Now This Won't Hurt a Bit!
My father is a (and I say this word with all due respect and awe) dentist.
That should entitle me to some large measure of sympathy.
After all, not many of my fellow daughters can boast about trying to tell grandpop about the
kids’ latest escapades while gagging on pieces of cotton.
Ever notice how dentists ask questions when you no way can answer?
Father-dentists are no exception. My father has made this common trait an art form. In fact,,
since one of the only times we get to visit for any length of time, my father and I, is when I’m
in the chair for my once-in-a-decade checkup, the questions and comments come fast and
Although people say environment plays a big part in the way we turn out, I’d have to dispute
that just on the basis of my dad and me.
You see, I didn’t grow up with my father. And so, I wasn’t exposed to his influence in any large
measure as a kid … he was just the man who lived around the corner with his own family and
with whom I spent a little time occasionally.
It was only when I was grown and well into my college years that I got to know my dad.
And the older I get, the more I find myself seeing his traits in my own personality. We are a lot
One of the things that I’ve always respected about Dad is his straightforwardness.
That hasn’t always made him the most popular of people.
He has held public office, been on municipal boards, worked on church councils and boards of
He is well read and extremely intelligent. He reads my column every week (a sure sign of his
discriminatory literary taste) and often calls me to comment on something I said or failed to say
to his liking.
Dad has never been short of an opinion on anything. Neither, for what it’s worth, have I.
So imagine the tug-of-war when the two of us get together. It’s a battle for the word-in-
edgewise. And on occasions like yesterday, it’s a battle in which Dad has a decided advantage.
First, he chats about ordinary, mundane things like the drive over to Vineland from Berlin, the
weather, how the kids are doing in school, how the paper is doing. That’s as the napkin is going
around my neck and I’m easing into the chair like a prisoner waiting for the current to be turned
Then, after the examination is over and the x-rays are checked, the novocaine needle goes in, the
numbness starts, the cotton is packed around the tooth and the drilling begins.
That’s when Dad’s conversation gets really interesting!
That’s when he talks about his current political interests, his opinions on everything from
profanity to gambling to television shows.
And I’m absolutely powerless to get my viewpoint in!
We’re talking frustration here, folks. Aside from the rolling of eyeballs, an occasional grunt of
either assent or protest, I can’t get into this conversation. Actually, it’s a monologue …
conducted with the abandon of one who knows there will be no interruption.
Except for the whine of the high-speed drill.
Really, though, it’s probably all for the better that he employs this little tactic. It’s hard to
concentrate on raw fear when someone is talking about something interesting.
Dad has never had to resort to playing soothing music through headphones or even dispensing
analgesic gas of any kind. He slips his incredibly gentle novocaine syringe into the mouth tissue,
waits until there’s absolutely no feeling left in a large portion of the face and then does what he’s
been doing for about fifty years now … old-fashioned, solid, reliable dentistry.
Yesterday, it took him almost ten minutes to remove an old silver filling he’d put in for me
It was definitely in there to stay.
The extra-added ingredient that makes his brand of dentistry so good is the conversation. He
enjoys discussion, even if it is one-sided. Especially if it’s one-sided!
We didn’t quite get all my work done yesterday.
After all, when it takes me ten years to screw up my courage for a stint in his chair, I’m bound
to accumulate more than a few chores for him to do.
And there’s really no excuse for the fear. His style of dentistry is compassionate and gentle and
there is a minimum of discomfort.
It’s the drill and the reverberation in the skull that I hate! And when it’s all over, I chide myself
for being such a ninny and for putting it off for so long.
So, in two weeks, I’ll be back in the chair for some more work.
And, without a doubt, Dad will have questions and comments about earth-shattering events and
deep concepts that he will want to discuss.
Once the cotton is packed in and I’m out of the conversation, that is.
Thanks a lot, Dad.