In awhile crocodile.
A story about my dad that very few people outside of my family know. A story that I never heard until I was about 26 years old. Through unfortunate circumstances, I was told that the father I grew up with was not my biological father. Everyone freaked out when I heard the news. Everyone panicked. Apparently everyone knew but me. The only person who did not freak out was.. well.. me. In my mind, it didn’t matter. It really didn’t. He was the only dad I knew. He was the only man who ever took care of me, treated me like his own, treated me with respect and unconditional love.. as a real dad.. pops.. father would. Why would I care if someone else was the biological part of me. I really didn’t care.
Apparently, he had told everyone that he didn’t want me to ever find out that he was not my “real” dad. He wanted me to feel secure in his love, parental place in my life, and a part of him. I felt all of those things. As a matter of fact, if anyone had ever stated that one of my parents was not my biological parent.. I would have guessed it was my mom. Seriously. Dad always told me I was his favorite (he had a heart for runts I guess). He was a truck driver and I would always beg him to go on trips with him. He almost always caved in. Those were some of my favorite times. (we had the same sense of humor). Mom and dad cut wood to heat our house and to sell to make ends meet. I was the only one who really loved doing this with them. (I’m clumsy and often got hurt, but it was the time spent together that I loved and I would love to think that he loved it too.. he did.)
When he found out that I had learned he was not my father, HE was devastated. Remember my family had freaked out.. my mom.. sisters.. aunts.. etc..(apparently I came across as a delicate flower that would not recover from such torrential raining news… I didn’t). He had no idea how honored I was that his love for me was much more than just a father loving his daughter. It was a solid choice he made. A choice that he made before I was even born. He WANTED me.
Both mom and dad had been married before and both had children from their first marriages. Mom was pregnant with me when she met dad. He knew about me and CHOSE to marry her and CHOSE to care for me like a biological father. CHOSE to care for my older sister like a biological daughter. He never treated any of us different from the other. I was honored. Didn’t even bother searching for a lost biological link. I didn’t care. No one loved me like dad loved me and maybe nobody ever will. That’s ok.. I suppose it would be sort of weird if someone did.
So, as you can imagine, when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 stomach cancer how devastated I was. April 2020. Pure devastation. However, he had a good attitude. Despite COVID, travel restrictions, work, etc. I was able to go home from mid-July to mid-August. He was actually doing great. He was tolerating the treatment and had a great attitude. We knew it was terminal but he was doing so great that we had hope he could maybe beat it. I went back to work with a plan to come back in October for his 80th birthday.
Between July and October he had several birthday parties. My beautiful sister and her amazing husband took him to Denver to visit his sisters, both in their 90s. It was the first time he had flown first class.
They also took him on a road trip to visit a hill where mom and her family had their ashes spread years before (sadly the hill was gone.. as was our family favorite “Hungry Horse”). Despite all of that .. he had vowed to just keep living life until he was done. I was able to go to the cancer center with him for his treatments, have lunch at our favorite cafe, visit with his friends, have a couple of backyard barbeques, and on and on. He had told me several times that his goal was his actual 80th birthday.
From my visit in July until I returned in October, I saw an extreme difference in his health. He had lost over 50 pounds from August to October. Sometimes he would talk but often he would just stare. He was barely eating. But he was adamant about having an 80th birthday party. It was scheduled for the 17th of October. Well, he made it. Even did a shot of something. Many of his friends were there. Many more were not. He then made it to his actual birthday a week later. He was barely cognizant by this point but his determination was as it had always been. He was going to see his actual birthday. We took him out for a birthday water at this point. Even fewer friends were present but he made it. Six days after he turned 80, he had decided enough was enough. He was tired. He stopped eating. It was time.
It was hard to watch .. and sometimes harder to remember other times. It was gut-wrenching. He told me during the early stages that he always thought he would go out like a fire-cracker (both his dad and his brother had died in their 60s from heart attacks). He never expected this slow painful crawl to death. We all tried to make his last days as pleasant as possible. Didn’t want to focus on him dying but on his life. That’s what he wanted. I have a couple pictures of him in his last moments but that’s not what I want to share. It’s not what I want to remember. So I will leave with these final images instead.
Love ya dad.
“When I was a child, all problems had ended with a single word from my father. A smile from him was sunshine, his scowl a bolt of thunder. He was smart, and generous, and honorable without fail. He could exile a trespasser, check my math homework, and fix the leaky bathroom sink, all before dinner. For the longest time, I thought he was invincible. Above the petty problems that plagued normal people. And now he was gone.” – Rachel Vincent