The dictionary defines a hero as someone who exemplifies the qualities of courage and nobility. To me, a hero is someone who inspires you, through his words and his actions; someone whose legacy and memory will live on in the hearts and minds of all who knew him, long after the individual himself is gone. My hero has always been my father.
My father, my hero
The story that best defines my dad happened on a very rainy day when I was still in high school. It was pouring out, and my father came home late, showing up on the doorstep soaked to the skin – suit, tie, briefcase and all, just dripping. And yet he had an umbrella in his hand; a closed umbrella. I looked at the closed umbrella and I looked at him, and I said, with a mischievous teenaged smirk: “You know you can open those things, right?”
After the obligatory comment about “ungrateful children”, my dad told me what had happened. As he got off the bus to come home, he saw a woman walking by, pushing a stroller full of groceries with one hand and holding a baby in the other arm. The baby was huddled against the rain, looking miserable, and my father held his umbrella over the two of them, sheltering mother and child, as he walked them all the way home before turning around and walking in the opposite direction back to his own home. And that is just such a typical thing for my father to do; it’s just the kind of man he is, and I’ve always thought of him as the last of that rare breed of true gentlemen. And it’s not that he did that nice thing that’s key to this story; it’s the fact that it would never have even occurred to my father to not do what he did.
I don’t know much about my father’s childhood, other than that is was difficult. He was one of five children and they were very poor, to the point that there were times when there was, literally, no food in the house. My father didn’t want to spend the rest of his life like that and, even as a young man, he believed that the best way to change his life and create better circumstances for himself was to get an education. There’s no way he could have afforded to go to university on his own, so he joined the army because they would pay his tuition.
I don’t really know the details of how my parents met, but eventually they were married and had me and my sister. And together my parents built the house that I grew up in. That house was never actually completed, and my strongest memories of that time in my life revolve around my father puttering around the yard or working on the house in every spare moment he could find. Some people associate smells of baking with their childhood, but for me, the comforting scents of childhood are of sawdust and drywall plaster.
In May of 1983, my parents went out one evening and never came home; they were broadsided on the way to their event. My mother was killed instantly and my father was critically injured. He would be hospitalized for over a month with, among other injuries, six broken ribs and a punctured lung. It’s only now, as a parent myself, that I can even begin to understand the terror that must have been in his heart as he sat trapped in that car beside my mother’s body, waiting for the jaws of life to cut him free from the wreckage; knowing that his wife was gone; knowing that his children were waiting for their parents to come home, completely unaware of what had happened; knowing that he himself was gravely injured and that if he died, too, his children would be alone. I think it was probably at that moment that he decided that, come hell or high water, he was going to pull through and come home to his girls.
The next few years weren’t easy, but we made it through together. We were a family, and my father was always there for my sister and me.
In 1987 we lost our house in a fire. The labour of love that my father had put so much heart and soul into and dedicated so much time to was destroyed. Now, my father is a bit of a pack rat – he’s not quite ready for a starring role on “Hoarders”, but he does love his stuff. And his friends used to tease him that the only way he’d ever get his house straightened out was to get one of those industrial dumpsters and park it in front of the house. So, after the fire, when the insurance company dropped one of those dumpsters in front of our house, my dad actually laughed. He wanted to stick a sign on the end of the dumpster that said “took your advice!” and snap a picture for his friends.
The best within you
In October of 2010, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer. Two weeks after the initial diagnosis, we found out that it was already stage 4; the cancer had already metastasized to his liver. He underwent a 4 hour surgery that lasted over 8 hours, as additional tumours that hadn’t show up on the scan were discovered and also removed. He has since undergone three different types of chemotherapy treatments, none of which has worked the way the oncologists had hoped. Last week, my father called to tell me that the results of his latest scan show that his current treatment protocol, the third type of drug, has failed; new tumours have developed in both his liver and lungs.
At this point, my father has been given the option to choose between two different experimental treatments… and we are aware of what that means. But my father says that “somebody has to beat the odds, and it might as well be me.” Throughout this whole ordeal, he has kept such a positive attitude. He doesn’t see himself as dying, and he doesn’t even really see himself as being sick. He does what his doctors tell him to do, but he is also out there living his life. He has an art class that he likes to go to. He has projects around the house that keep him busy. He has coffee with friends and throws dinner parties when he is able to.
