One Fewer Holiday
Sunday, June 15th, 2014
There I stood. At the altar of a church I hadn’t been inside of in over a decade, folded paper in hand, about to give the most meaningful speech of my life. I hated it. I hated being in church. It was never really my thing. But I especially hated this. Still, it was something I had to do. It was a day you hope never comes, but inevitably does for everyone. I couldn’t help myself but to cry.
“Happy birthday, old man!” I said when he picked up the phone. It was Valentine’s Day, dad’s fifty-ninth birthday. I was in Union Square on my lunch break. My parents were in Florida, spending the week together to celebrate his birthday and their thirty-third anniversary in the new house they bought a year earlier as a retirement home. They finally found it: their dream home. Dad had been retired for years, disabled with a bad back from years of abusing his body. Mom had a few years to go. They were excited, planning the next phase of their lives together – dad even made mom a calendar to count down the days.
“Thank you! Funny thing about that though…”
I braced myself. Dad was about to tell a story. He always loved telling stories – one longer than the next. He was always working on something, fixing something, building something, or meeting someone interesting. He talked to everyone, whether it was a random stranger walking down the street, the cashier at the grocery store, or the mailman. Dad knew everyone, and everyone loved him.
“We were at the airport coming down here, standing in the security line, and the guy stopped me. Wait, you’re fifty-nine? Are you sure? No way.” It was true. Dad was in great shape. Aside from his graying hair, it was only in the last year or so he began looking mildly close to his age. He was even young at heart. Fifty-nine years old and he never lost his childlike sense of wonder. He was always curious, always joking, always playful. It was never a secret when dad got home. He would pull up to the front of the house, windows down, arm hanging out the driver’s side, cigarrette hanging from his hand, with the radio on full blast, playing some mixtape from the seventies. As mature as he was, deep down, he’d never grown up. I always loved that about him.
They were coming home in two days, so I didn’t keep him long. I was going to visit next weekend, we could catch up then.
“Thanks for calling! Love you.”
“Love you too, dad.”
It was the last time I would ever hear his voice.
February 18th, 2014
Somehow, I always knew how it would happen. One day, I would call, and he just wouldn’t pick up. I wouldn’t know it immediately, but that’s exactly how it happened.
It was a day just like any other. Four days after my dad’s birthday. I got up and went to work. Finally, after a grueling morning, lunchtime rolled around. I usually called dad at lunch. Today was no different. But he didn’t answer. He had a habbit of doing that. Dad never liked technology. “The internet is just a fad, he would say. He prided himself on having the cheapest phone he could find, and he could never get it out of his pocket in time to answer calls. No big deal, I thought to myself. He’ll call back, he always does.
I got home that night and got a text from mom. “taking dad to hospital. will call when I can.” She told me he was unconscious, but it was okay, I didn’t need to come. She said everything was going to be okay. That’s what mothers are supposed to say. Didn’t matter. It took me two hours, but I was there as quickly as I could.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I could hear it as I approached the bed. Countless sensors attached to my dad’s motionless body. Annoying as they may be, you never want them to stop beeping.
There he was, lying there in a hospital bed with a respirator helping him breathe. My dad. The man with superhuman strength, looking so weak. I stood by his bedside, looking at the man who taught me what it meant to be one. What it meant to be strong. And I was helpless. There was nothing I could do.
We stayed by his side late into the night — just my mom, my brother, and me. At 4am got up to go home and get whatever sleep we could. There would be very little of it in the coming days, we thought to ourselves.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
As we stood to go, I turned to look at him and say goodnight. “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay. We’ll be back in the morning. Good night dad. I love you.”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sound grew fainter as we walked towards the elevator. He’s going to make it, I thought to myself.
It’s hard to describe how difficult it is to accept that something terrible is about to happen. Deep down, it nags at you. Anything is possible. Yet it’s so much easier to believe that things will all work themselves out in the end. But sometimes bad things happen, and nothing you can possibly do could ever prepare you for them.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The beeping was there when we returned in the morning. He remained laying there in bed, unmoved. His condition hadn’t improved in the few hours we were gone. The doctors weren’t optimistic. He was bleeding internally, but they couldn’t figure out where it was coming from and they couldn’t move him for testing because he was so weak. All we could do was wait.
It was my parent’s aniversary. So much for a happy day.
After a few hours of sitting by his side, mom and my brother went out for some air. For the first time, I was alone with my father. I inched the chair closer and took his hand. It was warm and rough. He always had rough hands from a lifetime of building and fixing everything he could. I got up and sat on the bed next to him and looked down at my father. My best friend. The man who taught me everything. For the first time since I got to the hospital, I didn’t have to be strong for my mother. I started crying uncontrollably.
I began talking to him.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“C’mon dad, you can do this. You’re the strongest person I know, dad. You can’t let this stop you.”
I leaned in and kissed his forehead. I gripped his hand tighter. I never wanted to let go.
“I can’t lose you, daddy. I’m not ready. You have so much left to teach me. I need you. You’re my hero, daddy. My best friend. C’mon daddy, snap out of it. We have to get you out of here so we can all go home. You’re the best dad anyone could ask for. You have no idea how lucky I am. Dad? I love you. So much”
Beep. BeBEEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEEP. BEEEEEEEP.
The doctors ran in. His heart rate was dropping, fast. I could barely see anything through my tears.
One of them turned to me apologetically, “You might want to wait outside for this.”
I walked out into the hall just as my mom and brother got back. I wiped away my tears before they could see.
“C’mon, mom, the doctor’s with him. We have to sit in the waiting room for a while.”
