My Dad was a phenomenal parent, the kind that should have had a hundred kids because he was just so darn good at it. He had this gift for turning any ordinary event into a teaching point. Leave it to him to turn even his battle with cancer into opportunities to impart his wisdom. Maybe he knew he wasn’t going to win his fight so he chose to leave me with as much counsel as he could in the time he had left, or maybe that’s just the way he was. In any event, he left me with five invaluable lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life – lessons on how to live every day – no matter how many days we may have.
Lesson #1: We May Not Have Tomorrow but We Have Today
Even before my Dad got sick he was a live-every-day-to-the-fullest kind of guy. He didn’t allocate his days into tight tidy allotments. There was no one-third each for family/career/friends – Dad was a 100% man. Whatever he was doing, he did it with everything he had. He approached his cancer treatment the same way.
What I’ll remember most from his chemo sessions was how he made them, how do I put this, enjoyable. Despite their purpose and the inherent unpleasantness of them, Dad found ways to make them fun. He showed me that you can thoroughly enjoy the time you have with the people in your presence no matter where you are and what’s going on around you. All electronic devices were turned off, we brought music, snacks and enjoyed long conversations together and sometimes just sat in silence in one another’s company. He taught me how important it is to give your undivided attention to who you’re with while you’re with them.
Lesson #2: We May Not Be Able to Do Everything but We Can Do This
My Dad was a formidable competitor at tennis and golf, an accomplished marathon runner, internationally renowned radiologist, talented businessman and trailblazer. After he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, he continued to do every activity he’d always enjoyed — until he no longer could. Not once did he complain about his increasing frailty or physical limitations, he just got more inventive. When his mobility was compromised he found tools to help him get around. First he used a cane, then a walker, then a scooter and wheelchair. He was unstoppable. We’d go to the mall, visit local museums, dine out. His life lesson? Do whatever you can, however you can, and enjoy it.
Lesson #3: Don’t Hold Back
Dad was always demonstrative. He was a big hugger and I love you’s came easily to him. Once he fell ill, the rest of the family got better at expressing their affection too. I used to hold back. Dad’s illness taught me not to. Life is so fragile. We never know how long we might have with anyone. Express your feelings while you can. That doesn’t make you weak — it makes you authentic.
Lesson #4: Do Let Go
I’m ashamed to admit the kinds of petty problems that used to consume my thoughts before my Dad became ill. I carried slights, held on to hurt feelings, obsessed about what others thought of me. What Dad showed me is that the only true matters of life or death in this world are exactly those – life and death. Everything else, traffic jams, misunderstandings, idle gossip, they don’t matter. Time is of the essence and Dad showed me we just don’t have the luxury of it to hold grudges or hard feelings. Let it go.
Lesson #5: It’s Never Too Late
One of the few foods my Dad could tolerate was a chocolate milkshake. One night, around ten o’clock Dad decided he’d like to have one. All I could think of was how it might give him indigestion. “I don’t know,” I said to him. “It’s getting pretty late.”
“It’s never too late for a milkshake.” He said.
We piled into the car and went to a hamburger spot that served the best shakes. They were still open. As you might imagine, that late night caper ended up being a wonderful adventure and has become one of my most precious final memories with my Dad. I lost him soon after but I’ve held on to that life lesson – get the milkshake. Because it’s really never too late — until it is.