Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor


Do not bother looking for this word in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary just yet. It is not a word, for now. But it is a term that has appeared recently, meant to be critical of today’s youth in reference to delaying entry into the workforce. Politically, a certain part of society would label these youth as lazy, not wanting to work. But an essay by Suzy Welch in the Wall Street Journal recently, brought up a different aspect as to why “Gen Z” is in no rush to apply for jobs.

To qualify Welch is a professor at NYU. She had been teaching MBA students when the topic came up about what they would be doing after college. A student who answered Welch, said she had no plans, and was just going to take advantage of some “funemployment.” The concept of “funemployment,” being the time period in between school or a job, and another job. This concept is really about attitude and approach with being unemployed, not being afraid, intimidated, or panicked with being unemployed. They simply just plan on being chill.

Anyone who has ever been unemployed for any reason, terminated or resignation, is likely to have felt the unbelievable stress, experienced mounting cash shortage, and possible eviction from their homes. It seems, this generation, “Gen Z,” may be on to something even bigger, perhaps by having seen their parents experience negative consequences during periods of unemployment, and simply have found a different way to deal with this period of time. They also may have seen their parents rush to take a job, just for the sake of taking a job, and being miserable for it, resulting in the entire household becoming one of misery.

Think about it. I know my daughters over their youth, while knowing only one company that I had worked for, knew that I had spent many overtime hours at work, totaling on average between 50-60 hour work-weeks, and often felt mistreated at work by my employer. They knew that my job also carried somewhat of a physical risk. And when my health started going south from my late effects from my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, they saw how poorly the company thought of my worth. Though discussion of work with my daughters has not come up yet, I know that one thing I have encouraged both to be a factor when choosing a career, find something you have passion about and do not be forced to make it a job or work, and that will be something they can make a career out of.

One thing I will say about my daughters, I do not believe they are afraid of work. They have been and continue to be good students, carrying good grades. Their education has always been a priority for me, so I was not a parent who pushed for them to participate in year round sports, or as they got old enough, to get part time work. While there was definitely a reason to get part time work, from social skills building to earning money for personal things, maybe even save for college, my concern was sacrificing the time that was needed in the evening to complete homework, share family time with each other, and of course, make sure that they got plenty of rest and a good dinner. Anyone who ever worked as a teenager, knows an employer will take advantage of teenagers from long and late hours, and I simply did not want their grades impacted.

Getting back to the comment about what today’s youth have witnessed by their parents, again, there is a split among opinions. Most parents will state they did what they did, worked how they worked, made the sacrifices for their kids, so that they could have nice stuff and do fun things. I am no exception. Being from a divorced home, I wanted nothing but better for my daughters than I had. Here is where the difference occurs in opinion. Some parents will say, “now they need to do what we did, make the sacrifice. It is what you do.”

I find myself in a different thought process, especially in light of this new phenomenon “funemployment.” Were all the sacrifices that I made for my daughters worth it, in particular to my daughters? Until my health started failing, and it was occurring much quicker because of the physical toll I placed on my body with the extra hours I was putting in, I was able to provide nice gifts, went on trips, seemingly giving my daughters, “better than I had.”

But one day, my oldest daughter, ten years old at the time, asked me completely out of the blue, “Daddy, how come you are never home? I miss you.” That is when it hit me. I am sure at the time, my daughter definitely enjoyed everything she was given and experiencing. She also realized there was something she was missing, me, and time with me. We were out grocery shopping when this question came up. It was one of the rare times I had been home during the week with the number of hours I had been putting in at work. It left me with such a pit in my stomach. This was not what I wanted my fatherhood to be.

To keep things in perspective, neither of my daughters are likely to remember most of the trips we took, and except for some of the stories told, will not remember many of the gifts. But what they do both remember, is me working a lot of hours. And though we have different reasons for missing our Dads in our youth, their Dad lived in the house with them, yet they rarely saw me, especially as they got older. Sure, they knew I was working, working a lot. I am pretty sure they would have preferred that I not work as much. Because in the end, what they saw, was their parent, not happy with his work environment, feeling disrespected, underpaid, and underappreciated in spite of my commitment and dedication to my employer. I was a good and reliable worker until my health started going bad.

