I can't believe it's been ten years. I still remember the day he told us. I had just come back from my first week at work, after being out for 6 months because I had my own cancer to deal with. He had been sick for almost that whole length of time. First, he had breathing problems, which the doctors said was just pneumonia. Then he got puffy. Very puffy, like he was on steroids. After all this time, the problems still didn't go away. Finally, he was sent in for more tests. I came home that day to find him sitting in his usual spot. I knew he had been in for the results of tests that day, in fact, he had probably just got home. My mom wasn't quite home from work yet, but I knew she would be there soon.
I asked him what the results were. He kind of looked at me in that “dad” sort of way – halfway between – I may be joking and I may not be. And said, it's over. I didn't know whether or not to take him seriously. I started to crack a smile, thinking he must be joking. Then mom walked in. She was stressed, very obviously, and very rightly so. She hadn't even put her stuff down, and she asked what the results were. He looked at the table, then at her. They said it's lung cancer. He was serious this time. I watched the color drain from my mother's face, she turned a sickly gray color. I thought it was only in books that these things happened. She actually aged before my eyes. She steadied herself with the closest chair and sat down.
At this point, I really don't remember much else. This wasn't supposed to happen. Parents are supposed to be infallible. Parents aren't supposed to get sick, not before they are old enough to walk you down the aisle and spoil your children. I was supposed to be old and gray before i had to bury them. I felt like he had just begun to live. He was just getting his life back after I had been sick for so long. They both had. This scared me. And yes, I was selfish about it. I just got MY life back, too. I was finally allowed to live in my 20's. And not I had to deal with something I should have to deal with until I had a husband to help me along the way. Yes it was selfish. And I'm sorry that I was selfish. But I think, at least I tried to make up for it.
There are things that you may not know about my dad. Most people saw him as this awesome guy with passion. He was funny, hysterically so. He had anger, and everyone knew when he was mad. He had opinions, and everyone knew what those were. If you were lucky enough, he would teach you why those were important to him, and very possibly change your mind to match his own. He was a great father figure to many, many of my friends. Unless they were trying to do something sinister to eventually take advantage of me in some way, he welcomed them all into the fold and they loved him. He was very genuine of heart. He wasn't a good actor. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
As his only child, I got to see some things that no one else did. I know what he thought of everything and everyone. And why. But much of this was told in confidence, which most of you know, isn't easy for me to do. I am a gossip of the worst kind. Guess where I learned that from? But, for the most part, I was able to keep my mouth shut about things that were said in our house. No one made me laugh like my dad did. We were so similar in so many ways, that jokes to us carried for years. There are still jokes that even my mom doesn't get. We had such fun together.
One thing that he did for me, he always made me feel safe from outside sources. I remember the first time I saw him scared, however remotely. The year that The Night Stalker came to town. Dad slept with a baseball bat next to his bed. That was the only way he let on that he was worried. A year later was the first time I ever saw him cry. It was when my mom's grandfather passed away. He was eating dinner, and suddenly, he broke down in tears over his mashed potatoes. It was over as fast as it began. Those two events scared and scarred me. But I never felt unsafe, no matter what.
Oh, I could be terrified of his wrath – which always just included a lot of yelling and probably a lecture and being cut off of something. But never of anyone or anything else. I always felt he'd be there to stick up for me or pull me out of a bad situation. And until the day he died, he was. Even when this close  to never coming out of bed again, he still scared the hell out of my first roommate.
My first roommate and I were great friend when we moved in together. Then he got into some ugliness and became not such a great friend anymore. The last straw for us all was the night he hit me over the head with a beer bottle. Dad arrived with two of his burly, ex-con buddies and moved me out that weekend. About three months before dad passed, we took him to Disneyland and took an adorable picture of him, all tiny and looking like a little old sickly man. He was all bundled up, and had the purest smile of joy. I showed that picture to the old roommate about a month later (mind you, this was about 8 years after living together). He told me “that man” still scared the crap out of him, even looking like that. Oh, the kind of fear that my father instilled in the men in my life.
He also stuck up for me in so many ways. Any time I had issues with companies or people harassing me, my dad was on the phone, harassing them back. No one was going to mess with his kid. No one was going to sell her a crappy car, or make her pay for something she didn't have the money for, or even continue calling when she was sick. Even though he was sick, could hardly breathe or walk, he still came up to my bathroom to kill a spider for me that was in the shower.
He was a kid at heart. He loved stuffed animals and had great pride in buying them or winning them for himself, my mom and me. He was so excited the day I came home with a rubber band six shooter for him. He loved shopping. He loved going to Disneyland. One time, we went, just me and him. It was one of the best times I had ever had. That night, he told me that it doesn't matter how old you get, always keep the kid inside you. It'll keep you young. He loved a good joke. He was the guy that bought me my first Mickey Mouse, instilling in me a forever love of Disney. He loved to teach. Especially sports or music. I have a hard time watching basketball now, because he was my Laker game partner. We would watch the games and yell together.
Once he found out that he was sick, he basically retired from his gardening business. He could never wait until I got home from work to tell me some juicy piece of gossip. And every day when I did get home, from work or school, he would make me sit down and tell him all the gossip from work, or what we did in class. He joined the football pool at my work. He met all my friends. He had them over for parties. It was weird for me, that the role he took when I was in high school or just out, he continued with my adult friends. And they flocked to him. And he loved every minute of it.
When I was sick, he took me aside one day and chatted with me about how scared he was. He told me that he should have been careful what he wished for. He didn't want this to happen to me, and he wished that he could have taken it away if he could. He started to cry. It made me uncomfortable, because I couldn't stand to see him cry. I told him he had to stop it because he looked like Grandma when he made that face. It made him laugh and the tension was broken (see what I mean about the weird private jokes?). Unfortunately, he did get what he “wished” for. He took my cancer away from me. And took it upon himself. And look where that got us.
Watching my father die was one of the most horrible, amazing, wonderful and heartbreaking things I've ever had to do. Yeah, those are weird adjectives to use, but the circle of life is weird like that. I'm glad that I was able to hold his hand while he took his last breaths. I would like to think that was a comfort to him. I hope he was able to find peace. I tried in those last few months to show him how much he meant to me. I hope he was able to see it. And although we had our ups and downs, as families always do, I did love him, and I still do. He was a great dad, and friend... once we were able to get to that point. I'll always miss him, and wonder what life would have been like if he had been able to meet my husband, etc. But I'm comforted in knowing that he would have loved him, and quite possibly the life I live. True, no one will ever understand those private jokes and the strange things that we used to talk about and the things that he taught me. But I guess that's what makes relationships?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: My dad was the coolest guy. Anyone who knew him knows how true that is, and those of you who didn't, you missed a great experience. I miss you dad, and I will always love you. Keep a space up there warm for me!