Why I’m Walking: My Father, My Hero

Did people just not get cancer in the old days? Or did a lot of people have cancer and now we just know how to detect it? Was there always this much attention paid to it? Or do I just notice it more?

It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that June 19 will be the second Father’s Day I spend without my best friend. The
invincible man who survived a heart attack, who survived Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 5 years later…

Then he was diagnosed with a Stage 4 gliobastoma in 2014, and I just assumed it would be like everything else: Just another gargantuan hurdle that he cleared with ease.

He passed away 15 months after he was diagnosed. I guess doctors were surprised it was that long, but they didn’t get it. They only knew him as the patient—they didn’t realize they were treating the greatest person in the world.

I used to make up reasons to call him because I knew that, like me, he wasn’t a phone talker. So I’d use some ruse, like “Dad, I’m completely blanking on this. But how many cans of tomatoes do I need for sauce? And do I need crushed or diced??”

I never tired of hearing my dad teach me about things. He was, in every sense of the phrase, the be all and end all. He was the father you brag about. He was the one who was always ready with a magic trick. He was the one who makes the impossible pool shot, the genius who got accepted to college at 15, the best dancer, the one who had crowd of people cheering him on at the craps table.

But to truly understand the extent of his larger-than-life existence, you must understand what he had to endure in the last 2 years of his life, when he battled a disease that took away everything that was important to him. The imposing Italian man lost his appetite because of the treatments. The avid golfer lost his balance. The champion pool player developed hand tremors. The most popular guy in the room with a million friends lost his stamina. The mathematical prodigy got brain cancer.

But it never took his spirit. He outlasted it, as far as I’m concerned. My dad won, as he always did, because he never let it beat him.

He could barely walk, but he managed to get himself to Foxwoods, and come in 8th out of a tournament of 500.
When he was sick and the hospital attendants would come in and scan his hospital bracelet, he’d say, “Ooh wait I have a coupon for that!” My dad got thrown every insidious blow in existence, and he never lost himself. He was undaunted, and unafraid. Throughout all of it, he was still Dad.

He underwent 2 brain surgeries, and after the first one, I walked into the recovery room and there he was with a bandage wrapped around his head. He opened his eyes and said, “Kris, just because I’m here doesn’t mean I can’t take care of you, ok? I’ll always be able to take care of you.”

That’s the first thing he thought of when he woke up from brain surgery, that his children knew he would always be there for them. He lived his life like that, and everything he has ever done or said in the 34 years I was blessed to have him in my life, was a testament to his overwhelming devotion to his family.

He never steered me wrong. He just got me. He was my best friend in the world.

I remember a time when I was in the throes of an ungodly horrendous day at work. The phone rings, and it’s my dad, and he says, “Hey Kris! I’m at the Yankees spring training game, and I was just thinking about you and how much I wish you were here.” I don’t think I’ll ever be as happy to hear anyone than I was at that moment.

I will never, ever get past losing him. He adored me, my sisters, and my mom with every fiber of his being. He looked at my mom like the sun rose and set for her.

My dad is invincible in this way. Nothing will ever take away everything he was and everything he meant to the people whose lives he’s changed: the students he inspired, his scores of friends, kids on the block he amazed with magic tricks, his fellow veterans, and his devoted family.

Everything I am I owe to him. He made me better than I ever could have made myself. So despite the hole in my heart, there’s an even more profound emotion eclipsing my feelings of grief.

And that’s my feeling that I’m lucky.

I’m lucky to have had him in my life. I got to know him, I got to have him as a father, as a role model. No matter what blows the world may deal, I can feel nothing but fortunate for the fact that I got to live in my dad’s magical world.

I would give anything to have him back, to be able to make another one of my fake-excuse calls, to ask him how big I should roll my meatballs..

After I confessed this to my mom, how so many of my calls to him were thinly veiled excuses just to talk to him, my mom said, “You know what? He used to do the same thing with you.”

I have no idea how I will ever manage without my dad, what life will be like without him in it. But I’m overcome with gratitude for the fact that I’ll never have to wonder what life would have been like without having him at all.

That’s why I’m walking. Because I will spend the rest of my life honoring the man that made the world better by being in it…who made me better just by being my Dad.

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