I know my daughters definitely do not want to be working in an environment that will require them to sacrifice themselves, time with family, self esteem. And if they are one of the millions of “Gen Z” who have found a way, not to panic about getting work, just so that they can take some extra time, to find that perfect fit, because clearly, our generations jumped into job after job, just for the sake of having a job, only to need to find another, I will not hold that against them.

My daughters are far from lazy. And it is likely, that many “Gen Z” are thinking the similar way. I am not naive though, that there may be some who are lazy. I just know that I can say my daughters will some day find their careers, and be the best at it. I do not want them rushing into something, only to be negatively impacted by an experience. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. I am okay with that.

Daddy, Don’t Go.

Yesterday’s post was quite heavy. Today it is going to get much harder. But it is my hope, that when all is said and done, I might just have been able to finally grieve for my Dad.

So a comment made to me on my post yesterday read, “so what would you have done differently?”

I know what I needed. No, wanted. More time. I missed nearly half of my life with him, mostly my childhood, and there was so much more to be said and done. As I went through my divorce, I recalled what I could remember about my youth, and thought about what I could not remember, and I used that to make sure that I did not do the same things to my daughters as they grew. Because it is that past that still haunts me to this day, and the day my father passed, I lost any chance to deal with or resolve any of those issues.

When my Father and I finally began speaking to each other again, after being estranged for so many years, it was at a time, when crisis had struck him. My stepmother had been hit by a car while crossing the street. Just before that accident, she and my Dad were having an argument. They had to run some errands, but now mad at each other, he went outside to the car, parked across the street, and waited for her there. As she finally came outside and began to cross the street, she never saw the car approach. But my Dad witnessed the impact and everything that happened after. A guilt that he would carry with him the rest of his life, it was at that moment, my Dad felt the need to unload other guilt that he carried, while he had the chance. It was too late for my stepmother. She had survived the accident, but her injuries left her crippled and without memory of the accident. My Dad would make it his life, to care for her, for the rest of her life. Turned out, he could only do it for the rest of his life. Somehow, a surprise to all, and a nod to my Father’s care, she is still living, now nine years later after his passing.

Anyhow, this second chance, or new beginning, whatever you want to call it, was awkward. I did not start right off with calling him “Dad” again. He was not forgiven for what I felt he had done, rather had been told he had done, and for not being there for me. I had told him, we would put that aside for the time being, and instead, build forward. Small talk about current daily life would become in depth conversations about things that needed to be done or have help with to eventually, becoming involved again in my life, now with grandchildren.

“I wish I had done things differently,” my Dad said quite often. And instead of airing everything out, what I had missed, what he had missed, and more importantly, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THAT YOU STOPPED WANTING TO SEE ME!?!, I would respond, “I know Dad, but now you have two wonderful granddaughters who adore you and love you. Make up that lost time with me, but with them.”

And my Father did just that. Heck, one story is told how he caught me off guard, offering to babysit my daughters overnight. While I did not hesitate to take him up on his offer, this was something I was so happy to do. It was the date of my 25th year class reunion, and it was being held local to where he lived. I would stay overnight at the hotel, not risking drinking and driving. Should my Dad need anything, I would be near enough by. I had a great time that evening, only to be getting a wake up phone call at 6:30am from my Dad. “Hello?”, I answered groggily. “So? How was your night?”, my Father asked. Now, I know the older population wakes up early, even on the weekends, but I really did not think he would call me this early. Something had to be wrong. But he was offering small talk, or so I thought. “I had a good time. Been a long time since I have seen some of my friends.” I do not think my answer mattered to my Dad. “So what time are you picking the kids up?”, he asked. My daughters could not have been too much to handle. They both were easy going, easily entertained, and always focused on the giant “Oreo” cookie jar, filled with cookies.

