I’m convinced that fathers and sons have far and away the most complicated relationship any two people on this earth can have. All a father wants is for their son to become a better version of themselves. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from my 2+ months as a father. I don’t think it ever dawns on you until you have a son of your own. But that’s your hope. My dad and I butted heads for 28 years, but it was always out of love. There’s no father and son who haven’t. I’ll go toe-to-toe with my own son one day because I don’t want to see him make some of the same idiotic decisions I have made. And he’ll never realize this until he has a son. And it’s a cycle that will repeat itself until the end of time. That’s fathers and sons.
And now, at 28, I find myself at a strange place in life. My 60 year old father and my infant son both depend on me to hold them up. Neither of them have the strength on their own to do what they want without my help. It’s terrifying to sit here and watch the man who raised me to be strong and tough, now unable to sit up in bed or go to the bathroom without my help.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I feel about cancer. I obviously hate the way it’s ravaged my dad’s body. I hate seeing the strength he spent a lifetime acquiring be so suddenly and painfully taken from him. But for all the horrible pain cancer causes, it also gives the strangest gift at the very end. It gives us closure in a way no other form of death can.
Just the other day, I saw where a tow-truck driver died instantly after a tree fell on his truck. Death came swiftly and without warning. He had no goodbyes. He wasn’t surrounded by family or loved ones. Just himself, alone in a tow-truck.
None of us are leaving this world alive. For most of us it’s sudden and we’re either alone or surrounded by strangers. At least cancer allows us to say “I love you,” one final time with our families ushering us into God’s arms.
In my mind, my dad will always be tough. One of my favorite stories of his was about the time he and his friend Mike Hicks went backpacking in the Great Smokey Mountains. They made camp and settled in for the night at a pretty high altitude. They awoke the next morning with several inches of frost inside of the top of their tent. That frost was actually their breath which had frozen to the inside of the tent while they slept. A freak blizzard had hit and they awoke to sub-zero temperatures and several feet of snow. My dad said that while they were packing up their gear, it dawned on him that they might not make it out alive. Surrounded by snow & temperatures they weren’t prepared for, they began hiking down the mountain. They eventually managed to hike down to the nearest known Ranger Station, a good 1,000 feet lower in elevation then where they had made camp. The thermometer at the station had gotten down to 20 degrees below zero that night, and there was no way of knowing exactly how much colder it had gotten where they had camped. The rangers were surprised anyone could have survived a night unprepared under those conditions.
And that was my dad, as tough as they come. And that’s why it’s so hard to sit here and watch him weak and dying, struggling to talk. This isn’t who he’s supposed to be, this isn’t how I want to remember him. For me, that’s one of the things I’ve struggled with the most. I don’t want these last few days with my dad to be my final memories of him.
Luckily I’m blessed with great friends and on Sunday, Adam, Ben & Ken showed up. We rode around and talked for a while and I expressed these thoughts to them. Adam’s response was flawless:
“I think you’ve got it all wrong. What better way to remember your dad than by being able to serve him? Your entire life he’s been there to help you whenever you needed it. Now as he’s getting ready to leave this world you’re here to help serve him just as Christ would. What a gift.”
My dad was never a monument to health, but he always bounced back. Between diabetes, kidney stones, and 4 different types of cancer, he’s been a fighter his entire life, which is why there’s no possible way to describe how it felt to hear him tell me he was ready to die. He’s not supposed to die. He’s supposed to be here to help me teach my son how to swing a golf club and how to work on cars. He’s supposed to be here every Saturday during the fall to teach Deegan the Alabama fight song. He’s supposed to be here to tease him about first dates and first girlfriends. He’s supposed to be here.
But that’s not true. He’s not supposed to be here. That’s just my selfish human nature getting in the way of reality. God wouldn’t let something happen to us that he didn’t want to happen. After all, how do you make God laugh?
You make plans.
My dad’s life and his battle with cancer have served as an inspiration to many and his death will be counted as a great loss. If you asked him, he’d be the first to tell you that he was never anything but a sinner. An awful, lowly sinner saved by grace. But aren’t we all? He just had the guts to admit it.
Last Wednesday, when the Doctors told us “We’re focusing on quality of life instead of quantity of life,” was the worst part. It meant time was running out. I tried to imagine being in that condition and how it must feel to trust in anyone other than the Lord. I’d feel hopeless and helpless. I can’t imagine approaching death scared and alone. Spending those last days on earth terrified of what awaited you beyond the grave.
My dad doesn’t have that fear. He knows where he’s going. He isn’t afraid because he knows that what awaits him is far better than what he’s leaving behind.