I’m so blessed to have amazing people surrounding me in love, especially my mom who has been my biggest protector and supporter since I was born. Yet, there is always a glaring hole in my support system that I can’t help but think of and miss daily. This is a tricky time of year for my family. As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, we know that in years past we also would be celebrating my dad’s birthday. No matter how many years pass without him, the ache of missing him never truly dulls. So today, if you could bear with me, I thought I’d share a few stories about an awesome man.
My dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow, less than a year after my bone cancer diagnosis. If my cancer diagnosis was shocking to me, his was devastating. Here was this young man, not quite 50, the foundation of our family, the strong father given three months to live. Thankfully, my determined mother and stubborn father told the doctors that was unacceptable and searched out new treatment alternatives. Since I was still in treatment, for a few weeks my mom would visit me on one floor of the hospital, then head upstairs to see my dad. Yes, she is forever a heroine in my story.
I fought my own guilt with his diagnosis for a long time. Several times after my diagnosis, he would hold my hand and whisper a prayer. I once asked him what he prayed for and he responded that he offered to take my cancer away. I was very upset and angry at him for even hinting at that. Cancer was terrible. My chemo treatments slammed my body and kicked my butt. I couldn’t imagine wishing this disease on anyone, let alone one of my beloved family members. So when my dad was diagnosed shortly after I received very promising health results, I admittedly was pretty shaken. My logical brain knew that my brave, strong dad couldn’t will my cancer from my body into his but….my wounded heart questioned it for a long time.
The day before his 50th birthday, he was at the hospital recovering from his first stem cell transplant. He told the doctor that all he wanted was to spend his birthday at home with his family. So you can imagine his joy when the doctor walked in the next day and announced he was discharging my dad. What a happy day for all of us! Little did we know that we would only celebrate a few more birthdays with him. But that day, we felt blessed.
I’m grateful for a childhood filled with love and laughter. My parents created a wonderful home that welcomed everyone, and we often had friends and family stopping in. My sisters and I would even come home to find friends hanging out or playing basketball with our dad! I loved watching my parents together. They weren’t perfect, and I could tell when they were driving each other crazy, but they loved and really respected each other. Not everyone believed in their relationship at the beginning, not even my mom! She turned down his date invitations numerous times before finally saying yes (thankfully!). He said he remained persistent because he just knew that she was the one. He felt a connection that he couldn’t ignore. My parents always made me believe in love. Any time I start to doubt the power of love, I think of them. I am so blessed to have such examples of two people overcoming obstacles for love. It gives me great hope for my future.
I can’t hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller without thinking of my dad and my best friend’s dad acting like zombies while chasing all of us squealing girls! Pick a song by John Denver, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, ABBA, Kenny Rogers, The Carpenters and Neil Diamond, and my sisters and I can probably sing every word….and maybe even have a dance for it.
When I wanted to ride horses at nine years old, my mom agreed (I had a truly stellar sales pitch) but my dad was hesitant. I’m sure money for riding lessons was a concern, but he admitted his greater concern was that I would get hurt. My mom enrolled me in lessons and, shortly after, he became one of my biggest fans. While they had neither the time nor money to devote to my obsession, both of my parents often took turns driving me to the barn after work, helping groom the horse and watch my lessons. My dad was at the barn once when I was thrown off by a particularly feisty horse (that I loved to ride). He was in the arena as fast as my trainer. As I stood and brushed myself off, he held the reins of the bridle. “You ok?” he asked. When I acknowledged I was, he handed me the reins, gave me a leg up into the saddle, looked at the horse and sternly said, “Don’t dump my daughter again.” And that horse never did. While my mom was the ‘go to’ parent with questions and concerns during college, I always knew when it was time for me to go home for a visit because my dad would suddenly call to check in, make sure I was happy, of course studying, no boys were bothering me and remind me how proud he was of my goals.
Once we were both diagnosed with our cancers, we shared a lot of random conversations about life, the challenges of cancer, his hopes for my sisters’ and my futures, and the trips and adventures he wanted to take with my mom. Towards the end of his life, when he accepted his approaching death before any of us, he reminded me that his fight would not be over if he wasn’t here because he would live on in my mom, sisters, me, our kids.
I often pause in the day to think of him, wondering if he would be proud of the woman I am today. I would like to think so. I would give anything to have one more talk with him, one more opportunity to hear his fatherly advice in that gruff, no-nonsense voice.
I’ve thought much about my dad recently, of the advice or direction he might give me at this juncture in my life. I have not made the best decisions in the past, sometimes ignoring my gut and my heart, things he always advised against doing. I’m sure he shook his head as I made those decisions. Yet I’m also sure he waited at this juncture, because he always had faith in me to find my way. He believed that of my sisters and me all through our lives.
A few lessons that my sweet dad taught me during our time together:
- Do not take life for granted.
- Don’t ignore what’s in front of you, even if it’s not what society tells you should do or who you should love.
- Be loyal and kind to others. But don’t let someone take advantage of that loyalty and kindness.
- Don’t sit idle waiting for life. Take chances, trust your gut.
- Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Just try to learn from those mistakes. And know that what someone else may think is a mistake, may be exactly what you were supposed to do/learn.
- You are owed nothing so work hard for what you want. Do not quit on yourself or your goals.
- Help those who need it because we all have something and some time to give.
- Laugh, dance and enjoy life.
- Do not wait to tell someone how you feel about them because the moment may never come again.
- Offer a smile to others. A few days before my dad died, he told me that my kindness and smile will change the world. Maybe it’s not that easy to change the world, but then again, a smile is one of the easiest (and free!) things we can share with others.