It would be hard to start a story about my dad without writing how I feel about him. I can’t say we are close anymore, because eight years ago, I moved 8500 miles away to the Philippines, and the distance has made us strangers. I’ve talked to him a few times on Skype, but I can’t say I know the mind of the man who holds such a large part of my heart in his hands.
Despite not being close to my father anymore, I know that I love him more than anything. The fact that we rarely talk now doesn’t erase the image I have of him in my mind. To me, he is the epitome of a father and husband. He is everything I aspire to be, and the example I conjure when I think of what a real man is. When I use the words unselfish and sacrifice, a picture of my dad appears in my mind.
I may not agree with every belief and ideal he stands for, but there is no one I respect more.
There is much I don’t know about my father — he is a man shrouded in mystery. I don’t recall hearing stories about his childhood or his life as a young man and father except for events related to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve heard of the conventions and the days spent in the preaching work. I’ve heard stories of his relationships with other brothers and sisters in the faith, but little else made it into my memories as a child.
The only facts I knew about him besides those related to his faith were that he was a baker and he was a very sick man.
My dad has Multiple Sclerosis.
Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my dad in the bakeries he toiled. Whether he owned the bakery or was an employee, he worked his fingers to the bone to make sure his creations were the best they could be. I remember visiting my dad and being in awe of the huge machines for mixing dough and sitting on empty cherry filling buckets eating cookies that were warm from the oven.
My dad was a master baker. There was nothing he couldn’t do when it came to food. Donuts, cakes, bread, pastries, biscuits — if it was delicious, there was a good chance my dad knew how to make it. I’ve never come across anyone in my life who was a better baker than my dad.
You can imagine that we were quite the snobs about baked goods because we had the best from dad and everything else was “almost” as good.
But to be the best, my dad had to work all the time. As kids, the only time I can remember spending with him was at the congregation meetings three times a week. It seemed the only thing he did make time for was the witnesses and Jehovah; he put aside everything else for work.
My dad worked himself sick. He worked until his MS got so bad he landed himself in the hospital. I remember getting in the car with my mom and brother and driving all the way to Minnesota to visit him, and hating hospital food because they dared to put cheese in my mashed potatoes.
My dad went into the hospital a thin man, and they pumped him so full of drugs and chemicals that he came out obese. I can’t remember if his health was better, but he didn’t look healthy. He didn’t look like my dad.
And even at well over 350 pounds, he worked until his feet bled. Carrying that weight around for 20 hours a day crippled him more than the MS did. I remember massaging his legs and feet for hours after he got home from work to ease his pain so he could sleep and do it all over again.
He worked like that until his health wouldn’t allow it. And even when any normal person would have been bedridden, he worked odd jobs so his family could eat.
My dad sacrificed everything — even his health — so his family could survive.
Even after my brother and I moved out and had families, he still worked to support himself and my mom. There were quite a few years he supported my family and me as well when I couldn’t make enough to feed everyone.
It finally got to a point where the pain in my dad’s back (all the years of baking had ruined his discs) and legs were so bad that he was taking a bottle of ibuprofen a day. By this time, he was doing sales work and I remember the huge bottle of Advil on the seat of his truck. My mom would buy them at Walmart in bulk because my dad went through so much.
You can imagine what so much pain reliever did to his stomach. He was admitted to the hospital with a very low blood count because he lost so much through his stomach. He almost died because, as a Jehovah’s Witness, he wouldn’t accept a transfusion when he really needed one. It was a close call but he started the slow journey back.
I almost lost my dad because he pushed himself so far for his family.
My dad has better drugs now, and hopefully is staying away from the ibuprofen. He is 75 and doesn’t work much. I’m not there with him, but knowing my dad, I bet he keeps himself busy with my mom and his preaching work.
Watching my dad work himself almost to death has changed the way I think about life. Before, when I was younger, I followed the same path as him and worked my life away and never saw my family. I pushed myself until my health suffered, and I was forced to slow down.
Now, I don’t look at work as being the most important thing. Yes, if I worked harder my family would have more stuff. But what we do have in enough. We have the time to show love to each other. I spend all my time with my kids and wife. I am happy and healthy.
Am I broke? Yes. But on my list, happiness is more important.
I like to think my dad figured that out and now he is choosing to shower my mom with all his attention. After the hard life he had, he deserves some peace and all the love he can handle.
My dad almost worked himself to death, but I think he learned his lesson.
Yes, work is important. We have to feed ourselves and our families, put a roof over our heads, and provide clothing to wear. But are we pushing ourselves to our limit, not for our needs, but for the things that others tell us we should want?
Is it necessary to get a new iPhone with each new release? Must you buy clothing for their labels instead of their utility? Is it important to you that you appear a certain way to others? Are you basing your worth, not on who you are, but on what you own?
If we are working our lives away for things and stuff, instead of spending the little time we have with the people we love creating experiences and making memories, are we really living?
Do you want to make it to the end of your life knowing you worked so hard for a someday that would never come?
I was lucky, I realized what I was doing before it was too late and took steps to fix the problem. Are you going to wait for luck to change your mind, or will you realize before it’s too late that you only have one life, and it’s up to you to get the most out of it?
Don’t waste your time working for what you don’t need when you could be creating a life that would fulfill your every emotional and physical need.
It is time.