Father’s Struggles Inspire Harlev

Maya Harlev, Lifestyle Editor

On February 28, 2012, I became just another girl with daddy issues.

Of course, these issues didn’t fall from the sky, so let’s start with some back-story.

When I was seven years old, I picked up the phone to call my dad for our weekly Saturday phone call, only to have my step-dad tell me calling wasn’t necessary.

“I can’t really explain,” he said. “Come with me and you’ll see.”

I got in the car and we drove through the hills to Moraga –a drive I have done a thousand times since. We arrived at my dad’s and I saw a sight burned forever into my retinas. My dad, my abba, was curled up in a ball on the floor in between the kitchen and the family room, unable to move. That peaceful summer morning I watched as my step-dad stuck twelve three-inch long needles into my Dad’s back.

That July morning was the hardest morning of my life. It began an emotional roller coaster that lasted days, which turned into months, which turned into years.

Doctors had no idea what was wrong with my dad’s back. He had swam butterfly in the pool, come in the house,  tried to pick up my three month old brother, and his back just collapsed. According to the doctors at Stanford, UCSF, John Muir, Summit/Alta Bates, and even Albert Einstein Hospital in New York, nothing was physically wrong.

Nothing was physically wrong, and yet my dad could barely move. He spent two years in a wheelchair, and even today he walks on crutches.

The doctors that thought nothing was wrong spent eight surgeries putting a pacemaker-like device meant to control his pain adjacent to his spine. The ninth surgery took out the device.

It’s hard enough growing up with four parents, two separate households in two different cities, and four siblings. But life becomes so much harder with a handicapped father. Especially when he is my best friend.

On February 28th, my dad left for a physical rehabilitation program in Israel, close to eight thousand miles away. He was accepted to the Reuth Medical Center, a rehabilitation and chronic care hospital in Tel Aviv. For the past six weeks, he has been strengthening almost 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Before he left for Reuth, my dad could not walk without his crutches. Two weeks ago, on Skype, he told me that he walked for five minutes on the treadmill. This might seem easy for all of you, but for a man who relied on crutches and wheelchairs to get him around for almost ten years, walking on a treadmill without any outside help is a miracle, and Jews really love their miracles.

My dad got home on April 20. He came back just before prom to see me in my dress with my date. My dad might not be perfect or physically strong, but he is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning to get ready for school. When my dad couldn’t go to work and provide for our family, he kept his head up. When every surgery failed to help, he kept his head up. When his brain was fogged by the pain medication, he kept his head up.

You don’t know what strength really is until you see someone who can barely walk, smiling.