Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Finding Meaning In Life

I have a friend who shares two things every morning. I look forward to them each day. One is for me, one is for my older daughter. For my daughter, there is a post celebrating the birthday of an artist from someone over the world, over time, an example of their work, perhaps a quote from the artist themselves, and an observation from my friend. I share this post with my daughter, an aspiring artist herself, just so that she can see the variety of expressions that she has yet to tap into.

The other post my friend shares, is a daily devotional. To her credit, she does both of these posts daily, so needless to say, I count on seeing them, and will be quite worried for her, if she happens to miss a day. This deep thought each day is not necessarily complicated, yet is powerful enough to actually make you stop riding your own personal “merry-go-round” and go “hmmmmm.”

This morning’s post from her did exactly that, three photos “you find meaningful or memorable.” This may seem like a difficult task, especially when opening up my laptop, going to my photographs, and seeing more than 100,000 of them (from the day I started saving them digitally), and I have fairly many when I used to actually print them out, but there are actually three photographs that do have true meaning to me, as they have shaped who I am today.

My grandmother, pictured on the right of her younger sister, passed away in 1988 following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, her second cancer that she faced, breast cancer being the first, thirteen years earlier (my first personally known cancer survivor). The picture does not show just how tall she is not, only that she is shorter than her sister. But my grandmother was a very strong woman, physically and emotionally. With my mother working a second shift job during the week, it was my grandmother who I spent most of my time with when I was not in school.

I give credit to my grandmother for shaping me who I am today. That path took so many detours however, when she passed away. My grandmother was my “moral compass.” In other words, if she was not telling me her opinion of decisions I was making in person, I heard her “voice” in my head when we were apart. One of her main tenets was always, “take care of others before yourself.”

While some may see this as an admirable trait, to make yourself the last priority, that comes at a price. The mother of a dear friend from high school many decades ago, once told me, “you cannot expect someone to love you if you do not love yourself first.” It was not that I did not feel good about myself. I just did not think of myself to make myself a priority.

In 1988, I had to make myself a priority, as I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system. I could not afford to focus on anyone else, though I definitely tried.

But throughout the rest of my grandmother’s life in my adulthood, my grandmother was there, offering her input with many challenges that I faced, not afraid to raise her voice, or speak in “Pennsylvania Dutch”, the equivalence of a child speaking under their breath so as not to understand what was said. My grandmother always seemed to keep me on the straight and narrow path with my decision, pausing me to at least think about actions, and consequences and no matter what, to make sure that I was respectful to all when I made that decision.

Yesterday marked the 7th anniversary of my father’s passing from lung cancer. There are not many photos of he and I together when I was younger, something I swore I would never let happen with my daughters, much to their dismay I have not disappointed myself.

My parents divorced when I was three, and custody went the way that it does in many divorces, not good when it came to the fathers, especially in the 1970’s. Eventually I would become estranged from my father, part his choice, part my choice. This is a time period we would both regret later in life. But as the photo shows, we did work things out. And it gave us an opportunity to learn about each other, and what he now saw in me, and what I “got” from him.

I may have missed 1/3 of my life with him through my childhood, but the other 2/3 gave me so much back, opportunities. Relying on childhood friends for experiences with their fathers, I finally got to develop a father/son relationship of my own. And in the end, I would face the biggest of all challenges that a “child” often faces, caring for that parent as he faced several health challenges, including lung cancer.

He was there when my health began to fail due to my late effects from cancer treatments years earlier. My dad got to see the adoption of both of my daughters, his granddaughters. And unlike his biological granddaughters, my daughters had their own impact on my Dad, not known for being the “cootchie coo” kind of parent, they cracked his gruff shell. As my Dad retired from landscaping, he had informed me that he would take on driving a school bus. And I was like, “but Dad, school busses have kids on them.” That was not a punchline. I was being serious.

My father ended up driving elementary school children, the same age as his granddaughters. And every day, there was a set of twins, of Asian heritage, that he told me, reminded him of his granddaughters. This brought a smile to my dad’s face ever time, a smile I do not ever remember seeing so strongly. But he enjoyed all of the children. Say what? I could not believe it, my Dad was a school bus driver, and not only liked it, but the kids all liked their grandfatherly bus driver.

One of the most memorable things that happened toward the end, as he was forced into retiring from driving the school bus, on his last run, he was given a “get well” card from his “kids” and parents, who were so grateful for all the safe transportation that he provided. I recall him telling me how uncomfortable this made him originally, that he had never had so many, if any care for him, like the way he felt at that moment.

The third photo is a no brainer, the day my daughters came into my life. That moral compass that I lost back in 1998 with passing of my grandmother, was restored in 2004, and reinforced in 2006 with their adoptions. I was now a parent myself, and that mattered to someone, actually two someone’s. Decisions I would make, affected not only me, but them as well. They would become the driving force behind me fighting for my health with all of the challenges that I have faced, and will continue to face. Things I would do or say, now had two sets of ears and eyes, documenting everything I did and said. My actions would be their examples as they grow up. They had now become, my new “moral compass.”

The values I learned from my grandmother and the importance of a parental relationship that I learned from my father, are now an integral part of the relationship I have with my daughters today. And life is good. Each day, one now in adulthood, another approaching it (a day that too many times I almost never got to see because of my health issues), I have expanded my goals in life to include one final chapter myself, one that my doctor promised me, that he would help me see, my daughters graduating, getting married, and becoming a grandparent myself.

Like everything else in my life, that path has not gone smoothly or perfectly, but we have made it the best that we could along the way. And it is not only good. It is great!

And those are my photos that have meaning or have given me great memories.

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