Tuesday, March 2, 2010


We found out yesterday my dad has throat cancer. This is his third bout with cancer in 12 years. The first was prostate; then skin,which they had to peal his face and do skin grafts; now this. He beat the other two. They say this one doesn't look good. He is scheduled to go to the cancer hospital to talk to an oncologist. His GP says surgery is out of the question because of his emphysema; radiation and chemo would be the way to go. We don't know yet what stage the cancer is at or if it has spread. He is going to be 83 at the end of April.

My Dad

When we were little kids, we called him "Papa". There were 6 of us; 4 brothers, 1 sister. I was married, out of the house and my first son was 1 month old when my mom became pregnant with my 5th brother. Now there are seven of us.

As we grew older, I was about 12, I remember asking my dad if we could now call him "Pop"; he agreed. So "Pop" he's been since. It's nearly impossible to find Birthday and Father's Day cards that say "Pop"!

My dad grew up during the Depression, the second child, first son of first generation Irish American parents. There were 4 surviving siblings in his family; my grandparents had 8 children. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade; joined the Navy at 17 and was a "SeaBee" in Hawaii during WWII.

He met my mother through a mutual friend. He was "gaga" over her from the beginning - her, not so much about him. In her words she thought he was "a skinny, lanky kid". But that all changed. They married when he was 21 and she 18.

My dad worked as a maintainence man at a local school, got his boiler's certificate; got hired at the local Chevy plant, and then found employment with the New York Central Railroad as a fireman (stoking coal into the boiler - steam engines back then). And there he stayed for the rest of his working life, retiring as a railroad engineer. In times of layoffs he was a milkman, a package delivery man, he delivered meat to the markets, had his own washer/dryer repair business.

Our life was never easy; we never knew an abundance of money in our house. But we were taught manners, ethics, responsibility, compassion and love. My parents struggled all their lives; they stuck behind us all through good and bad. My dad had a temper that we all feared growing up but we were never afraid to go to him when we needed help.

I can still remember him helping me with my homework when I was in high school; he loved History and Math.

When I was sick or in pain (I used to suffer terrible leg cramps in my calves), he would come sit by my bed. When I tore my finger open on a broken glass, he wrapped up my hand and rushed me to the hospital for stitches. My mother could not stand the site of blood! When I was going to Crystal Beach with my girl friend for our town's Beach day, he slipped me an extra $5.oo. And when my mother was coming up to the hospital to bring my first born son and myself home, he told her "you be careful driving. That's my grandson in that car!"

My "Pop" is also a life-long alcholic. He has been in detox and rehab twice about 30 years ago, the second time 22 years ago. Through the years, he has beat this disease on his own.

He was an avid hunter and fisherman. We lived on venison and smelt when we were kids. He built an addition to our house; he could fix a car, an appliance, anything that needed to be done.

In the past 25 years, he became a carpenter of sorts. He has built beautiful pieces of furniture for mom, me and my sister. I cherish them. He built doll houses, toy chests, doll cradles for the grandchildren and picnic tables and benches for each of us kids. His carpentry ended a few years ago when he could no longer take the saw dust. His fingers are scarred and battered.

He and my mom used to come out here for vacation, driving the 1900 miles here and back; they would spend as much as 3 weeks with us. In the beginning, they would come out twice a year, Spring and Fall. About 4 years ago was their last trip. It was a family reunion of sorts. My brother from Washington state, my sister from New York, my brother from the Twin Cities area and the assorted grandchildren and now, great-grandchildren. It was Memorial Day weekend. We had a great time! But something wasn't right with Ma. She couldn't rebound from the trip out here; kept saying she didn't feel well. Then the day every one left for their homes, she had a heart attack that night. 10 days in the hospital; 2 weeks recouping with us and then we drove them 1/2 the way home, meeting my sister to take them the rest of the way.

We have been back there numerous times; unfortunately mostly because of their ill health.

They celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversay a year and a half ago. We had a big party! We also had a big party for their 50th. We told them for their 70th, they're on their own!!

My Pop is getting more forgetful now. More impatient with his lack of energy; of not being able to do the things he used to. More angry with himself for the onset of random illnesses. He gets confused more easily.

But my Pop never misses an opportunity to talk to us on the phone; to give his advice on matters we find bewildering; to spend time with his grandkids and great-grandkids. He loves to play cards with them; tell them about his youth, his experiences, his family.

My Pop is a "bull". A man who constantly told everyone he wouldn't live to see the age of 50, is still here with us. A man who technically died 3 times during his first detox in the hospital, is still with us. A man who had blood poisoning when I was very small, spent 2 weeks in the hospital, is still with us today.

We never forget his birthday, Father's Day or their wedding anniversaries. He is still quick with an Irish joke, and Irish song and a smile that my husband says the gleam in his eyes personifies "When Irish Eyes are Smiling"!

I love you, Pop.

No comments: