I have a lot to thank my dad for on Father's Day. So much so that there's not enough room on this blog page to fit it all.
He taught me how to count and write my letters.
He taught me how to thread a worm on a hook.
He taught me how to skate.
He taught me how to catch frogs.
He taught me not to smoke.
My father suffers from COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Doctors sometimes call it emphysema. My dad calls it slow death. Because that's what it is. You can't cure it. It never gets better. If you're lucky you can take medicine that helps you maintain some quality of life. If you're lucky you qualify for a lung transplant to buy you some time. My dad has not been lucky. But that's the price you pay for smoking two packs of Parliaments a day for 30 years.
Today, my dad spends every minute of every waking hour in his recliner in front of the TV. He's on oxygen 24-7. He'd die without it. Here is a man who in his youth, well into middle age before the debilitating effects of the disease set in, never sat down. He was up at 5 a.m. most mornings, even on the weekends. He'd eat breakfast and drink coffee while reading the paper, then go out to walk the "North 40" as he jokingly referred to our 2 1/2 acres in Connecticut before starting on the project of the day. Today it takes everything he has to get from his chair down the hall to the bathroom.
He taught me how to swim.
He taught me how to shoot a gun.
He taught me how to be courteous.
He taught me how to drive a car.
My father's had a hard life, full of vices and bad choices. A juvenile delinquent who dropped out of Catholic school at 17, he joined the Army and became a new man -- responsible, law-abiding, disciplined, driven. He married and stayed in a job he absolutely loathed for 40 years until he could retire on a full pension and provide for his wife and family, but not without a little help from the bottle.
He taught me how install an electrical outlet.
He taught me how to change a tire.
He taught me how to use a table saw.
He taught me how to work hard.
He taught me to appreciate nature.
Once he managed to quit all the bad habits, it was too late. There's no cure for alcoholism or emphysema, only perseverance, prayers, and maintenance drugs. Each year, his lung capacity shrinks more and more. He's down to 18 percent in one lung. The other lung is just a useless clump of collapsed tissue taking up space in his chest. It's reduced him to being a passive participant in life, watching his grandchildren run around the yard from the window instead of chasing them himself, giving his daughter money to buy a wood table for her birthday instead of making it himself in his shop like he used to.
He taught me loyalty.
He taught me strength.
He taught me faith.
He taught me love.
He taught me gratitude.
He taught me to guard my good health.
He taught me to cherish every moment of life.
My father would give anything to turn back time and make better choices, but he doesn't dwell in the past. I don't know how he stays as positive as he does, or how he continues to hold on. Just catching a cold or tripping over the family dog could be a death sentence for him.
You'd think that every year when Father's Day rolls around again, I'd be amazed that he's still here. But I'm not, because Dad is always here. And that will never change, whether he's breathing on this earth or not.
Image via echoforsberg/Flickr