Today’s my dad’s birthday. He would have been 74 years old. He died of lung cancer 16 years ago after battling throat cancer twice. The first time he was diagnosed I was 15 years old. It would be like my son, Stephen, dealing with one of his parents going through cancer. To be honest I don’t really remember too much of that time, but I do remember being extremely angry and scared. We didn’t talk about it when it happened, our parents just did what they had to do to get dad better.
The third time his cancer returned, I was in my 8th month of pregnancy with Stephen. Everyone knew something was wrong with my dad, but no one wanted to acknowledge it, especially him. Dad was renovating the basement of our house and every time he coughed, he held his chest in pain. We all begged him to go to the doctor. When he finally did, he was in stage four. My dad was tired of fighting after 16 years of check ups, treatments, and relapses. It was hard seeing a man I thought was invincible struggle.
Even though I knew he was dying, I didn’t have the nerve to ask my dad if I could record his stories. He had so many of them–funny, crazy, romantic, and inspiring. I was too afraid to remind him of the mortality that was staring him in the face every day. These were stories that I could have told my children to keep Poppa alive in their hearts. Of course when we get together with my crazy cousin, Joe, he gets going with their fantastic adventures and my brother, Sal, remembers quite a bit–especially all the trucks and vehicles my dad owned. It’s hard for my mom still to talk about him and I still hope that some day she’ll write her stories down for us.
Stories are connections to our loved ones. We think we will remember every detail of a moment or every nuance of a special time together. But memories fade and get confused. Our personal stories are precious and irreplaceable.
Here’s one that makes me laugh:
When my brother, Sal, was graduating from the Navy boot camp, our family drove to Michigan for the ceremony. We always had station wagons and a hard baggage carrier we called a turtle that would be latched to the top of the car. It was my dad, mom, older sister, Stephanie, and younger sister, Michele. I was in my cool, complacent stage, where I rebelled against all my parents’ requirements and what I considered injustices against my feminist principles. Anyway, we were whipping along the highway, when suddenly everyone started screaming. I had been sleeping, because I always got car sick. Dad careened off to the side of the road and everyone jumped out. My mother was yelling that the top to the turtle flew off and all our belongings were heading back toward home.
I still hadn’t moved figuring they would handle it. Then someone yelled that my leather jacket was flying down the road. I did say I was in my cool stage and I needed that jacket. I jumped out of the car like it was on fire and flew to save my coat. We managed to get most of our belongings and my dad made sure that turtle was secure.
Our lives were never ever boring and just like Chevy Chase our vacations were memorable because of the unbelievable stuff that happened. I couldn’t make some of this up if I tried and I savor the laughter that bubbles up when I think of those memories. My dad was the catalyst for the chaos and to me, that’s a good thing.
Life is too serious sometimes and when we can remember our loved ones and smile, it’s a good day. So Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you and Nick are driving Heaven crazy.