My father was killed by cancer at the age of 43. I was 18 at the time. When I turned 43, I began honoring his memory by raising money for and awareness of cancer focused charities — primarily the LIVESTRONG Foundation and Pelatonia. I annually send a note to my friends, family and colleagues explaining why I am continuing my involvement with those charities and requesting their support. To date, those efforts have raised over $430,000 and enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Several months ago, Margo asked me to consider sharing my perspective with the Salt Water community. I told her I would gladly do so but that she would have to be patient because I tend to suffer from what feels like paralyzing writer’s block when I am asked to write seriously about myself (if she had asked me to share sarcastic or snarky riffs, there would have been no delay …).
Margo and I met a dozen years ago at an annual LIVESTRONG Foundation Ride for the Roses event. She has had the (mis)fortune of reading many of my annual posts about my raising funds and awareness in memory of my father, Miklos, who was slain by pancreatic cancer at the age of 43. Every year, I struggle with what to say that I either haven’t said before or that doesn’t feel trite.
I initially wrote from my perspective when I was an 18 year old son who had lost his father. Then I wrote as a middle-aged man raising two young men. I thought my days of thinking and feeling my father’s death as a son were long over.
The last few weeks have put that foolish prediction to rest. My father-in-law is 87, and over the summer, we asked him to move in with us so that we could assist and better care for him. My wife tends to his every need. And it is clear that he appreciates her constant and amazing efforts. I work 2,000 miles from home so I am away for weeks at a time. The last time I was home, I was watching them relate to each other when it hit me. For the first time in 35 years since my father’s death, I realized that I will never take care of him in any way at any time. Never.
And then, as I tend to do, I quickly put the thought out of my mind. And I acted as if I was back to “normal” and reactivated my usual defense mechanisms. And then, last night, I was watching a movie. Just a movie. Not a tear jerker. And a character made a seemingly innocuous comment. Nothing about sons or dads or loss or heartache. Just a comment and a brief expression. And BAM! It triggered everything I’d blocked.
I don’t know why. I think that it was entirely unexpected made it all the more effective and devastating. I couldn’t prepare for it. And the glancing blow for some unfathomable reason left my defenses and denial decimated. I cried alone in the dark theater (I am certain that I am the only person ever to be emotionally impacted by this movie in any way). For whatever reason, I was reminded of how much I had missed, not only the last 35 years with my father, but also all of the possibilities in the years to come.
He never got to see me become an adult. We never had a relationship based on my being a husband or a father. And we never had the chance for that relationship to again be defined by my being his son.
I’ll always be his son. And I’ll always miss him.