To preface the rest of this conversation, my daughters were aged three and five years old at the time. My Dad continued, “they had me up at 3am. They found my flashlights and were running around the house with them. It woke your stepmother up, who then woke me up.” I myself just waking up to this conversation, had to use every ounce of strength I had not to laugh or guffaw, because clearly my Dad was not amused by the early hour activity. I would not have been either. The funny thing is, I am a light sleeper, and I had never seen either of my daughters up in the middle of the night doing anything. “I will be there around 10. I just need to get some breakfast. Sorry.” This is just one memory of many my father gave me, with my daughters, which is one more memory that I have of my Dad from my childhood.

My parents divorced when I was three years old. Over fifty years later, I still have no idea why. And with only one side still living to tell me, I have chosen not to hear anything. Being divorced twice myself, I know there are two sides, and ultimately, the children will eventually figure things out themselves if they want to, and are able. But when I informed my daughters, who were 8 and 10 years old at the time, I was able to explain to them, nothing was going to change between them and myself. I was always going to see them. I was always going to be there for them. I was never going to disappear.

But what was said to 3 year old me? Was my Father even there to explain anything to me? Or was he already gone, out of the picture? Did I ask where my Dad was? Did I try to stop my Dad from leaving, “Daddy, don’t go?” I have no memory of that time period at all. While that could be a good thing, depending on how the divorce was going, but soon I would realize, I didn’t have a Dad in my life, and that hurt when I saw all the other kids in the neighborhood all had fathers.

To be fair, to my Father, I do know that he did occasionally have custody visits with me, but honestly, I can remember only enough to count on both my hands. As I got older, words I heard spoken around me, made me resent him for not being more involved in my life. Soon, it was me refusing to go with him when he would come for my sister. This attitude is not normal for a child to hate their parent. It was taught to me. My high school graduation was the final straw for me. I actually threatened my Father, “show up, or I never want to see you again.” He did not show. It would be years until I would ever see him again. I meant what I said.

I used my childhood experience to do all that I could to protect my daughters from the same parental alienation tactics. I know divorce is not easy. But it is between the husband and the wife, not the children. It is not natural to turn a child against either parent. And at least I can say, I never did any such thing, and I still do not. I have no comment on their mother and others.

But this much I do know, I have tons of memories that I continued to build with my daughters. Sure the living situations were not ideal, but they were the best for all of the circumstances. I wanted to protect my daughters from witnessing any harassment that I was receiving, which would have put me in the position of fighting back against those they loved in spite of those who held animosity towards me, or witnessing me being bullied. If you asked them today, and this is with them having exposure to their friends who have “broken” households (the ones where the parents stay together no matter what, with all kinds of hostility), and those who are from “broken” homes (divorced), my daughters both will tell you, they are more at ease with their mother and I having gotten divorced.

Next month, my youngest daughter will graduate high school, and just like with my oldest daughter, I will be there, proud as ever for both daughters. I have navigated through one of the most difficult things in my life, focused on only one thing, actually two, my daughters. I was never going to give up.

But what did my Father do my entire childhood without me? Did he think about me at all? Did he remember my birthday? What went through his mind when he made the decision not to show up at my graduation?

It was a tragic event that brought us back to each other, and a long road to haul to where we ended up. I never bothered asking my Father those questions as we repaired our relationship because all that mattered to us at that time, was moving forward. I certainly was not going to ask those questions from his deathbed. But following his passing, those questions would surface in my thoughts, as I often found myself struggling emotionally with some of the tactics used in my divorce towards me.

Though my Dad and I had made amends, and I once again developed a huge amount of respect for my Father, I struggled with his absence in my childhood once again. I was my Father’s son. As hard as it was to go through this divorce, I know my Father’s divorce paled in comparison. Why did he not want to see me? Again, this is still something I struggle with today.

