Naturally, with Father's Day this past weekend, I've been thinking of my dad. My father has always been a very involved dad. My memories of growing up include him not only at holidays and special occasions, but having him there when I got home from school, having him cook dinner, and him taking me to karate lessons. He's a practical man - always reminding me to put money into savings and make sure I have enough insurance. He's a family man - he's always preferred being home with us to out golfing or drinking beer or whatever dad pastimes are. He has a big goofy laugh that makes everyone laugh harder and longer until none of us can remember why we started laughing. He wants the best for his kids and he worked hard and made decisions his whole life with that goal in mind. He makes a mean chili. He made sure we knew when family vacation had started because he would break out the short-shorts and sandals - the other 51 weeks out of the year his legs and feet did not see the light of day. He likes bad TV. He has a sweet tooth with a special penchant for carrot cake and apple pie. He still always announces that any dessert he eats is not as good as him mom used to make. He's a great dad.
Over the last three years I've been lucky enough to see him be a great grandfather to my kids. I love catching him getting down onto the floor (not an easy feat for an old man!) to play trains with Leo, or making silly faces at Zoe. He compulsively buys them books - even though the piles and piles of books are over taking both his house and mine. I'd be annoyed by this, except he also reads these books to them - keeping them entertained for the length of at least a daily shower when I'm visiting - and sometimes even a nap. I can *see* him love them. It's incredible. And they love him back.
My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago - when were in Pittsburgh for the kids' birthday party, actually. We knew it was coming - there had been signs and we didn't think we were in store for good news. But during that weekend of the party it felt like stolen time. We knew it was coming, but it wasn't official. The shoe hadn't dropped, it was just kind of hovering in mid air. There was nothing to do except focus on celebrating the kids and enjoying the time together. We prepared food, made decorations, spent time with family and friends, laughed, and even sang. I suppose in some ways we had the pending diagnosis hanging over our heads, but that's not what I remember looking back now - just a few short weeks later. That time feels like a gift - a limbo where all we could to do was live in the moment and take some pictures to remember the day.
Now, that's not to say I wasn't having feelings. Oh, there were feelings. There still are. They are mostly ugly - a lot of anger. Some irrational irritation. Mostly sadness. I worry about my dad facing this. I worry about my mom - she will be strong not only for him, but for me and my siblings. I worry about my sisters and my brother. They are younger than I am and at different places in their lives. I worry about my kids - my kids who are too young to understand serious illness. My sweet boy who keeps suggesting drinking water, rest and hugs to make grandpa feel better because that's the only level of hurt he's ever really known. But I'm also worried about myself... because I'm not ready.
My dad started chemo yesterday. I talked to him on the phone after his first session and he seemed upbeat. We joked about how he doesn't have much hair to lose. I'm scared. I'm sure he is, too. I'm torn between dropping everything here in Philly to set up camp in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future and trying to go on with life as normally as possible. I imagine I'll settle on a balance of visiting more often while trying to have a good summer for the kids.
I love my dad. Whether I'm ready or not, I'm going to be here for him. For my mom. And for my siblings. We've got each other. It's going to suck - I don't think there's a way around that, but none of us are alone.