My Dad

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I had a conversation with my dad tonight that I’ll never forget.

First, a quick recap: June 2, dad was diagnosed with stage 4 throat and neck cancer.  June 9, dad moved in with me and the kids. The rest is sort of a blur, but over the past few months I have learned more than I’d ever want to know about cancer, care giving and I guess just about life in general.

After seven weeks of intense radiation five days a week, and three bouts of an absolutely brutal chemotherapy regimen, dad completed his treatment three weeks ago today.  There have been several visits to the hospital outside of his treatment schedule, quite a few short stays, a couple of longer ones and numerous arguments about him being a less than perfect patient.  This week he had a follow up visit that really wasn’t very encouraging.  He just doesn’t seem to be recovering from the treatment.  We came home Wednesday after having some blood work done, but a phone call from his doctor on Friday about his lab results validated what we both already knew…dad is just really, really sick.  I took him in to the ER and they admitted him into the critical care unit and so here we are again, with dad in his “luxury suite” at Beaumont.

I don’t really know how to interact with him anymore.  This makes him living with me a bit awkward.  But he has lost most of his hearing and pretty much all of his speech and I don’t really know how to do much besides talk, so this makes things pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know what else to do so I just keep talking.  And he just keeps either not hearing me at all or pretending that he doesn’t.  So our actual conversations are rare.  But tonight we had one.

I was telling him that when he gets home we need to be more careful about making sure that he doesn’t get this sick again.  I told him that I’d do a better job of monitoring him and making sure that he’s staying hydrated and nourished.  I talked about how we’d start trying to get him out of bed each day and try to work up to taking a walk down the street.  I reminded him of the cane that I’d just bought him and how he needs to start to use it and get up more often.  “You’re going to get depressed if you just keep staying in bed” I said. He just laid there and closed his eyes.

I looked at him for way too long. I stared hard. I realized that I don’t even recognize him anymore.  He doesn’t look like my dad.  He’s just the skeleton of a man that used to be invincible.  His face is sunken in. I can see every bone in his body.  He’s 5’10” and he weighs 102 lbs. His thighs are about as big around as my wrist. His shoulder blades protrude through the shirts that hang limp on his body.  He turned 60 last month but looks like he’s lived a hundred long years.  This is my dad.  My dad with cancer.

He opened his eyes and with the whisper of a voice that the cancer hasn’t taken yet, he spoke. “I don’t know why you’re so good to me.  I’ve never been a good dad to you.”

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that my family has it’s fair share of dysfunctions.  Many of which stem from addictions that my dad has just never been able to kick.  But “never been a good dad”.  Well, that’s a far cry from the truth. I’m saddened that he thinks that and I’m embarrassed because I’ve actually probably felt that way about him at times too.

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My parents were practically kids when they had me.  She was 19, he was 20. They hadn’t known each other long and they’ve never really talked about how or where they met or anything like that.  All I know is that they met, got pregnant, got married and moved to Colorado…in that order…where they had yours truly about seven months later.  My dad could have easily bailed.  But he didn’t.  We stayed in Colorado for years, until (I think) my mom just couldn’t handle being away from family any longer and we made the move to Michigan.

 

My dad was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known.  He got up early every single morning for as long as I can remember to be to work by 5 or 6 a.m. He was always gone long before I ever woke and came home most evenings with enough time to eat a reheated dinner, since we’d eaten hours before, and then he’d go to bed to do it all again the next day.  He often worked six and sometimes seven days a week like that. He taught me to be a hard and diligent worker.

He made sure that we always had what we needed and that we worked for anything else.  I inherited his love for horses and he made me earn and save my own money to buy a horse for myself.  And then when all of my friend’s parents were buying them their first cars, I was working to save up to purchase a car for myself. He taught me the value of hard work and I learned to appreciate things far more than my friends ever did.

He never did things for me, but taught me how to do everything.  From him, I learned to change a tire, replace a toilet and fix a garbage disposal.  He taught me how to clean a house spotless, cut the grass perfectly and the proper way to change the oil and the brakes on my car. I learned that nothing is impossible and there are very few things that I can’t figure out how to fix on my own with a little hard work and determination.

