What Would Be?
I always have mixed feelings about “birthday” posts recognizing “what would have been,” someone’s birthday, if they would be alive today. I can understand why it is done, that desire to think about what it would be like, if they were still here today. Or perhaps to recognize how long it has been since the loved one had passed.
These two photos are the first known, and last photos of me with my father. Today is his birthday. Oddly, it was not until about a decade ago, that I could remember what day of January it was and then it hit me, one month after mine. I have not forgotten it since.
Sadly, all I get to do on my father’s birthday anymore, is just remember it, remember him, and remember what we had gone through with each other over the first half of my life.
There are not a lot of stories from my childhood of my father, or photographs (something that I have more than made up for when it came to his granddaughters). My parents were divorced when I was three, and without going into details, not relevant to this post, I hardly saw my Dad.
It was not until the second quarter of my life, that we reconnected, and made amends. There was a lot to talk about and a lot to deal with. Long story short, my Dad took advantage of that second chance with me.
We both had our health issues, I had already gone through my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and he would have a major heart attack in his late 50’s, leading to major lifestyle changes. Following that heart attack, I found myself paying even closer attention to my Dad and our relationship. If he needed something physically done, I would take care of it for him, such as chopping firewood for the winter.
That would change when I would begin to develop health issues myself, related to the treatments I had received for my cancer, now 32 years ago. The two of us, with our heart conditions, would actually become an issue, as, even though we saw different cardiologists, it was in the same health network computer-wise. We have the same first and last name, and yes, the same day of the month. Had anyone paid attention to the year of birth, there would be no mistaking who was who. But on at least two occasions, I had to correct the nurse, that I was not the “Paul” with the heart attack and a smoker. Our charts were definitely different inside.
But there is one thing in common that we do have, actually seems to run in my family on my father’s side. We are not known for our longevity. My father, one of five children, is only the second child to live past 55 years of age. His younger sister died at 48, his mother at 49.
My father and I had never really given family longevity a thought, especially since he survived his heart attack. Admittedly, given all the health issues I deal with, I have passed 55 myself, but I do not take every day for granted with all the cards against me.
At the age of 65, and a smoker for at least fifty years of those, my father had been diagnosed with emphasema. But it was a mild enough case, that they told him, if he were to quit smoking, he could actually reverse the progression. Unfortunately, he could not quit, and not for lack of trying. But two years later, he would face his most difficult challenge ever, a diagnosis of lung cancer.
Again, I won’t go into the details here (I have written about it in “My Dad Was Just Like Me”), as by now you know the ending.
But it was a comment that my father had made, which stands out, every birthday just before his birthday, the year that he died. “I just want to make it to 70.” He would be one of the few, to make it that far. He would pass away four months later, and I do not know if he realized that he had done just that, made it to 70. The cancer had spread enough, that it was not causing memory and other cognitive issues. He had his clear moments, and then, there were those that we could not recognize him.
As humble as any man could be, I am glad that he lived long enough to be a part of his granddaughters’ lives. And I know he was glad to have that time.
I miss him dearly. And I remember him often. And though my health challenges are just as if not more serious than my father’s, I do hope to live long enough to see things that I have set as goals.
Happy Birthday Dad.