There’s nothing like arriving for a visit and finding a note on the door
that the family is at the hospital emergency room. Merry Christmas.
It was to have been a wonderful holiday visit with my parents and to make
it even better, one of my children was to be there as well. None of us had
been together for a while so it was a reunion more than just a visit.
My daughter and I arrived at the airport at the same time and shared a
car to the house. The note was on the door, and another on the kitchen
table told more of the details.
We didn’t say much. We just unloaded the car and drove off to the
hospital. There was Mom. She was holding forth with resolute courage,
resisting the need to crumple in tears, as she watched the man she’s loved,
cared for and lived with for nearly 65 years look suddenly old and terribly
We greeted each other with hugs and kisses as she and then the nurse
informed us of what had happened. He’d fallen and broken an ankle but the
real story was the underlying culprit. Prostate cancer. As the doctor
finally expressed it two days later: Terminal.
We were told there was nothing that really could be done. Since Daddy had
decided long ago that he did not want surgery, chemo or radiation, it became
necessary to face the fact that it was now a matter of time. No one knew
how long; that part was out of our hands.
It was one of those moments when the old admonition to appreciate every
moment becomes stunningly clear. While it’s always true we only have
this moment with no assurances of the future, we humans assume that
tomorrow is always there, that there is always more time. Don’t believe it.
It’s not true.
Daddy was in pain but in his usual grumpy good humor! He looked at me
with a depth that almost hurt. It was as though he was trying to impress my
face in his mind so that it had no chance of ever escaping.
I was his little girl. He loved me with a passion that permeated our
years together. No matter how old I grew nor how we disagreed and argued
over the years about important and trivial matters, he loved me. He was my
daddy. I remember the many private times we talked when I was a child and
then as an adult. I remember the things he taught me about life and people.
My daddy could do anything, build anything, be anything and if he didn’t
know how, he would learn and then teach me.
He spent his life working hard to care for his wife whom he adored and
their children. He worked for others and finally for himself. His
businesses never made him rich, but, looking back, I realize we never really
wanted for anything and we had what counted most — our family and love and
loyalty. Given what I see around us today, it was a Midas blessing.
Daddy had to stay in the hospital, and it was all I could do not to cry.
He was alive, after all. I didn’t want him to know I was thinking of losing
him. At such times, it’s hard to know what to say and how to express it.
At one point, I said to him, that I often talk about him on my radio
programs. He turned his head, his eyes brightened, and he said, “Yeah? You
do? What do you say?” I suddenly realized that he had never heard me do
that and had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.
I held his hand and caressed his face and beard with my other hand and
said that I tell my audience that I’m so proud of my daddy. I tell them that
he came to this country as a child with his parents, not knowing the
language and facing an unknown future. He was a boy and then a man who took
on New York City and America and made them his own. He became a citizen and
a patriot, independent and strong, honest as the day is long.
He learned what he needed to survive: the language, the system, the
skills. He wanted to write and did. He wanted to go to college and found a
way to do that. He wanted to go out West and did. He learned everything
you need to know to do anything.
He learned to build a house (and did); drill a well (and did); take
gorgeous photographs and develop the prints (and did); take a car apart and
put it back together (and did); conquer shyness to become a top salesman
(and did); start his own businesses — retailing, contracting, services
(and did); and see what was wrong in government and do something about it
I told him that I tell my audiences that his life is a reflection of what
made this country great. He is the everyman American hero. He had
everything against him when he came here but he persevered with courage and
diligence. He had successes and failures but kept going, never asking for
help, never being weak, never giving up.
I told him how very proud I am of him and that he reflects the best of
this country. It provided the opportunity, and he provided the hard work
and effort to make it happen.
He just listened, then shook his head and said, “We had a good life.” I
would have said more but my voice cracked and tears blurred my vision. I
looked at him and saw in his aging face the spirit of the man who had held
my hand as I learned to walk, who helped me as I rode my first two-wheeler,
who taught me to ride a horse, who encouraged me to go to college and more,
who gave my hand in marriage with the admonition to “take care of my little
girl” and who is the best grandpa any kid could ask for.
His hair is thin, his beard is white, his skin is thin and fragile, his
body is weak. I love him for every minute we’ve had and however many are
left. But his greatest gift will be with me forever: He is my father and
it’s a gift that will be with me for every Christmas to come.