Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what we have and focus instead on what isn’t working in our lives.
When I start to sink into a funk, I always think about my dad.
When he was a kid he contracted a form of strep that eventually spread to his kidneys and caused irreparable damage. He grew up knowing that as soon as his kidneys failed (and that was a certainty) he’d die because he couldn’t afford to pay for private dialysis. (Fortunately, due to government health care changes, when his kidneys finally did fail he was able to dialyze (i.e., live).)
He tried for kidney transplants twice; both failed. One lasted a year and is the only reason I exist. The other was a catastrophe that cost him a quarter of a lung and put him in the ICU for three months. After that he was allergic to pretty much any antibiotic on the market, which made every subsequent surgery that much riskier. (And there were many over the years. The last two were spinal fusions that involved bone grafts and paralysis risk.)
It would have been easy for him to be bitter. He could’ve railed about how unfair life is because he contracted an illness that permanently changed the direction of his life. He could’ve sat around and waited to die. Said “fuck the world” and hated everyone else for what they had.
He could’ve gone on disability and let others support him. Decided that he was somehow “owed” something.
He didn’t. (He was on disability twice, but the first time only as long as he had to be and the second time was the last year of his life. The rest of the time he ran his own business.)
He fought and struggled until the day he died. At the age of 45. (That’s about twenty-five years longer than he was “supposed” to live.)
I have a book on my shelf that my brother made a few years ago. It’s called, “The Greatest Man I Have Ever Known.” It’s about my father. Because, not only did he stand on his own two feet for most of his life, he was also an incredibly dedicated father and husband.
My father, in between dialyzing three times a week and running his own business, was also our little league coach and attended almost every single game or school event. He volunteered to teach the gifted program in my elementary school, coached my brother’s summer basketball league…he was always involved.
He might limp into the gym, shirt half untucked, running a little late because there were just a few more calls to make before he left the office. But he was there. Always.
He didn’t have to be. He could’ve said he was tired. (He was.) He could’ve said he deserved a little “me” time. (He never would.) He could’ve made any excuse and we would’ve let him. But he never did.
My father’s goal was to live long enough to see me and my brother graduate high school and go to college. He did that. He passed away at the end of my freshman year at Rice. My brother was already playing baseball at the college level. (Thanks to my dad’s coaching over the years.)
Even at the end, when he was facing a surgery that would involve a rod in his spine and wearing a steel halo for six months, he was fighting. He’d gone back to college and was in his final semester of school when he died. (They granted him his degree posthumously.)
So, every time I think I have it a little tough, or I think life isn’t going my way, I think about my dad. And I realize how amazingly, incredibly fortunate I am. (I’m pretty sure he thought he was fortunate, too. He had a family, he’d found the love of his life…he was alive.)
I’m sure there are many lessons my father wishes I’d learned from him – a love of God, a belief in love – but what I learned is that you have to keep fighting. You have to keep a positive attitude and keep trying. Never ever give up.
I am fortunate. Very, very fortunate. If for nothing else than because I had him as my father.