When my sister Rebecca and I would fight, my dad would make us sit on the couch next to each other holding hands for what seemed like hours.  He told us that “you girls are sisters and you’re all each other will have someday” and that we’d better treat each other right. From him, we learned the importance of family and of course, we eventually grew to love each other. He raised a house full of daughters and I always knew how badly he wanted a son.  When my mom was pregnant with Kari, the youngest, I told my dad that I’d pray for a boy.  After they found out at the ultrasound that it was another girl, I told him I was sorry and he said that it was fine and “who would want a stinky old boy anyway when he could have another pretty little girl”.  photo 1 (3)

My dad used to be a great story teller and loved to tell jokes. So many of his stories ended up with punch lines that when he actually had a one to tell that wasn’t a joke, he’d have to spend an hour convincing us that there was no punch line coming.

Yeah, my dad has issues.  He has fought his demons my whole life, but he’s been as good of a dad as he knew how to and up until a few years ago he was always able to keep those demons at bay.

I don’t know what the outcome will be for my dad right now.  But I do know that he won’t be around forever.  And I think that I have done him, and probably myself and even my kids, a disservice over the years.  I have spent far too much time focusing on what he’s done wrong as a dad and not nearly enough time on what he’s done right.  My character has, in so many ways, been formed by my relationship with my dad.  And honestly, my relationship with him wasn’t all that bad.  I know that he loved me, that he cared for me and that he has always wanted the best for me.

I have learned valuable lessons from him and I’ve also learned a lot of “what not to do” things.  But that’s alright.  I haven’t been a perfect parent either.  I plan to start giving my dad a lot more grace in the parenting department because after all, I hope my kids do the same for me.

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It’s Been A Good Year

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I had the best conversation today.

It was with a young girl, 19 years old.  Beautiful as can be with one of the most radiant smiles I’ve ever seen.

As we chatted and shared stories, I knew I was going to love this girl. We talked about family, faith and friends.  We laughed about how we are both the only “normal” ones in our own families.  Her eyes looked sad when I talked about divorce and then mine returned that sadness as she shared about her own broken background.

It was a great reminder to me that we are all broken people.  I would have never guessed in a million years the things that this pretty little thing has been through in her short lifetime.  I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes I get so caught up in my own circumstances that I forget that other people are hurting too.

Although we shared a lot of crazy, sad and terrible stories, it wasn’t like a pity party at all.  It was more like a celebration.  It was an “oh my gosh, your life sucks sometimes too!” party. It was fun and refreshing and I am thankful for this new friendship since I’ll be spending lots of time with her during her internship at Kensington.

During our talk, she made a comment about what a rough year this has been for me.  And without even thinking about it, I replied that this has been one of the best years of my life.

I COULD NOT BELIEVE THOSE WORDS CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH.

But in the silent seconds that followed, I realized that I meant it.  I mean it now.

This has been a year of struggle and discipline for me.  I have, at times, felt like I would drown.  But instead, I learned to be a better swimmer.  I’ve felt desperate and afraid.  But each time, God has revealed himself to me through things that are nothing short of miraculous.  Things that I may have missed if I’d have been able to do things on my own.  I’ve felt alone and abandoned, but God sent people to me.  Over and over again, phone calls, texts, offers of help, words of encouragement.  New friends and rekindled friendships.  I’ve been literally surrounded by people this year who have shown my family love and grace that could only have come from God.  The kids and I might have missed these things had it not been for our struggles…so they were worth it.  I mean that.

It has been worth every single struggle this year to see God at work in our lives.

Last year in July, I wrote this in my journal (disclaimer: yes, I tend to be a bit dramatic in my journal…but hey, it wasn’t intended to be shared, so give me a break:)

I don’t ever remember being so scared.  I’ve never been a worrier.  Now I can’t make myself stop. I feel constantly sick with worry and fear.  I dread what is to come.  I worry about money, my job, my kids, my sister, my nephew.  How will I ever be able to take care of things on my own?  How can I help my sister when my own life is falling apart?  I’m afraid that I am going to fail my kids and that I am going to lose everything. I have no control over anything.  God.  Where are you in this?  The Bible says that “The righteous cry out and the Lord delivers them from all their troubles.”  I am crying out. Am I not righteous enough?  Why am I not being delivered?

I have clung to that scripture all year. Psalm 34:17.  And then today, that very same verse was the scripture of the day in my Bible app.  Only this time, I read the entire thing:

17″The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all”

It’s taken me some time to see it. A year to be exact.  But he has been true to his word.  He has heard me.  He has been close to me while my heart was breaking.  He saved me when my spirit was crushed.  And yeah, I have had many troubles, but I believe that He is delivering me from them all.