Friday, August 31, 2007

Father's Day Tribute - The Lesson I Learned from My Dad

John came to the United States as a Ukrainian immigrant when he was 14 years old. Unable to speak English but willing to do anything to succeed, John learned the language, became a barber, and opened up his own business in the small town of Clifton Heights, PA. He put two daughters through college and one through medical school during a time when most people thought that women didn’t need an education and that they should be satisfied getting married and having children. He had his faults but he gave us values and ambition – a mighty combination. But this story doesn’t really start until my father was 60 years old.

I was preparing to get married and my father was attempting to practice the polka, a must at any Ukrainian wedding. But he couldn’t do it! He had lost significant mobility in his leg and was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor. One surgery later, this energetic, hard-working man was forced to retire as a result of significant paralysis in his right arm and leg. My Dad had always worked two jobs and spent his spare time working around the house. Now his life came to a screeching halt. Yet never once did he complain. He bought rubber balls for physical therapy and spent his days trying to regain his hand mobility by squeezing those balls over and over. A few years later, fate threw him another curve ball. He was diagnosed with a recurring brain tumor.

I will never forget the day I went to visit him after his second brain surgery. Smiling as always, he chatted pleasantly in the hospital room until a nurse flew into the room, waving her finger at me, and yelling, “You better tell your father to stay in bed. He is paralyzed and will never walk again. He needs to stop trying to get out of bed and accept the fact that he can’t walk now or ever. Every time I walk out of his room, he tries to get out of the bed and then falls on the floor. I am sick of picking him up and you better warn him to stay put!”

With that, she steamed out of the room, thinking she had dealt with her problem patient. My father smiled, put his arms behind him on the bed to brace himself, and immediately tried to lift himself out of that bed. He spent a great deal of time on the floor that year, but he eventually got up and walked. He never sprinted across a room – it was more a will that propelled half of his body forward and dragged the other half to catch up.

My father lived nineteen more years after that second brain surgery. He bought himself a motorized scooter and spent years zipping around the streets of Philadelphia. He was proud, free, and always smiling.

My Father’s Lesson: My father planted a belief deep in my heart that taught me to never give up. No matter what misfortune comes your way, shove it aside and go for your dreams. Go for it and never give up. This is the lesson my father taught me and I then taught my son.

My dear, sweet father died at age 89 in a nursing home. He was sharing a room with a man who was blind. When the blind man dropped something, my father leaned over to help him pick it up, lost his balance, and hit his head. To the last minute of his life, he was reaching out to others.

Dad – I Will Never Give Up on My Dreams


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My Dad, the Barber, and me

My Dad, the Barber, and me