But as my Father neared his end, it was not situations of my youth that I wanted answers to, our lives split into two halves, I finally had my Father back in my life. Sure, he had some health issues, and I was there for him. I had some health issues, and he was there for me. I had my Dad back. With my health issues, I did not anticipate outliving my parents (a totally different but accurate post). We were having grown up conversations about current issues, and things that needed to get done around the house. I was going to rely on my Dad to keep my legacy with my daughters alive should something happen to me. To be certain, I do not plan on anything happening, but it is just the nature of a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor with my treatment history decades ago. My daughters grew up with several other children who had lost their fathers. I did not want my daughters to go through that pain, very similar to that of growing up without a father due to divorce.

I know my Father regretted many things. Missing out on my childhood. And though he relied on my experience in medicine during his cancer as his advocate, he regretted not questioning certain things that I recommend he do question. Would that have resulted in a different situation if he had? Would he still be alive had he not gone for the additional treatments recommended to him, suspected by me? We will never know. But toward the end, I believe he did believe things would have been different.

There was so much more I wanted to experience with my Dad, for my daughters to experience with their Grandfather. Unlike fifty-four years ago however, I know for certain this time I told my Dad, “Dad, please don’t go.” I do hope that I had that chance when I was that little boy and told him, “Daddy, don’t go.” I hope he knew how much he meant to me. And if there is any way possible, I hope that somehow, he is able to see what is happening today, and be happy for his son and granddaughters. Because ultimately, he is what got me through these last ten years, even though he has been gone only nine.

I miss you Dad.

So, in the end, instead of fighting off everyone challenging decisions interfering with my Dad’s care, instead of one court battle after another, I just wish I could have had the time to discuss all these things with my Father, and allowed to feel the pain emotionally as he struggled physically, and then be able to mourn his loss, as I now seem to finally be doing at this moment.

9 Years Later… I Still Miss My Dad

I have been missing in action here for the last few weeks. I made the rare decision, that for the first time in my life, I was going to focus on me. For as long as I can remember, my attention has always been on everyone else, except for me. Admittedly, I honestly felt, this was the only way to give my life a purpose. The option of calm sacrificed for intensity, often referred to as some of my friends and co-workers would say, drama. I was often referred to as being “attracted to drama.” I denied this every time it was said to me. I mean seriously, who would really choose to want to live their life, constantly on adrenaline filled strife. I am one who knows first hand, that the stress created, is capable of causing death, in my case, it almost did just before I had my heart surgery back in 2008.

With a major chapter in my life now closed after nearly ten years, my second divorce, and my health in a stable pattern, for the first time, I am not dealing with any “drama.” With clear thinking, not to be confused with my memory which is a different situation, I now focus on the things that bring me joy, and to be able to dream of things to come. I can think about my younger daughter’s final days as a high school senior, her prom, and soon to be graduation, things I never thought I would live long enough to experience. The timing could not be better for me.

And then today comes, May 20th. Two things happened on this date. I got married for my first time, soon after my first attempt to be cured of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The second thing that happened, my father passed away on this date, now nine years ago.

A month and a half after this photo was taken, my Father passed away from complications of lung cancer. Over a year earlier, doctors had been encouraged that his cancer was at the best stage for remission, yet somehow, the cancer had a different plan, an aggressive and rapid plan, that would have us all fooled that my Dad was going to beat this, and then all of a sudden take such a drastic turn, turning terminal.

My Father asked me to be his medical proxy, also known as an advocate, because he knew with my past history with cancer, I would understand most of everything explained to him, so that I could make sure he knew what he was up against. We had a complex relationship, estranged childhood, but an adult relationship that allowed us to make amends on several fronts. Ironically, in the beginning of his diagnosis, and when he asked me to be his proxy, we talked about how he was unable to be there for me when I went through my Hodgkin’s, and now, he was actually asking for me to be there for him. Of course, I said yes. I believed that he could have no one better fighting along his side. He believed that I would always look out for him, help him to make his decisions, and most importantly, make sure his personal wishes were followed, no matter what.

