I walked in on Bone Marrow as she was mainlining pollen. Talk about having your tongue tied. I entered the balcony of our apartment and there was my teenage bone marrow “daughter” injecting into herself—I mean, injecting into us—the pollen she had plucked from the air and collected in a small mountain on the bistro table.
Bone Marrow saw my shock and said, “It’s maple, our worst allergen,” as if that statement was enough for me to understand her reasoning.
Eventually, words came to my mind, and I said, “You can’t just shock our body into building immunity like this without medical supervision!”
“Hey, you’re the one who quit allergy shots after getting them for 10 years.”
“My allergist told me to.”
“I’m smarter than our so-called allergist.”
This is the life of a single father to a bone marrow. Usually, I can handle her brattiness. Usually. Since she became a tween, every day has been more challenging as a parent than the last. Must be those teenage bone marrow hormones.
When Bone Marrow isn’t making me crazy or forcing me to develop allergen-induced hives from pollen overload, she continues to impress me with her intelligence. She was already doing advanced calculus at four, and now she’s determined to work on Elon Musk’s new telepathy technology. I’m so basic that I changed all my messaging apps to make the same notification sound, and if I can’t handle differentiating an email from a text from a Facebook message, then hell no I can’t handle mind reading.
But, Bone Marrow is different, and not just because she’s a collection of frozen umbilical cord cells that populated the hollows in my bones. Bone Marrow is also different because she defies the naturists in the nature vs. nurture debate: in many ways, she has become just like me, or I have become just like her.
When I think about why Bone Marrow mainlined pollen, it makes sense. All that pollen could have killed us, but it ended up working and relieving our symptoms of seasonal allergies. I sort of do the same thing: accept the suffering if it brings relief in which I can bask. I’ll do almost anything if it brings relief and has at least a minuscule health benefit.
For example, when I shower, I turn the water cold until the end, at which point I switch to hot water. Some research suggests there are health benefits to taking cold showers, such as burning extra calories. More importantly, the relief of the hot finale makes the frigid suffering worth it and makes the shower itself more rewarding.
This was the greatest lesson I learned from cancer: life itself is more rewarding when you get to experience relief after suffering, even if the level of suffering is extraordinary.
“Health benefit my ass,” Bone Marrow told me when I first began taking cold showers. “Each cold shower probably burns only an extra 1.479 calories. Even I’m not stupid enough to endure suffering for such a tiny reward.”
The shit-talk never ends with my daughter. I returned the volley: “I guess I just have a greater tolerance for suffering than you do,” I said.
“Whatever. You’re still a wuss compared to people who would keep the water cold and who actually like the suffering, whereas you despise the suffering and just like the relief afterwards.”
She was right. She's almost always right.
“True,” I said. “But, those people are crazy.”
Bone Marrow took a moment before speaking. “100 percent agreed.”
And just like that, Bone Marrow and I sat down on the couch to watch the NBA Finals together, just father and daughter.
And so goes parenting a bone marrow daughter, who turned 14 years old today: suffer through her shit-talk and insane behavior in order to experience the relief of agreement and calm and love at the end. Bone Marrow both represents life and gave me my third chance at it, and I am forever grateful for her. She may decide to mainline pollen again next spring, or mainline fungal spores this fall to gain relief over that allergy. Who knows, maybe she'll discover ESP and get in LeBron's head to relieve us all of another Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals. Whatever Bone Marrow does, no matter how seemingly absurd, I'm with her. She and I are in it together.
Unless she makes me report the true meaning to another James Joyce novel, in which case I'm getting another transplant as there is no relief when I inevitably fail at that impossible task.
On this day 14 years ago, I received an umbilical cord stem cell transplant to treat myelodysplasia. This weekend, I celebrated with family, friends and candy, which I only allow myself to eat twice a year . . . suffer-relief.
I’ll be speaking at The Way Station in Brooklyn tomorrow at this Sexology on Tap and Taste of Science event. The show starts at 7:30.
I won a local speaking contest and I feel like I cheated by speaking about an unbeatable topic: my dad’s quirks.
How I created the mantra Justify Nothing and what it means to me.