I had a great job in the city doing something I loved very much. Then I got sick. My doctor put me on sick leave, told me to take supplements and sleep at least 12 hours a day to recharge my immune system.
I decided to go home, to Moab, to recover. I found fresh air, beautiful scenery and good friends. I also found that my dad wasn’t doing as well as usual. He was slower. Things weren’t getting done around the property like he was able to in the past. The strongest man in the world, well, wasn’t as strong anymore.
I didn’t fully recover during my sick leave and continued to fight a daily fever. I tried to go back to work and realized that I may not ever be well enough to do the job I loved.
I thought of my dad. I wanted to go home. If I couldn’t run a daily newspaper as a publisher, then maybe I could at least help him. And I moved back home.
A couple days after I arrived with all my belongings in a moving van, my dad went into the hospital for blood clots. He wondered if he was going die. I told him I would be really pissed off if I moved all this way only for him to die. And he lived.
He worked hard the next several months. He diligently went to physical therapy, exercised and ate good meals. He put on weight and muscle. He got to the point that he could almost walk without a cane.
Christmas morning he fell and broke his hip. All the progress he worked so hard to gain was lost in a moment. And again, he wondered if he would die.
The last several months were a roller coaster. He would improve. He would lose ground. We encouraged him to keep up with his exercise. And yet, during the bad weeks, I wondered if we pushed too hard.
He fought every battle. But, realistically, eventually, there is one battle we don’t win.
He went to a regular doctor’s appointment a couple of weeks ago. The doctor found blood clots, much like the ones he had a year ago when he was put in the hospital the first time.
He was strong in body and spirit the day he went into the hospital. We thought he’d be there for a few days and then he’d come home. But this was the battle he wasn’t going to beat. When he was sent home, it was to die. We thought it might be a few days, but he surprised us all and hung on for this 83rd birthday.
My dad was a worker and a fighter.
He was born two months early and weighed less than five pounds. There was no hospital to save his life. He only had a 19-year-old mother to care for him.
He worked on family farms. He worked in the city as a teenager. He fought in the streets on the south side of Chicago, using bare hands, bricks and two by fours as weapons. He worked to help his parents and brothers. He served in the Navy. He worked hard for my mother and my sisters and me.
As a teenager I’d hold his hand and feel the work he did. They were huge, like mitts, split and worn, covered in layers of callouses. His hands were the most beautiful hands in the world.
In the last year those hands grew soft.
And yet, as I watched the strongest man in the world become weak and vulnerable I learned something new: My dad was kind.
He always said “please” and “thank you”. If he lost patience due to discomfort, he quickly said “I’m sorry”, even in the final hours of his life.
And while that quality may have always been there, I didn’t always see it when his imposing strength was so readily visible.
It may have been the reason why cats would follow him as he walked. Or why dogs would quickly calm in his presence. And maybe even why his grandchildren always wanted to be near him. He was big and strong and sometimes gruff, but he was always kind.
I’m grateful I got sick. If I didn’t, I may not ever have returned home. I would have missed the best year of my life, of being able to serve my dad. And in the process I learned my father’s greatest strength was his kindness.