Some words about my father are below the fold.
It’s a rather strange father’s day for me this year, because it’s likely the last one for my father. For about seven years, he has boldly battled the very cruel disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). It is the same disease that claimed Dudley Moore. PSP is considered a “Parkinson’s Plus” syndrome, but it is far worse that standard Parkinson’s disease. It has more in common with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease); in some ways, it may be worse. Over the past few years the disease has progressed from annoying to uncomfortable to totally debilitating. As of right now, my father cannot speak, his vision is blurred and double, and he can’t swallow. He has almost no use of limbs and is confined to a hospital bed at home most of the time. On top of all of this his mind is as sharp as it ever was: he has no dementia. We communicate through yes-no questions and hand squeezing. About three weeks ago, I was told, confidently, that my father’s intestines had shut down and that he was “actively dieing” and would be dead in three-to-five days. Turns out they were wrong. He continues to chug along, but there is no doubt that his life is near its end.
Thus, this is a strange father’s day. He may die tomorrow, next week, or next month. Who knows? I continue to cherish his presence while I can. But, today, I can’t help but think about our experiences together. And though he is not a huge baseball fan, I’m surprised at how many of those experiences involve baseball. When I was five or six, I won a contest to throw out the first pitch at a Charlotte O’s game (a team that featured Cal Ripken, Jr.), and I remember him teaching me how to throw a ball. I remember the pain of striking out every at bat in little league, and his taking the time to teach me how to hit in a way that the coaches were not willing to help. With his guidance, I went from a two-inning scrub to the leadoff man. By the time I was twelve, I was hitting home runs and made the All-Star team, which couldn’t have happened without his sympathy for my pain.
I also remember his baseball stories. How he played little league in New York, where is family lived for a brief time, and his east-Tennessee accent must have stood out. That triple he hit, and the ball that hit the fence and was a foot away from being gone. And his stories of going to Yankee Stadium to see an old Joe DiMaggio, a young Mickey Mantle, and his favorite Yogi Berra. When I was a kid, I played catch with his Berra catcher’s mitt. Why do I remember those things?
It’s so hard to say good-bye, but I’m going to have to do so soon. It hurts so bad. I miss him already, and he’s not even gone. And as he goes, he has to watch my mother, his wife of 40 years, suffer through cancer treatment. He wants to care for her just as she cared for him, but he isn’t capable. It’s been a hard few months for me. I crave to grieve, but I must wait. How does anyone prepare for this mortal purgatory? Yet, despite my sadness, I am filled with pride as my father has fought death for many years. While many of the disease’s suffers choose to give up, he chose to fight. Without his fight, he would have died years ago. It’s his inspiration that I choose to remember today.