My dad never told me how to live my life, he simply set an example for me to follow. He was always a strong man. I know every kid believes that, but he always proved me right. My dad was a firefighter- he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known, did everything he could to make our lives better. And then when I was in second grade, something happened that would change our lives forever. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
It was devastating. My dad was strong, he could fight off the monsters and keep the darkness at bay. His career consisted of saving lives and running into burning buildings when everyone else was running out. He was also on the K-9 search and rescue team where he responded to major disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing. His life was built around his strength- both mental and physical. And suddenly, he couldn’t walk across our yard without a cane. He would be driving down the road and would suddenly lose his vision. And perhaps worst of all for him- he couldn’t work on the line anymore, he had to move to a desk to support his wife and four children. For such an active man, the reality of losing control over your own body must have been shattering, but he never breathed a word about it. He continued on, pushing through and persevering.
It was a rough year- when we were still learning what the disease meant and what it could do to him. And then there was the game of discovering the right medication- it was like playing Russian roulette, you never knew what to expect from each one. Would this one make him grumpy? Would it make things worse? Or would it help his limp go away? Eventually life settled into a new routine, most days the cane went away, but the limp was still there. We knew we would never be the same again. MS is an invisible disease, no one would ever be able to see the daily struggle, but it was always there, hidden under the surface.
We all have bad things happen in our lives. Some people let those things define them. People will use these moments as an excuse, a crutch. My dad used his moment as a challenge. He never let his disease stand in his way. He couldn’t be on the line at work anymore, so he worked twice as hard at the desk- ensuring safety for his men, occasionally going in for practice burns. He wouldn’t always tell us when a relapse was hitting because he knew we would try to make him slow down. My dad only knows one speed: go. He fought through the pain, the discomfort, the fear. He chose to define his disease, he was not going to let it control him. He stayed active. He was strong in every way possible.
He would never let anything stop him. Even when he fractured both of his legs- they didn’t need casts because of the location of the fractures, and they hurt, but not that bad- so he kept running. Every single day. He would never let anything stop him.
And because of that, I have leaned to do the same. The worst moments in my life do not define me, I decide what matters. I wont let anything stop me, even when it seems impossible. He has always believed in me, so I can believe in myself. He taught me that you have to work hard to accomplish your goals, nothing will ever just be handed to you. You need to be thankful for everything you have- even your health is a precious commodity that might not always be available to you. He taught me to make the best of everything, you only live once and you might as well enjoy it. And when all else fails- take a break, go outside and enjoy nature- because it is the most healing element in the world.
I see a lot of my dad when I look at myself: my work ethic, my stubbornness, my nerdy jokes (I can dad-joke with the best of them), my belief that even the craziest dreams are possible- so many things I got from him. I am proud of him, of everything he has accomplished and all of the things that he has taught me. We shouldn’t appreciate our father’s only one day a year. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of what is important. He is the most influential person in my life. At 27 years, I can still say my dad is my hero. And for that, I thank him. Everything I am can be traced back to him. So for all of the lessons, all of the unconditional love, all of the times you simply shook your head when I brought home another ‘winner’: thank you dad, for everything.