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My annual note was written on my father's birthday - April 1.
My dad would have turned 81 today. He's been dead for 38 years. Killed by cancer. Every year on this day I kick off my annual fundraising for cancer charities in his memory. And I write about him and what he meant to me. And what it is like for me to go through the same stages of life he went through. And there have been a lot of those stages this year. My employer was purchased, my new employer promoted me and enabled me to return to Las Vegas to live with my family. And my youngest son is nearing the end of his senior year. I have had months to marvel at how great it is to be home again and watch Cameron get ready to take on the world. I was going to write about how my last great memory of time spent with my father was our trip to Berkeley to see where I would attend college. But each time I thought about this note I realized that wasn't my overriding emotion. Those emotions aren't about me and how cancer impacted my last few months of high school and all that followed.
I don't think of my father or myself. I think of my mother. Every time somebody says "oh, you're going to be an empty nester soon" they do so with a sense of excitement. Why? Because they think the nest won't actually be empty. Just vacant.
My mother had no such similar experience. My father died a month after my high school graduation. But he was dying from pancreatic cancer for months before that. Did I realize it? NO. I was an 18 year old boy. My mother and father both told me he'd be fine. But they both knew better. They didn't know how long he had to live but I am sure now that they knew it wouldn't be long. My father was a realist but also an optimist. He may even have convinced himself that he'd defeat cancer. My mom didn't have that luxury.
How she knew he was going to die and screwed up the courage every day to care for him and to lie to me convincingly that he'd be fine is beyond me. All while knowing her nest - the one they designed together and my father built - would be achingly and forever empty in the very near future.
If you've ever met my mother or heard me speak of her you know that she is short. Very short. But when I think of her during my father's valiant fight and untimely passing, and the years that followed, I don't think of her as anything other than a giant. A woman of incredible strength who not only refused to to let our family splinter but fiercely held it together. A small woman who lived in a large house filled with memories of the man who had built that house with the certainty that one day it would be filled with new opportunities once the kids went off to college. And then cancer.
That is why I raise money for cancer research/treatment (Pelotonia) and the care/support of cancer patients and their caregivers (LiveStrong). If you want to know about where and when and where I am riding my bike for these charities you just need to ask. But let's cut to the chase. You don't care. I mean seriously, nobody ever thinks "wow, a 55 year old overweight, slow bike rider. I've got to know more about his riding plans." Hell, the details even bore me.
So, on this my father's 81st birthday, I ask for only 3 things.
1) Please consider supporting these charities.
2) Please celebrate the giants in your life. Tell - or better yet - show them that they are important to you. Laugh with them or about them.
3) Raise a glass in their honor and in memory of my father.