anything more than to be by us, around us, and near us. She was kind to the world in general, but the world wasn't always kind to her.

I still remember that day I took her to the vet for an x-ray. I had felt a hard knot in her leg and was afraid she had a tumor. The vet took us to a little room and asked us point blank if we had ever abused the dog. We were naturally mystified by the question...until we saw the x-ray. It looked like Jasmin's body was a galaxy of stars with each star being a piece of buckshot. Apparently, sometime in her life before us, some-fucking-piece-of-shit-douchebag shot her with a shotgun. It took everything the vet could do to keep us from breaking down right in his office. Who could shoot a dog like Jasmin? But, the truth is the assholes of the Earth are capable of far worse and for all their efforts, they couldn't kill her. She won. She did however develop a lifelong phobia of loud noises. Thunderstorms troubled her, but Independence Day and New Years were an absolute nightmare for her. She would just find a dark place to hide and try to go to a happier place. Eventually, through attention and love she came to understand that were there to protect her from the loud bangs and whistles. She could eat during those time after a while with us but still preferred a good hiding place before she could sleep.

One of the best things about Jasmin was her obedience. She would do anything she could understand if you asked her. She came when called instantly. You could leave the door open, and she wouldn't leave the house. She would stop barking instantly if ordered, and...she didn't need a leash for walks. She wouldn't run off if you walked with her. She would walk a little ahead of you, as dogs do. She would sniff the bushes, mark her new territory, and maybe find a nice neighbor's yard to drop a deuce in, but she would never run away and was always careful to keep her people within a safe distance. She trusted us so implicitly that she didn't bat an eye when we uprooted her from her native Virginia and moved to our home in the Great State of Texas. She just smiled her Jasmin smile and wagged her tail even as she got epically carsick for the entire trip.

There was nothing special yesterday when my wife decided to let Jasmin have some time off-leash as she let my 3-year old bike in our cul-de-sac. I had to go to work, and Snoopy unlike Jasmin is anything but obedient on a leash. It takes most of my wife's strength and attention to keep Snoopy form taking off on another of his “adventurers” so being able to let Jasmin just walk around is a Godsend. I saw Jasmin in a neighbor's yard as I drove away. I stopped and considered her for a moment. She was a little further away from my wife than I normally liked but not too far. I figured by the time I got out of the car and shooed her back toward the group, the group would've caught up to us anyway. I just smiled a little and drove on. On the road I saw my mother-in-law truck pass me headed home. I felt the same twinge I always feel when I know there is a car about to turn on our narrow street and my family is outside, but I pushed it down and kept on.
You see where this is going. I hadn't made it to work yet when my wife called sobbing telling me that Jasmin and been hit by my mother-in-law's truck. The incident was actually vintage Jasmin. You see, there was no activity Jasmin like more than harassing dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs behind fences, dogs on leashes, and dogs on the street, Jasmin gave each one an equal amount of her wrath, especially if that dog was barking at her family. So when my mother-in-law stopped to get the mail and the neighbor's basset hound promptly bugled and scared the shit out of her, Jasmin wasn't about to let that challenge go unanswered. She made a beeline for that lousy hound just as her startled grandmother hit the gas pedal.

The thing about being a father that's different than being a mother is the idea of protection. A father's whole existence and being is tied to the idea of protection of his family, and the family in turn is allowed to feel safe in the presence of the father. The father provides the security and stability that a family needs to feel safe and happy. The hell of it is that To Be a Father, you have to understand from the very beginning that all of it is a lie. You have to know that you can't offer security, that your stability is a sham, and that, most of all, you can't protect anyone from life. That's the real enemy of us father's, life. Life doesn't care about you emotions, your fears, or your identity. Life happens just the way that it is supposed to happen regardless of your efforts. Sometimes that means you meet the love your life, and other times that means you lose something unimaginably precious.

From the night I nursed Jasmin through her poisoning up until today when I wrapped her in her favorite of my sweaters, unbuckled her collar for the last time, and laid her down into the welcoming red-clay of my hometown, I've always thought of Jasmin as my daughter. What that means is all those faults, quirks, and foibles weren't faults to me, they were cute, icing on a sweet cake. It means that everytime she ripped up the trash, nearly tripped me in the kitchen, or hid my car keys(never found them) I would just love her all the more. To me through my father's eyes, she always looked beautiful and perfect and never more so than today.

Jasmin, my love, my first daughter, I'll love you always. Thank you for seven great years!

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