“CODE BLUE. WE HAVE A CODE BLUE”
An alarm sounded and a herd of doctors hurried passed us. All headed to help my dad. The waiting room was quiet. Eerily quiet. There were two other families sitting there waiting to hear about their loved ones. We had never met them before, but there, in that moment, we were all family; all in this together. They tried to comfort us. But it was no use. It was torture.
Three minutes went by. It felt like an eternity. Five minutes; ten. Time had never moved so slowly. The doors swung open and the doctor slowly walked out, his head slumped toward the floor as if the gravity of the situation was weighing it down. He stopped in front of us and, struggling to lift his head, embraced us choked, “I’m so sorry,”
He was gone. My life, my world will never agian be the same.
Below is the eulogy I gave for my father. Fighting through tears that day at the altar. It was the best I could do on short notice while hardly being able to think. I can only hope he’s proud of it.
Good morning. Thanks to all of you for coming.
My dad was born on Valentine’s Day, 1955 and died on February 19th, 2014. But those are just dates. What matters most of all is the dash in between them. A poet, Linda Ellis, once wrote:
For that dash represents all the time
That he spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved him
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
Full of life and love. That’s how I’ll always remember my father.
He lived. Every. Day. Never once did he slow down. And he loved. Everyone. But especially me and my brother. And my mother, boy did he love my mother. They gave each other the best 33 years of their lives. For better for worse for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, these two have been through it all. I called him at least three times a week, and each and every time he talked about my mother. Sometimes, I couldn’t get a word in if I tried. She was always on his mind. Not even death can change that.
As for me, I couldn’t possibly sum up a twenty-six year relationship with my best friend in one or two anecdotes. But I can say that my earliest memory is of my father. He would go to work early, but sometimes, he would drive all the way back home in his garbage truck to pick me up and drive me to school. No one else got to get dropped off in a garbage truck. But then again, dad ALWAYS put on a show. Every time I visited, dad had something he just HAD to show me, whether he was building the kitchen, laying the floor, fixing the car, making a waterfall, cutting trees, or any one of the thousands of projects he took on over the years.
He always had a solution, no matter how far outside the box he had to think. He was my hero. He taught me everything. How to cook. How to clean. How to fix. How to build. How to live. How to laugh. And most important of all, how to love.
His family and friends. That’s all that ever mattered. Money, cars, houses, clothes; none of that ever mattered to him. He could walk around with just enough to buy himself a Manhattan Special and think he was the richest man in the world. Unless, of course, his kids needed money. He’d give up his last dime in a heartbeat. We always came first.
His sense of humor was reMARKable. No matter what, he could always make you laugh. I could never do his humor justice. The day he got elected president in Woodbrooke, he walked out onto the back deck, raised his arms and said “My Kingdom!”. He loved being president. He loved helping people.
In his fifty-nine years on Earth, no matter how smart he was, or how much knowledge he gained, there’s one thing he never learned. He never learned how to say “no”. He didn’t have it in him. No task was too big, nothing was impossible. He always went out of his way for everyone he ever met. Every single person in this room has a memory of my dad going out of his way for them. I’d like to take a moment for everyone to think of one.
Got it? Now, imagine what it was like to be his son.
When it snowed in elementary school, dad would go out and shovel the sidewalk by the bus stop — the entire block — so my brother and I didn’t have to walk in the snow. He was there. When he got a big screen TV for his birthday, he spent the first day making the box into a playhouse complete with windows and a doorknob. He was there. When I got a flat tire at 3am, Dad jumped out of bed. He was there. When I got into an accident in Virginia, dad hopped in the car and drove seven hours. It was just a fender bender, but that didn’t matter, he was there. When I called from work to tell him I forgot my phone, he showed up with it a half hour later. He was there. When I was in the hospital and could barely eat, dad made home-cooked meals. And every day, he was there. When I said I think I’m going to start riding my bike again, dad went out and bought fresh tires. I didn’t even ask, but he was there. When I had the crazy idea to build a beer pong table, dad made sure it was the best table anyone had ever seen. Then gave it so much time to dry, I had to go back to Virginia before it was done. Didn’t matter. “Don’t worry, Daddy,” he said (he always called me daddy) “We can meet next week in Baltimore.” Dad was there. When I had great news, dad was there. When I had a bad day, dad was there. When I fell in love, dad was there. When my heart was broken, dad was there. Dad was ALWAYS there. He still is. He always will be. He’d never leave us.
The last time I came to visit my parents, my dad was cooking Sunday dinner (surprise, surprise). He needed bread, so he went to take a walk to the store. I went with him; I always do when I come to visit. Vinny happened to be there and decided to come too. We got to the front door and dad called up to mom “Honey! I’m walking the boys to the store!” Let’s never stop walking, Dad.
Dad never liked to celebrate Father’s Day. The family would always get together, we’d barbeque, have a few laughs, and go on like a normal day. It’s how he always wanted it. I asked him once, “Dad, why don’t you like celebrating Father’s Day?” “Frank,” he looked at me and smiled, “Mother’s Day lasts 364 days a year. Why should today be any different?” He always had a joke.
But now there’s no reason for me to celebrate Father’s Day. Not this year, not ever again. I lost a holiday, and I’ll never get it back. In a way, it’s what dad always wanted. But not like this. There are better ways to not celebrate a holiday. I was lucky enough to have him for nearly twenty-six years, but I would gladly give a lifetime of holidays for one more day with my dad.
For those of you lucky enough to still have your fathers, call them; visit them; hug them; tell them you love them. Not just on Father’s Day, but every day. No one on this Earth can promise you tomorrow. Take advantage of today, the only day you know you have.