And while the cancer may be infiltrating his body, he refuses to let it into his mind, his heart, or his soul. As with everything else that my father has been through in his life, he refuses to allow circumstance to turn him into a victim. He has chosen to look for the positive in everything and to stay true to the best that is within him. And he has inspired so very many people around him because of it.
I think the overriding theme in everything that my father has taught me over the years is that when horrible things happen, they will either make you stronger or they will make you bitter, but the choice is always yours. It may not seem like you can control the curve balls that life throws at you, but you can always, always, choose how you let them affect you.
And no matter what happens with this latest curve ball, my father will always be my inspiration… and my hero.
Update: My father passed away shortly after this post was first published. Within days of my writing this, my father was informed that his liver had started to fail and he was referred to palliative care. Only two weeks later, he was gone. With his passing, the world lost one of it’s kindest souls, keenest minds and brightest sparks. But I know he is still with me, and that he always will be.
Forever in my heart…
Dream. Believe. Achieve.
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Crying as I type. Your father is an amazing man, blessed with an amazing daughter. My father died of colon cancer in 1982. I still miss him. Huge hugs,
Carole aka MC
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Thank you… my dad really is an amazing man. I wish everyone could know him. I didn’t know that about your father, MC… I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death next week and I still miss her, too. Hugs for both of us, I think. xo
Nathalie, that was a beautiful tribute to your father and the strength of his spirit.
My dad passed away suddenly on my youngest child’s first birthday. It was devastating, especially since we’d gone through some rough patches in our relationship as father and daughter and were finally at a great place in that. When I talked to him on the phone a few days before, in hindsight, it was almost as if he knew. He wanted to call and be sure to tell me he loved his grandkids and me. He was/is still my hero too–as well as my safety net many many times as I figured my way in the world. Like your father, he came from a background of financial poverty too, but he was so rich in other ways. He gave his time, his efforts, his money, and even the shirt off his back to help others. He never explained why, but it was easy to see that it made him feel good doing it. His loss left a great void in all of us.
I think that no matter how much time has passed, the time itself doesn’t really heal. In dealing with the death of someone so beloved, there is Life Before and Life After. You simply don’t go on any longer as before. It’s a whole new journey.
What I miss the most about him besides his twinkling blue eyes and baritone voice was the “Daddy Hugs”. There was magic in them! No matter what Life threw my way, no matter what kind of a mess I encountered in my path, a Daddy Hug always made me feel better and gave me hope. He was a very wise man, but often after one of those hugs, no words were needed as a follow up. I found that the way to keep him with me was to carry on his legacy any way that I could, and when I am able to help others, I swear I can feel his spirit smiling. I can feel that “spirit hug” and it is a truly awesome thing.
You seem to have inherited many of your father’s wonderful qualities. In sharing about your life and in the service you give to others via this website to teach, to enlighten, and to uplift others, there’s no doubt your dad is still very proud of you. Remember that.
Wishing you many blessings and daddy spirit hugs.
Thank you, Ayla. Your dad sounds a lot like mine; he’s always there to lend a hand when people need help with anything from computer issues to home renovation projects. He lends his tools and his time to anyone who needs it, and was always very active in the community I grew up in. He was instrumental in getting a playground built at the school my sister and I went to (there weren’t any playstructures at all on the school grounds before that), and also with fundraising for a new community centre in the town. He’s still like that — always helping — even though the chemo treatments take so much out of him. My dad’s eyes are a deep chocolatey brown, and he has always had a moustache. I think he’s had that moustache since he was first able to grow it; I’ve never even seen pictures of him as an adult without it! LOL! 😀
And yes, Daddy Hugs are definitely the best. 🙂 I’m so glad you can still sense them from him. I know my dad will never really be gone, but at the same time, the thought of not having him here is… heartbreaking. That fact that other people can still sense their loved ones after they’ve moved on really does make me feel a lot better. Light and love, and blessings to you as well. ((hugs))
Oh he is a wonderful man. I wish that my father taught me all that you know now. He’s such a fighter and his soul is strong. He’s not giving up. He’s living. I hope that you give this to him.
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Thanks Kim… my dad really is an awesome guy. Best dad a girl could ever ask for. 🙂