Today is Father’s Day and while for most people this is an occasion for gift giving and celebration, for me it isn’t. My father died of colon cancer in 2001. I watched as his health declined, his body shriveled, and his stomach bloated throughout a battle that lasted almost two years. The drugs didn’t help: he would take his medication only to run to the bathroom and throw it all up. The radiation didn’t work: it only made him lose every hair on his head. The cancer spread into his liver and there was nothing that 19-year-old me could do but try to stay strong and supportive.
Regrettably, my father and I weren’t as close as we should have been. At that age, most young men go through a stage off rebelliousness and seek ways to separate themselves from the likenesses of their parents. People would tell me how much I looked like my father and every time I heard those words it bothered me; I wanted to be different; I wanted to be my own man. But my father and I really were the same in a lot of ways and it was that sameness that caused us to clash at times. Not only do I look like him, I also inherited all his personality traits and propensities. In the folly of my youth I didn’t see the beauty in this because I wanted so badly to be an individual and separate myself from the man who sired me.
Once I was out driving with my girlfriend and I told her of my father’s affliction. She expressed her concern and distress, but I played it off saying, “Oh no, people get over cancer all the time these days. He’ll get over it.” I was in complete denial. When he passed away, the news got around fast and she called me on the phone. We weren’t going out anymore, but it was a kind gesture. I was shattered and didn’t want to talk to anyone. When she called I was three sheets to the wind and could barely string a sentence together.
The ironic thing about it is that he died on the day after Father’s Day. I remember being at work and in the afternoon a strange feeling came over me like something was wrong, but I paid it no mind. I was otherwise in a good mood that day. When I came home, however, I immediately knew something was amiss. My father was gone when he should have been in bed upstairs, and the house was empty and eerily quiet. The last time I saw him was when my sister and I went up to his room the previous evening to give him his Father’s Day card: the last one he would ever get. He thanked us in a voice that was barely audible as he lay there in bed and we looked upon him one last time.
For weeks I was thinking of things that I wanted to say to him knowing that he would soon be gone, but I was so shy and afraid to speak my mind back then that I never developed the nerve to do it. There are so many things that a father and son should do together when you’re in your 20s. If he were still alive today we’d be pals watching the Leafs game together and talking about cars. He’d be teaching me how to fix an engine and how to install plumbing. He’d teach me how to drive a stick shift and do an oil change. He’d be the first member of my family I introduce my girlfriends to. We would have coffee together and exchange twisted stories about parties we’ve been to and women we’ve loved. But I never had the chance to do any of these things before he passed, and I have no one to blame but myself for being so withdrawn and distant to the man who I should have been closer with than anyone else in my life.
There is never a day when I don’t think about him. He never lived to see me go through college, never saw me move out on my own, never was there for me during all the hard times when I really needed my Dad to make things right. Your 20s are a time of self-discovery and personal growth. They are a time when you need the advice of your parents more than ever to set you on the right path, but I didn’t have that guiding hand. I had to figure everything out for myself and I made a lot of bad decisions along the way. The advice of my father would have saved me a lot of trouble and heartache.
So today I implore you to tell your father how much he means to you. Tell him how thankful you are for his guidance and advice. Thank him for being there and supporting your endeavors, but also for setting you straight when you screw up. Take it from me: the love of a father can never be replaced.