————– Christian ——————-
If there is one person that I’ll remember after this is through it is my eldest son, Christian. He has been incredible. Christian was born on the night of Christmas, December 25th in 2006. We were prepared for a girl and even had a girl’s name picked out (we decided not to find out the sex beforehand but for some reason assumed it was a girl). When he was born on Christmas night, my wife came up with the name Christian. It’s funny for two reasons–1. we have no religious preference, and 2. my first name is Chris, short for Christopher. For many people, Christian is too close to Christopher phonetically. We did consider these issues but still liked the sound of the name Christian. As an added bonus, one of our favorite television shows at the time was a show called Nip/Tuck, a show about two plastic surgeons, one of whom is named Christian.
Having six years under your belt is an interesting time. You are just learning to read and can do simple arithmetic, but you also know much more than people give you credit for. You have absolutely no qualms about saying what’s on your mind, and you don’t fear consequences or repercussions. I like to think that my son is of above average intelligence (I think all parents say this, as I’ve yet to meet a parent who says, “This is Timmy, he’s only of average intelligence.”) But one of my worries after the surgery was his reaction to my condition, particularly when I came home. My wife was kind enough to bring him to the hospital during my stay, but seeing him in the home setting would be different. It doesn’t matter if you’re six or sixty years old, when you walk into the hospital, you expect to see sick people. You might walk by a room where there is a woman hooked up to a breathing machine, but this does not surprise you because it’s a hospital. This was no different for my son; to him his dad was sick so naturally he went to the hospital. On one of his visits he brought me a picture he had drawn titled ‘Dada in the Hospital’. It was a stick figure lying in a stick bed (I said he’s smart, I didn’t say he was a little Picasso).
My wife and I have tried to give Christian as few details as possible about my condition, but it’s funny what he picks up without us knowing. Somewhere along the way he overheard someone saying that it was a cyst in my brain that was taken out. My parents have always harped on proper nutrition. Their idea of a healthy day’s eating is a banana for breakfast, another piece of fruit for lunch, and a salad for dinner. Needless to say, they constantly put down my diet decrying it as unhealthy. Somehow with this information, when anyone asks Christian why his dad is in the hospital, his response is, “Dada had a cyst in his brain from eating too many potato chips and they had to take it out.” This makes us laugh so hard that we always forget to correct him. He still thinks that potato chips are the culprit of my mass.
Christian just entered Kindergarten last year, and has told me that the other children and his teachers have asked him about my health. It hurts me to think how this has affected his life. Yet on my return home from the hospital, he made a sign that read, “Welcome home Dad!” Besides that and the occasional comment to “Park there! Remember? We have the handicapped sticker now” it was almost as if I had never left. He has not once mentioned my disability. My fear was that I’d return home and he’d act differently. I was afraid he’d lose respect for me and stop listening to me. He is by no means a perfect child: he still whines a little too much, and he still throws the occasional tantrum, but he listens to us when either my wife or I have to discipline him. Today there are only a few parts of my day that I look forward to: 1. Seeing Christian return from school (camp during the summer), 2. Tucking him in at night, telling him that “dada loves him,” and giving him a kiss and 3. Picking up Cormac from daycare.
————- My Dad —————
If I had to use one word to describe my father, it would be stoic. As a teenager when I had won the State Tennis title, I remember the reaction on his face: nothing, not even a smile. “Good job” he told me. When I told him that Fleur and I were expecting our first child–his first grand-child–he forced a smile and said, “Congratulations.” It was obvious to me that his natural reaction would have again been nothing. He focused on the mental aspects of my tennis training, always preaching for me not to wear my emotions on my sleeve. He would tell me things like, “The best reaction to a missed shot is no reaction at all. Showing your opponent any reaction would give him an edge.” His initial reaction to seeing me in the hospital bed was no different. I would imagine seeing his only son confined to a hospital bed would be, at the very least, disconcerting. He did not show any emotion when he saw me. He was stone-faced.
I had taken in his lessons on his stoicism especially on the tennis court. I can’t say I was perfect at it–it was difficult to suppress all my outbursts of frustration. I didn’t realize it at the time but he wanted me to translate this from the tennis court to my everyday life. Tennis was such a big part of my life that I believe it did inadvertently cross over. In fact, even those closest to me still tell me that I am hard to read, and have a great “poker face.” Seeing him by my hospital bed brought back these lessons that he taught me. It was also the first time I could see his age. Even though there was much wisdom in his eyes, I could tell that the years of taking urologic emergency calls in the middle of the night had taken its toll. Many times during his stay he would take naps in between my therapy sessions. He would make sure to leave by 5:30 every evening and wouldn’t arrive until 10:00 in the morning in order to get the sleep he needed.
I’m not sure why it didn’t hit me before, but during this visit, I found myself in awe of the wisdom he had accrued during his lifetime. I unfortunately did not often get the chance to visit with him during the past few years, and in the hospital I felt that I should take advantage of the opportunity to pick his brain about anything and everything. My questions for him ranged from medical ones, “Dad, what is the normal urine output of a person per day?” to non-medical ones, “How do you clear your mind during meditation?” He told me of his readings of the Dali Lama and various other philosophers, and shared with me his views and opinions on their beliefs. I was fascinated, not only by his knowledge, but also by the fact that it had taken us over 30 years to sit down and actually talk. My thought was, why did it take a brain tumor for this to happen? Many things have happened that normally wouldn’t have if it were not for the tumor: my sisters both visited at the same time, my father and I actually talked, my father and mother coexisted, and I got to hear from people that I haven’t heard from in years.
When it was time for my dad to go I could not hold back my emotion as he had taught me. I don’t know what made me cry, but I think it was the realization that I had wasted so much time with him and had not connected with my own father. I think part of me could also sense the emotion in him, something I have never sensed before. He gave me a hug and told me that I will recover. Then I saw something that I had never seen before in my life: he too was crying. I’m not sure if it was because he was seeing his only son debilitated in a hospital bed, or because he too felt sad about the lack of connection we had had over the years. I have stayed in touch with him on a regular basis since seeing him. In fact this past August I received a kind letter from him:
In every stage of life, in every situation, we must bring out the best from ourselves and our family. We must recognize and acknowledge difficulties and obstacles but get ourselves together. We must muster our physical and mental strength in order to fight to achieve our goals. So work your hardest every single day. Train and condition yourself physically and mentally.
It will take time, but time alone may not be enough. It will take strength and the mental art that you have within yourself.
Never give up.
I do not often keep letters or cards, but I will keep this letter forever.
There is no golden lesson for me here. I simply know that without my family my outcome would have been different. Whether it was the laughter I shared with my mother, the compassion from Amy, the physical strength from Alice, the constant encouragement from my wife, the respect from my eldest son, or the wisdom from my father, they all shared a common denominator: love. And I was the lucky one to receive it from these people.