There are not many people that I have admired over the years on either a personal or historical level. In fact, I can count them all on less than one hand. But one person that I can say I admire the most of all, is my Father. He was born in the 1940’s, did not finish high school (common back in those days), was married with two children, a boy and a girl, and divorced. He would eventually marry a second time expanding the size of his family by double as far as children, get to experience more than a dozen grandchildren and even great grandchildren.
His riches and wealth in his family were what mattered to him most. To my knowledge, up until the day he retired from his most recent full time job just a few years ago, the best salary he had ever seen was just over a mere $22,000. He had a modest home with his wife and a simple compact car. But to him, he had everything.
Because of the divorce at my young age, I never had the chance to really know or spend time with my father. And I missed a lot. He missed a lot too and he knew this. But early in my 20’s, when he decided to marry my stepmother (a formality because in Pennsylvania, they were already common law), my father reached out to me, to make amends. We both recognized that a lot of time had passed, but also knew that it could not be replaced. But from that moment, we started a new relationship and built on that start every day.
Typically, those on the paternal side of my family do not get to live long lives. The inside joke is if you are over 55 and it is Christmas time, you need to make sure you have your will made. But my father did what many of his siblings and parents could not do, he saw his 70th birthday this year. It was a goal that meant much to him. Unfortunately, cancer would overshadow this milestone. My father actually made a comment in his last days that he was 59. And the truth is, he believed it. Perhaps subliminally, he believed it because perhaps recognizing he was 70, and having cancer, he did not want to face the possibility of his mortality.
But his cancer was not the only challenging time of his life. Really, for someone who led such a simple life, he was faced with so many tragedies and crisis, more than anyone should have to experience in one family. His son (me) diagnosed with cancer. His mother dying from cancer, as well as his father. And perhaps the most challenging events of his life occurred one fateful night in December just before Christmas.
My father and stepmother were having an argument about one issue, while having to do some last minute Christmas shopping. They left their house separately, clearly aggravated. My father had left first, walked across the street to his car, then look out his window to see my stepmother crossing the street herself. It was dusk, and neither she, nor the driver saw each other. My father witnessed the accident and blamed himself for the rest of his life, over two decades.
During these decades that he cared for my stepmother, not once did he ever consider placing her into a nursing home. He took “in sickness and in health” to the extreme by staying by her side, concerned about her care up to his dying days, “promise me Shirley will be taken care of.”
When they time came that his health became too much for him to care for her, let alone himself, a decision had to be made. And after forty something years, it looked like for the first time, they would be separate permanently. Some eleventh hour efforts by some county officials, and we were able to arrange for both of them to be placed into the same nursing home. My father got to see that my stepmother was in great hands and care. Over the next two months, he was able to witness just how well she would thrive in the home after he was gone. However, due to the spreading of the cancer to his brain, he remembered only one thing that mattered, he was the one who took care of her. And up until a few weeks ago, he still tried his best to do so.
In a scene that could have well come from “The Notebook”, Shirley was by my father side, holding his hand, letting him know that she would be fine. A week ago, my father passed away. He was a great and honorable man, someone I will always admire.
I miss you Dad.