Still Teaching

As most of you probably know, my father is dying. Almost 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and, up until the last year or so, he’s managed pretty well. So well, in fact, that he’s picked up a couple of nicknames during his waltz with the big “C”; one of his nurses called him “Superman” because of his ability to bounce back from almost anything. My brother’s name for him is “Iron Man”, a reference to the fact that he was practically never sick when we were growing up. Unfortunately, even Superman has kryptonite and Iron Man’s armor isn’t proof against everything. Last week, he made the decision to stop treatment and we called in hospice. As usual, he’s defying predictions. One minute, you’ll think the  end could come at any minute and the next, he’s sitting up and talking. Iron Man’s arc reactor has nothing my old man’s heart.

At one point in his post office career, my father taught at the National Center for Employee Development, on the Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma. But, while that his only formal teaching assignment, he was teaching someone something almost every waking moment. Whether he was showing a co-worker how to repair or set up different systems, trying to teach his youngest son how to change the starter on 1964 Chevy II or showing how everyone around him how a great husband and father behaved, he was always teaching. Even if the person he was teaching was too thick-headed to realize that school was in session. That was then, I get it now and I’m taking notes.

What he’s teaching me now is how to deal with the disease that we both share (lymphoma for him, colon cancer for me) with dignity and strength. I am approach my impending  treatment with more than a little trepidation, mostly because I know what to expect. It’s a position he’s been in several times, having had chemo more than once. If you’ve been through it once, you know chemotherapy is not easy and I know he had to feel some of the same things I am right now. Yet, the face he always showed us was one of determination to do whatever he had to get through. No complaining, no bitching and no whining, he just put his head down and did what he had to do. Which is what he did pretty much all his life. Now, as things wind down for him, he’s teaching everyone who knows him how to go out with that same dignity and strength. No complaints, no bitching and no whining.

The picture at the top of the page was taken on a day trip to Hanging Rock State Park. I don’t remember much about that trip, but that’s the image I hold of my father to this day. No matter how old he gets, no matter what ravages the cancer or the treatment has wreaked on his body, in my mind he’s still young and strong and vital. And, that’s the way it’s always going to be.