Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Recreation”

Happy Father’s Day

If there is one thing in my life that I will say defines it, it is Fatherhood. All I have ever wanted to be, was a Dad. Along the way, I have been challenged in the most extreme ways from cancer to divorce, but nothing has stood in the way of the unconditional and never-ending love of my children. My daughters are the reasons behind every decision that I make, and the drive to keep moving forward.

Historically, prior to the arrival of my daughters, Father’s Day was just another day in June.

This is one of three photos that I possess with my father from childhood, none occurred on or around Father’s Day. In fact, I do not remember spending any time with my father for Father’s Day. To be clear, this was his decision, a result of the divorce from my mother. Another reason for my sadness of Father’s day, my grandmother passed away the week before Father’s Day in 1998. And then, my Father was memorialized on Father’s Day weekend in 2014 after passing from the effects of lung cancer. Admittedly, this was something that I requested.

Even with my daughters, Father’s Day seemed to take a back seat, as with other holidays, because I was expected to work. I had a 40-hour/week job, but if offered overtime, so I was expected to work it, even on Father’s Day, the one day that should have been about me with my daughters. I was supposed to just be grateful for the few hours I had to spend with them once I got home from work.

To be clear, there is no one more important to me, than my daughters. When faced with emergency open heart surgery back in 2008 due to late effects from the treatments that cured me of my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, it was the fear of never seeing them again, them having the possibility of experiencing what one of their close friends experienced, losing a parent, that really pulled me through.

Unlike my father, I was there for my daughters for Father’s Day, with the exception of three, two of those were beyond my control, and the other was purely for everyone’s health and well being. A process with my divorce led me to miss two Father’s Days. And in 2020, Covid19 and all the uncertainties left me no other choice, than to keep my daughters safe, and that meant not having them travel to see me. Those three years, came and went, each time, leaving me with a broken heart, no other options available.

But just after the last time that I missed spending time with my daughters for Father’s Day, I made sure that they knew every Father’s Day, they are my priority. They are the reason I wake up every day. They are the reason I look forward to every tomorrow.

This Father’s Day is more than just having lost last year’s time together. For years, I have had friends prepare me for the time when my daughters would get older, and the likelihood that visits with them would be less frequent because they had their own things to do a la Harry Chapin’s “Cats In The Cradle”. In all honesty, for my one friend, he got much less years than I have in regard to that situation. My daughters know how important Father’s Day is to me, as important if not more than, our visit at Christmas. Father’s Day is the day, I get to celebrate and cherish all of the memories from the thousands of photos I have taken of my daughters over the years, opportunities that have lessened from the demands of the teenagers.

My daughters have a biological father, somewhere. But I am the only Father they know. And whether they are six, eighteen, or forty two, they know I will always expect this day to be ours, together.

Yes, their mother and I are divorced, and unlike my Father, I made the conscious decision, to stay in their lives, to be active in their school and interests, to be one of their two main role models, to guide them with their decisions toward their future. Each and every day, I make an attempt to reach them, through various means from phone, to Facetime, to text, a reminder that every day to them, that I am thinking about them. That I miss them. That I love them.

There are so many fathers that I do hear from, that for any reason, are not getting that opportunity this year, perhaps for several years now. For some, it is their first year without either their children, or their father. My heart breaks for them, because I understand the many different issues surrounding the emptiness of this holiday as an adult child of divorce, a divorced parent, as well as someone who lost their father.

The time with each other is only temporary. It can be a few years, or decades. But it is only temporary. That is why it is important every year, on this day, you celebrate if you are able to still do so with each other. And if you are in the unfortunate situation, having been alienated from your father or from your children, you DO NOT EVER give up! Time will heal. I got that chance to do that with my father before it was too late.

I do not know what Father’s Day will look like in 2022. But after having lost Father’s Day last year due to Covid19, this year will be more special than ever to me and my daughters.

Needless to say, as few photos there are of my father and I, my daughters will never have that problem.

Happy Father’s Day.

The Last Of The Simple Times

It started out with a simple post coming across my news feed. “Missing the gang!!!!” It was posted by a friend from decades ago, reconnected through social media. I initially responded with a “thumbs up” just to let her know, that as I was not sure what “gang” she was referring to, there was a gang that we were a part of, and her post had reminded me of them all.

In fact, of that gang that I refer to, I have reconnected with nearly everyone from the days that started my life and hobby as a disc jockey, beginning on college radio. I cannot help when I see posts from them, but immediately click back to 1984 when it all started. It has been amazing to see all of the different directions our lives have taken. We are all forty years older now, yikes, sorry for that reminder. It does not take long, for us to remember what we were all like together back then.

And then comments began being posted. They were from the other jocks in our group. I still do not know what the meaning was behind the post, but clearly, others felt similarly. Suddenly, I found my mind going back to the mid 1980’s, hanging out in one of the two studios, or partying on a weekend. Great friends. Simple.

I do not know much what each of my friends had experienced in the years after that. I see our heavy metal guy extremely (and gracefully) looking grandfatherly, another is in another country on the other side of the world, one is “trapped” in a much earlier time enjoying revolutionary re-enactments, and the stories go on.

Most if not all, are aware of the health issues that I have struggled with, but are also aware of where I am in life, with two beautiful daughters who mean the world to me. While my daughters have seen me DJ live in the past, they still have a hard time grasping my voice coming from the radio long ago.

But one of the questions that often comes up on my cancer/survivor pages, “do you remember life before cancer?” And I actually do. I am not even referring to the fact that I was engaged to be married, having a great time, partying and travelling, looking toward a future. I do not consider this part of my life “before cancer,” because it was during this time, the rug got pulled out from underneath me.

No, it was during my years at WXLV, 90.3fm, on the campus of Lehigh County Community College in Schnecksville, PA (that was the entire tagline as I recall), where not only my life as a DJ began, but where I met and made some great friendships, friendships that I know, just as happened a few years ago with one of those fellow jocks, a reunion with any of them, would bring back nothing but good memories. To me, these are friends that, sure, we would acknowledge and sorrow or crisis we may have faced, but what we shared with each other back then, we would be right back to supporting each other with that same level of friendship back in 1984.

I am not denying where we are right now in 2021. But I am saying that the time back in 1984, a simpler time, and being able to reflect and remember those in my life at that time, reminds me, that who I was back then, still exists, because I can still see it.

Craig, Roxanne, Matt, Dan, Mickey, Jack, Brian, you all remind me of that simpler time, my life before cancer. Something that will always be important to me.

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.

Post Navigation