Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dad's Three Little Lessons

For those of you that don't know, my "day job" is the editor of a regional women's magazine (Yellowstone Valley Woman. Recently for my Editor's Note, I wrote a little bit about my dad. I thought on this day we honor the men that made us the people we are, I'd share it all with you.

Dad’s Three Lessons...

When I was 6-years-old I climbed up onto a speckled horse named Smoky and was trying to muster up enough courage to go on a trail ride with the rest of my family. As the horse kicked and swatted off huge horse flies, I was grabbing on for dear life afraid this massive beast would throw me off. I screamed, “I’m scared DAD!! Get me off!” With the gentlest look in his eyes, my dad said rather firmly, ‘If you get off this horse, I promise this will be the last horse you ride.’ I was speechless. My dad was basically telling me, buck up or get off. I stayed on. The photos captured from the family camera show the end of the ride with a little girl waving and smiling. My dad beamed. As the story flashes forward, I went on to become an award-winning equestrian. It’s funny how life works its magic.

Dad’s lesson number one – never quit.

My dad never told me not to quit. He lived and led by example. At work, he was known as the problem solver. If there was a difficult issue, they sent it to my dad and he’d work away until he found a solution. As an automotive engineer, that is not an easy feat. His “stick-to-it-ness” earned him two patents. I can tell you one of the patents was for an Integrated Manifold Muffler Catalyst design. What that means, I am still not sure. I just know it was something “smart.”

When you look at my dad’s story, it reads kind of like fiction. He was a high school dropout who quit school to race cars. When he got some sense about him and realized he needed school, he attended high school and college at the same time – finishing both in the same time that it took many to finish college alone. His love for racing never ceased. When he was in his sixties, he made it onto the pages of Car & Driver magazine for taking first prize in the Michelin One Lap of America driving his Grandsport Roadster. It was a cross-country competition that had him gallivanting from city to city to race around different tracks. It had my mom in knots with nerves. I think she thought he was too old to do that kind of silly stuff. My dad didn’t think it was silly. He called it living. Life is just too short.

Dad’s lesson number two – live like there’s no tomorrow.

The third lesson was the hardest for me to swallow. It was to be strong. I remember hearing the words “cancer” and thinking, ‘No, God, please no.” I had known something was wrong for about a year but for some strange reason, my dad’s lung cancer went undiagnosed. When it was found, it was almost too late. My dad, being the fighter he was, decided to jump into treatment with both feet. I watched him turn into a shell of himself after rounds of chemo and radiation. The vision would have me crying myself to sleep many a night. As we sat on the couch together one day near the end, I remember holding my dad’s hand with tears in my eyes saying, ‘Dad, you are my hero.’ With his trademark wink and smile, he said without losing a step, ‘That’s ok, but I am not wearing a cape and tights.’ Here was a man who was 5’11 and down to 135 pounds yet he was still a giant in my eyes.

Dad’s lesson number three – be strong.

My dad lost his fight with cancer five years ago. It’s a fight I remember each and every Father’s Day. I don’t remember to reopen my grief. I do it because even in death my dad continues to teach me. He lived until his last breath. He didn’t quit. Instead, he walked into God’s open arms knowing, there was a new problem to solve up in heaven. I still see his wink and his smile. I hold on tightly to those three lessons that will carry me to my last breath on earth. Dad, you continue to inspire.

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