It sounds weird to say I’m thankful my dad is sick. Of course I’d rather he were healthy. It’s no fun having a crippled parent. People look at you with a curious and uncertain gaze. Then they get uncomfortable and unsure of what to do or what to say. But at the end of the day, when I step back and look at where I might have landed in life if my dad had been healthy, I take sick every time.
When bad enters an otherwise charmed life of good, you can do one of two things. Either wallow in the sadness of what could have been or figure out a way to just deal with it. I had a fantastic mentor in the ways of just dealing with it. Never once has my father thrown up his arms in defeat to MS. I have. My mother has too. But my father? Never.
“Dad, I don’t think going fishing’s a good idea,” I said ten years back at the dining table in Nantucket. “You have enough trouble remaining upright on dry land, forget the motion of the ocean. Plus, the only way to get on and off the boat is a small metal ladder. Jesus, and if you went overboard, you’d sink like a rock.”
“I’m going. I already called the guys on the boat they’ll help with everything. End of discussion. Anyone up for the Juice Bar? Anyone? Anyone?”
On the bookcase in my dad’s office sits a photograph of him reeling in a fish. Leslie snapped the shot and got it framed so he’d have it as a memory. I love that picture. You can see the strain in his face as he willed his sickened body to crank the reel and bring the ten pound Sea Bass aboard. The fish lost, by the way, and we ate him for dinner that night.
“Dad, I really don’t think you should go on this meeting,” I told him a couple of years back as I sat across from him at the office. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding judgmental but I just don’t think people find comfort in a crippled man. You might be smart and know the business inside and out but your speech is a challenge for many people and, let’s be honest, a walker isn't synonymous with strength and confidence.”
“I’m going. The bottom line is I’m the perfect example of why this guy needs long term disability insurance.”
He went on that pitch. We met at a Starbucks to avoid any and all stairs. My dad was already seated with his walker tucked off to the side when the client joined us. The meeting began and I piped up only when I sensed my father’s speech was too garbled for someone else to decipher it. In the end, we sold the client disability insurance, life insurance and took over as the broker for his company’s health insurance.
Two months ago, my dad said something about retiring. Not because he wanted to dedicate the rest of his life to playing bridge in Florida but because he decided it was getting too hard to secure new business. For the first time, I witnessed my father tentatively succumb to the limitations of his MS.
“You know what, dad? You’ve never given up on anything. Ever. I’ve always admired that about you. Pulling back and retiring isn’t a statement of defeat. But don’t make a decision just yet. Seriously. I’m not going anywhere so you can sit back and think about it for a little bit longer.”
He did just that. He sat at his desk, made phone calls, sent emails and ran proposals. I was too busy with other things to keep an eye on what he was doing. Sometimes he’d ask me to sit in on meetings at the office and help with his speech so he could pitch an idea to a client. Otherwise, I was in the dark.
As I ran out the door last night to go into town to volunteer, I popped into my dad’s office.
“I’m heading out. Do you need anything before I go?” I asked.
“I’m good. Hey, PJ, thanks for all of your help the past few months. I know you’ve been bogged down with our group clients. And even with everything on your plate, you still managed to help me with the individual stuff.”
“Stop being silly, that’s what you pay me to do,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, well, thanks to you, I have my biggest case ever in the works. Took me thirty plus years in the business to land a fish like that. Anyway, couldn’t have done it without your help,” he said.
“I didn’t do anything. It’s all you. And don’t you ever again go thinking otherwise."
PS: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!