I will not rehash what happened with my Dad’s cancer on this post. I have written about it several times in the past. Instead, today, I find that peace that I have been experiencing the last few weeks leaving me vulnerable now, to deal with something I was unable to do, I was prevented from doing so, nine years ago and since, grieve for my Father. The last closest family member to me to pass, was my Grandmother, fifteen years earlier. Unlike with my Dad, I was able to grieve for my Grandmother.

As my Father was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was dealing with my own health struggles. Our house was heading towards its fourth path to foreclosure. I was also involved in my second school board campaign. I had also begun the process of my second divorce, which rapidly developed dark and hostile undertones, clearly signs of the divorce turning nasty, at least for one side. Though in the beginning, we had been encouraged for my Dad, his cancer would take a turn, in spite of all the cancer being removed from his lung, preventative chemotherapy, followed by preventative radiation therapy, which seemed to ignite a fuse with his cancer, turning terminal. The school board election was over, again I had lost, only this time, my divorce got credit for interfering with the election. But my attorney began warning me, that I was not focused enough on what was happening with the divorce, and I was quickly facing a difficult situation, one that I might not be able to get out of. Rulings were going to be made, and if I did not start paying better attention, becoming more proactive, I could end up in real trouble.

To be clear, I never contested taking care of my daughters. The final situation of the household, combined with my health created a situation that left errors, resulting in a higher amount than what should have been, and would later be appealed, corrected, and overturned. But in the meantime, I needed to do what I could to honor any rulings. My employer had just put me out on disability due to my declining health, no longer able to work with my health restrictions. This left me short, nearly 50% of the amount I was expected to pay, even without my own living expenses. The order? “You need to find a way to make that money again.” This is a term called “earning capacity” – what you were making at the time, you are expected to make now, no matter what. Somehow, with my failing health, I was expected to get another job, to supplement my employer’s disability pay, which of course, how can you collect sick pay from your main employer, while moonlighting on another job? You cannot. I was put into a position of resigning from my company, leaving me with no income, so that I could look for another job that would earn me the same amount to be able to afford the court order, and have enough to survive myself.

My Father’s health continued to deteriorate, as the cancer had begun to affect his brain, clarity during conversations was becoming an issue. In the meantime, family members began to undermine my Father’s care and my efforts to make sure he was taken care of properly. I spent many nights, overnight with my Dad, keeping him company on his restless nights. The staff in the hospice appreciated that, as they were overwhelmed with their capacity. But several family members began to question his care, and my efforts. To be clear, my Father was going to die, likely very soon. But those family members did not like the fact that he was no longer receiving “life maintenance” medicines for issues like cholesterol and blood pressure, or if he would need an antibiotic. Besides the fact, these medicines were being denied by insurance because of my Father’s condition, why would anyone want to extend the life of someone who is clearly suffering?

The cruelest thing some did, was try to give my Dad false hope. I was originally approached by these family members about a clinical trial for this type of lung cancer, at its advanced stage. Because I have a history with medicine and pharmacology, I already knew my Father would never have been eligible, besides the fact he was too far advanced, he had major pre-existing conditions which would have made him ineligible, a major heart attack, two strokes, lobectomy (removal of his lung lobe). Unsuccessful with getting through to me, these cruel relatives went straight to my Dad, trying to encourage him to convince me to fight for him. That there was help.

I understand how they felt. Nobody wanted my Father to die, let alone go through this. But I was now being portrayed as no longer willing to fight for my Dad.

