Today would have been my fathers 76th birthday had he not died of a brain tumor in January of 2002. Most people remember the day people died to pay tribute to them; I don’t like that idea. I prefer to think of him on the day he was born rather than that awful cold January day when he died. There were so many conflicting emotions; the kind of brain tumor he had, Glioblatoma Multiforme, was a death sentence. 95% of patients would die 18 – 24 months after diagnosis. Part of me was relieved when he died, he was no longer suffering; part of me was shellshocked that all of this was happening in the first place and part of me was very sad that my father was gone. But, he was really gone 20 months earlier – he died 20 months to the day of his diagnosis – he had brain surgery when he was first diagnosed but because of the way the brain matter is you can’t get all of the cancer out. He was never the same after that surgery; he was a brilliant man pre surgery, post surgery his intellect was dulled. He also became very depressed because being an MD he knew the diagnosis was a death sentence. I still have feelings about this time in my life but I have tried to not dwell on those , not deny them either, but rather to think of who he was as a person and father during his life time.
As with most kids I learned a lot from my father. Not just the typical stuff like learning to ride a bike, or drive a car but also much more important things like everyone is equal. He taught us, my brother and me, black people were the same as white people; rich people are the same as non rich. He taught me that we weren’t better than other people because we had more; and that there would always be someone who had more than you did. He and I butted heads a lot, probably because I was a lot like him. Everything he would tell me, I would ask why? and put up an argument (which is exactly what he did as a child). My older brother has told me recently that when my father was teaching us things he was like a sponge and wanted to learn, whereas I was more challenging. My father was a perfectionist, as he would say ‘there is only one right way to do something’ and if you didn’t do things that way you were doing it wrong. He was almost always correct in everything he was talking about, but he still got challenged by me on every topic from how to wash a car to Harvard being the only acceptable college to go to. I laugh sometimes when loading the dishwasher because of course there is a ‘right’ way to do it, and if I ever put a large plate in front of a small plate I can hear him saying to switch them because the larger plate will block the smaller plate from getting properly cleaned. So many things I learned, from how to solve problems to never wasting money, to calm logical thinking, to the value of family. If I ever said anything that didn’t make sense he would challenge me on it; not to prove he was right but for me to learn I was wrong, and why.
So today is a day to celebrate his life; he is missed by his family, his patients, his friends and colleagues. I am proud that he was my father. I love the pic above, its a few years before he was sick, he is with his grandson and looks just like him, truly happy to be with his family at my nephews birthday.