Wednesday, May 5, 2010

He'll Always Be My Daddy

Today would have been my daddy's 79th birthday.  He was only 53 the last time I saw him, only a couple of years older than I am right now.  And I still  miss him terribly.  He had cancer, most likely beginning in his lungs, but undiagnosed until his brain was affected.  He fought with everything he had for over two years, but cancer beat him in the end.

My daddy was the funniest man in the world.  At least to me. He could tell a joke like nobody I had ever known.  We kids would laugh hysterically and ask him to tell it again.  Even though I can no longer remember all the punch lines, I can still hear him delivering them.  And I smile.

Daddy wasn't perfect (is anybody?), but he loved us and we knew it.  Life dealt him a few blows along the way, but he always came through for us as best he could.  We didn't have much money, but when we needed something he found a way to provide.  Sure, life wasn't without a great many disappointments, but Daddy did his best to shelter us from all that he could.

My grandmother, Daddy's mother, died unexpectedly in 1982.  He took it hard.  He always looked after his mama and was living with her at the time of her death.  When he started losing weight shortly afterward, we assumed it was depression.  But it became obvious after a few months that there was more going on.  My normally thin father was becoming gaunt. 

Eventually, my father was hospitalized, but the only diagnosis we were given was "anorexia".  No cause was given, and at the time I didn't realize there was a difference between his diagnosis and the more well-known "anorexia nervosa".  I thought it was a silly diagnosis for a slender, middle-aged man.  In hindsight, I have no idea why more testing wasn't done to determine the cause of his weight loss.  He continued to get sicker, thinner and more dehydrated.  Several times he was hospitalized, and his condition would naturally improve after receiving intravenous nutrition, so it seemed to confirm to the doctors that his illness was due to depression over his mother's death.

Finally in the spring of 1983, my sister insisted he be evaluated at the large hospital where she worked, rather than the smaller neighborhood hospital which had so far failed to diagnose my father's underlying illness.  I was planning to be married on March 18, 1983, and was so hoping he would be well and home in time to walk me down the aisle. But shortly after being admitted, he had a heart attack and lapsed into a coma.  The doctors insisted he wouldn't recover and advised us to remove him from life support.  But we weren't ready to give up on him just yet.  And sure enough, after a few days he regained consciousness and we had our daddy back.

My fiance and I decided to go ahead with our wedding a few days later, and my brother would stand in for my father and walk me down the aisle.  Before heading to our honeymoon, we visited Daddy at his hospital bed.  I was so optimistic!  Daddy was alive and now I had another wonderful man in my life.

My happiness was short-lived.  A few days after returning from our honeymoon, I received the call that devastated me--it was cancer.  Treatment was possible, but unlikely to be successful long-term.  But Daddy wasn't ready to leave his family behind. He would fight with everything he had.  He was sure he could beat this ugly disease.

As painful as the treatments were for him, and as painful as it was to watch his decline, I am so grateful for the time we had.  Daddy got to meet my baby daughter (although she was scared to death of his bald head!), and he started attending  church for the first time in his adult life.  Eventually, he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, and that gave us all a sense of peace regarding the uncertain future.  And when on December 23, 1984, it was obvious he could fight no more, we were finally ready to release him back into the arms of his heavenly Father and into the peaceful existence that had eluded him during his short time here on earth.
Happy Birthday to the most handsome man in uniform!


  1. Well, you made me cry again with your beautiful tribute to Daddy. I hate that he never got to meet all of his precious grandchildren, at least not here on Earth. I'm looking forward to seeing him again one day. I bet he's got a million jokes for us!

    Happy birthday, Daddy! I miss you!

  2. I hate that I look at these pictures and see nothing more than a stranger. I never knew his story, and I'm so glad you shared it. I'd love to hear more stories about him and what he was like!