Four years ago today, the phone call came. I had just faxed in a medical power of attorney for my dad as a precaution when the phone rang at my desk at work. The voice on the other end said that my dad had been rushed to the hospital in San Antonio. Within the hour, a minister called to tell me that my father had passed away. A pulmonary embolism, a side effect of his hip replacement surgery, had taken his life. On the day of his funeral, only a few family and friends gathered. The disease that had claimed residence in his mind twenty-two years earlier had taken him away from his friends and from me.
My dad taught auto mechanics at the local high school for twelve years prior to the disease, and during that time, everyone knew and loved him. He never met a Chevrolet that he couldn’t fix, and he had the trophies from car repair competitions to prove it. We couldn’t drive through town without him waving at everyone because he knew everyone and their cars as well.
After he was diagnosed with cerebral Whipple’s disease back in the 80s, a lot of his personality changed. I was only in first grade, and so he became kind of scary to me. I felt as if the Daddy I knew left in the middle of one night by ambulance and never came back, though he was physically present for a while after that.
But eventually, he had to be put in a nursing home while he was still in his forties, knowing that he didn’t really fit there but that he couldn’t function in society either. Somehow in that misfit place, he managed to find his way and keep connected to the life he once had. For instance, he kept tabs on everyone back in his home town by reading the paper, even though most of his friends didn’t keep up with or keep in touch with him. The Cowboys had always been and continued to be his team, no matter how badly they played. Other things that the disease couldn’t take were his ability to diagnose car problems, his craving for sweets, especially strawberry milkshakes from Dairy Queen, and his ability to leave one bite of a meal. And, amazingly he held onto his faith, though it was a bit distorted as a result of his illness.
When I think back on my dad’s life, it makes me very sad to think that he never had the chance to teach me how to dance and to be present at all my school events that he heard about and that brought him joy, and he won’t be there to walk me down the aisle whenever my wedding day comes.
But I am so thankful that God left some reminders of him in my life. I need only look at my feet and see my webbed toes to be reminded that they came from my dad, as did my height. I inherited his ability to leave one bite of a meal uneaten and his knack for keeping a place, especially a garage, neat and tidy. And I have a sneaking suspicion that my sister’s and my ability to identify cars at night by their headlights (though she’s much better at it than I am) came from my dad.
I didn’t do the best job of honoring my father while he was on this earth. I can only do my best to honor him now and keep the memories of him alive. And for today, that’s exactly what I’m choosing to do.