It’s Sunday evening in Dunedin, and the first day of September. The sun would be setting, but it’s obscured by the late afternoon clouds which often meander into the harbor this time of day. The air is still outside my window and there are still many birds chirping before night arrives. It is the end of a beautiful sunny day. It’s also Father’s Day (here). 2013 is the first year of my life without my own father, who passed away this April. It’s fitting I’m in New Zealand, for without my dad (he wasn’t a formal guy, and preferred ‘dad’ to ‘father’) I would not have embarked on this journey. So, this post is for you, dad.
When I was ten years old, my family moved to Cartagena, Colombia. My dad signed up for two year stint with Project Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving medical care in developing countries (he was a pediatrician). None of us had ever taken Spanish, and culturally, I would say it was quite a shock. More so for my parents, I would assume (being a parent myself now) since we had no hot water and once, when my mom ordered a turkey so we could celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it was handed to her on a leash…and it was walking. But speaking for myself, I was happy as long as I could swim and fish….which I could every day since we lived right on the ocean. Those two years were some of the best times in my life, and for our whole family, too. We did things, saw things, ate things that would never have come our way had we not ventured out of the bubble. All my life, I have wanted that kind of experience for my own family….because you can’t get it any other way. You can’t read a book, see the movie, play a virtual game of living abroad. You just have to go.
Five years ago my dad got sick, and if the odds were correct, he would have only lived six months. But that was not his plan. He fought hard, willing to endure just about any treatment, as long as the quality of his life in between treatments was good (and he could play golf). Fortunately, he was a tough guy, and he always bounced back…..usually bouncing back to the golf course. It is noteworthy my dad played his best golf after he was diagnosed with cancer, and just a few months before he passed away, he was still taking golf lessons. Now, that’s an optimist. In the midst of all this, I was wondering when, and if, I should attempt to take my family abroad for a year. There just never seemed the right time, with one or the other treatment being started or stopped. Finally, last October, I was talking to my dad about my potential plans to travel, but sharing my concerns about being away from him when he needed me. Of course, his reply was ‘”you should just go, don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” Then in the first part of this year I got an offer that looked good (where I am now), and at about that same time, my dad’s cancer really started to grow. He stopped all treatment at that point; it was not helping him and was just making him more ill. Things looked bad and I knew these were his last weeks. I had had almost five years to prepare for this, but there is no way of really preparing to say goodbye to your biggest fan.
I thought about our time together, and the wonderful memories we have. He loved golf (I never picked that up), wine (maybe I picked that up a little), and he loved to fish (I picked that up, and then some). What could I tell him, in his final weeks, that I had not already said? So, late one night, I sat up and wrote him a letter (email), and he then replied back to me. Here are those two letters:
April 7, 2013.
I was thinking if you were feeling OK, we might try and go to the NCAA basketball game tomorrow; just let me know and I’ll get tickets.
Dad, I’m so sorry you have not been feeling well lately and that your cancer is growing. I am heartbroken to see you in such pain and struggling with things which recently were so easy for you. I sat down today and cried…cried just because even the thought of life on this Earth without you was so painful. You mean that much to me. I am not at peace with all this, though in all honesty, I would not feel different in ten years. There is never enough time with the ones you love. I would always want more.
I hope you know you are loved…by me, Deb and my boys.
I hope you know my life would have never been so good without you. Your faith in me, your trust in me, allowed me to become who I am.
I hope you know the principles you taught me will live on through me and through my children.
I hope you know I tried my best to make you better, and cure what ailed you, and I am very sorry I could not make it all go away.
I love you, Dad.
AND HERE IS HIS REPLY;
Thank you for your thoughts. I also cry, more often now as it appears my winter is approaching. I don’t cry about missing Tahiti or the Amalfi Coast, but rather about missing watching you and your wonderful family grow together. I so wanted to see your boys into adulthood, and I wanted to be around should a crisis appear.
I have so greatly admired you and the person you have become…at work, as a father and a husband. I am sure that because of you I have received some extra time here, and while I will always want more time, I understand it’s not in my, or your, hands. I feel very fortunate my time here has been so rewarding, and very fortunate to have had a family so different than my own growing up- those years I seldom talk about. I do now spend a lot of time reliving all the wonderful times we had. If there were ever any bad times, I have forgotten them, and mostly what I do now is remember my times with you and your family and smile.
So, for all you fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day, and that includes you, Dad.