Meanwhile, my efforts to find employment, with a large enough salary, had come up empty. I had done some research to see where jobs were offered in the range of income that I needed. They were all out of state, some over a thousand miles away. But my attorney was stern, I needed to do what I had to do, to take care of this court order. While I consider myself a time manager by habit, I was going to redefine that term with me, with what I needed to do. I was going to have to leave the state, but I needed to wait until my Father had passed, which hospice had said, could be any time at that point. In order to get any of those jobs in the state I was looking at, I needed to have a physical address there, as well as identification for that state. It was now the end of April, my Father had gotten much worse. I needed to make a guess, ghoulish as it was, how much longer I thought my Dad would hang on. I needed to get a job for the judge’s court order. And though my Dad was no longer “there” for the most part, I know, this is what he would have wanted me to do. As he and my mother were divorced when I was a toddler, he knew all to well the wall I was backed up against, prior to his cancer diagnosis.

I had found an apartment, and was prepared for interviews. I just needed to move. I needed to guess, how soon I would be able to do this, without being in contempt with the court. I had no ability to mourn my Father’s condition as he was losing his life, I was fighting for mine. I chose May 20th to make that trip. I purchased a train ticket. Then I waited.

Two weeks had passed, and the call came from hospice. My Father’s vitals were showing he was nearing his end. It was recommended that those who wanted to spend final moments with him, to do so. I continued to bounce my attention from my Father’s bedside, to my court situation, unable to focus really on either. Though initially, it was thought my Dad’s passing was imminent, an entire week would go by. Still, not allowed to focus on my Father, the calendar was now taunting me. I was going to have to make a decision, leave for what I needed to do, or stay, and risk contempt of court, losing my best opportunity to satisfy the orders. We were encouraged to speak to my Dad, to tell him, “it was okay” for him to go. We took our time to express fond memories and thoughts of what he meant to us.

May 19th, 2014

These were the final things that I said to my Father. I told him that I forgave him for the childhood we never got to experience with each other. I was glad that we had the chance to make amends even under the circumstances that had occurred bringing us together. I told him he was a great Grandfather to my daughters. They loved him so. I told him I forgave him for the times that he could not be there for me during my own cancer battles. I thanked him for the things we shared in conversation as adults, memories I would always keep with me. Never one to show emotion, I soon found out how little control I had of those emotions. My Father had never heard me sing before, and one of my favorite songs, is “Cats In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin. I sang that song for my Dad, only able to get through half-way before losing it. But I made sure to get to the end of the song so he could hear me sing, “and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, my boy was just like me. My boy was just like me.” I had changed the final lyrics to, “I grew up just like you Dad. I grew up just like you.”

And with that, I had to made the decision, that I needed to leave, before my Father had passed. Not because I did not want to be there for that moment. That killed me inside. But I needed to get on the train so that I had a chance to avoid the many perils my Father faced during his divorce from my mother and the decisions he made.

May 20th, 2014

It was 4:45pm, the train had just pulled out from the station about an hour earlier. My phone had rung. It was my sister. She was calling to tell me that our Dad had finally passed. One of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, I was angry that I could not be there for him. But as I said, I knew this was what my Father would have wanted. I spent the next thirteen hours just looking out the window, remembering my Father and the times we had in the second half of our lives.

I had asked that his memorial take place over Father’s Day weekend, the next time I needed to return home, which was also the weekend, I would find myself back in court. While mourners offered me condolences for my Dad, my thoughts were with my pending case the following Monday, which my attorney warned me, was not expected to go well. But even in his death, I was still not being allowed to grieve for him.

And this is the way it has been, every year when this date comes up. I remember every detail of that period vividly (a fete of great challenge considering I struggle with remembering five minutes ago). Instead of being able to just remember my Father, because I have never grieved for him, and being in the position I was in, during his final days, that is what reappears every May 20th, and right now as I write this.

I was hoping this year would be different. My divorce case now closed, no longer under the pressure of the court for something I never resisted in the first place. I am moving on to the next chapter of my life with my daughters, the same chapter I enjoyed with my Father as I was an adult. The only difference, I had no lost time to make up or explain to my daughters. I know my Father envied the Father I am to my daughters and he stated many times, he wished that things could have been different for us with our past. But honestly, I would not have traded our last twenty years together, a chance I am glad we had to take.

I miss you Dad.

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