From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Father Meets Cat

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.

Albert Schweitzer

My father hated cats. Or so he told us when my sister and I begged for one when we were kids. If we persisted, he catalogued all their bad traits. Cats were lazy. Cats ripped furniture. Cats required too much care. The list went on and on.

After I graduated from the university, I moved to another city. As soon as I unpacked, I headed to the local humane society and adopted a black and brown striped tabby named Tiger. My father harrumphed at the news and predicted a dire end for all my furniture. Tiger must have overheard the conversation because she set out to prove him right.

My father harrumphed even louder the first time he encountered Tiger. The meeting did not go well. As I pointed out to him while I bandaged his hand, drumming one’s fingers on the edge of a chair could be seen as a game if you’re a cat.

“Only if you’re an attack cat,” he muttered under his breath. He glared at Tiger who turned her back on him and proceeded to wash her paws.

From that day on, my father and Tiger gave each other a wide berth. My mother, on the other hand, sent Tiger birthday cards and posted pictures of her on their fridge, much to my father’s disgust.

I replaced my sofa and got a second cat. A lovely gray and salmon color, she came complete with parasites. Although I officially named her Salmonella, I called her Sammy for short. I waited a month before breaking the news to my father. This time, he snorted in addition to harrumphing.

On his next visit, when he thought I was downstairs, I overheard him talking to Sammy outside my bedroom. “Aren’t you a pretty cat. What nice soft fur you have.” From the sounds of her purring, I’m fairly sure their encounter involved some serious tummy-rubbing, too.

Over dinner, I asked him what he thought of the newest addition to the family. “She’s okay,” he said, “for a cat.” Then he quickly changed the subject.

A week later, my mother told me my father, whose name was Sam, proudly informed all his friends and relatives I named the “good” cat after him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him differently.

During his visits over the next couple of years, Sam and Sammy forged a bond.

Once I thought he was sufficiently softened up, I began a campaign to get my parents their own cat. I mentioned how nice it felt to come home to a warm, furry body that licked your hand in appreciation. I also quoted studies that proved having an animal provided health benefits.

No matter what I said, my father countered with a reason not to get a cat. When my mother weighed in on my side, he gave her a choice: get a cat or continue to travel. With both her daughters and granddaughters living out of town, she conceded defeat. She would have to get her dose of cat-cuddling during her visits to me.

Although my father thought he’d won the war, I knew the battle had just begun.

Five years later, my father was diagnosed with kidney disease and began dialysis. I decided that would be the perfect time to get my parents a cat so they would have something to focus on besides his illness. Since their traveling days were over, he couldn’t use that argument anymore. As far as I was concerned, it was a win-win situation. I would win the war, and they would win—a cat.

I visited on Mother’s Day and informed them that my mother’s gift would be a cat. My mother beamed. My father snorted. I pointed out that the cat was for her, not him, and he could ignore the animal all he wanted. He snorted a second time and marched out of the room.

Two hours and one hundred and ninety dollars later, Puss Puss came home, accompanied by a red nylon carrying case, a litter box, forty pounds of kitty litter, a brush, four different kinds of cat food, three toys and a scratching post. My mother and I set up the litter box, showed Puss Puss where it was, and watched as she explored the basement.

Loud footsteps announced my father’s arrival. He stared at the cat for a minute and proclaimed, “The first time she scratches the couch or me, she’s out the door.” Satisfied he had made his point, he glared at me, turned around and went back upstairs.

Puss Puss, unaware of how tenuous her welcome was, purred her approval of her new home. After playing with her for a while, my mother and I decided to let her investigate by herself, and we went upstairs for coffee. Half an hour later, I headed down to check on her. No cat.

I called her name. I got on my hands and knees and peered under furniture. I rattled a box of food. Still no cat.

I raced upstairs, thinking she might have sneaked up unnoticed. I checked the living room and dining room. Nothing. I went to the second floor and checked my old bedroom and my sister’s. Empty.

That only left one room. As I neared my parents’ bedroom, I saw my father stretched out in his La-Z-Boy chair—with the cat curled up in his lap. He was so engrossed in petting her that he didn’t hear me. I tiptoed away and told my mother that everything was all right. In fact, it was perfect.

For the next three years, Puss Puss was my father’s constant companion. Every time I visited, he told me the same thing: “That cat is great company—for your mother.”

Like I said, a win-win situation.

Harriet Cooper

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