It was a warm spring day. I had returned from my summer job in NYC working as a secretary for the company responsible for installing the heat and air conditioning for the twin towers.
I was sitting on our front porch, halfway through the book “The Godfather.” My father was telling me to go upstairs to my room and change my clothes. Something told me I wanted to remain sitting next to him. As I remembered I always listened to him, but this time, something told me to defy him. I continued sitting next to him and reading.
But in the very next moment after telling me I should go inside and change my clothes, it seemed as though he fell asleep. I remember hearing him snore many times when I would lean in his lap while we watched baseball, football, basketball, golf. and even horse racing. I loved watching sports with him. He’d explain the sports and how he identified good players. Once he fell asleep, I’d shake him until he awoke and of course, he always claimed that he wasn’t sleeping. We’ve probably all done that from time to time.
But this time was different. It was 1 loud snore and then….quiet. Our neighbor who was sitting on the other side of the brick separated porch, as he often did as the two men talked politics, sports or swapped stories of their day events, jumped over the porch, slapped my father several times as if to wake him while he yelling at me to get my mother from inside the house.
I had no idea what was happening. But what happened remains surreal to this day. My mother came rushing outside. Sirens and fire engines seemed to come out of nowhere. Next thing I knew my father was lying flat on the ground of the porch with people were standing over him. I was on the other side of the porch screaming and crying.
That one snoring moment represented my father’s last breath.
That was 52 years ago. In 1970 it was the Monday before Father’s Day. I was a teenager of seventeen years. My father was 63. Six years younger than I am now.
I usually find myself feeling melancholy this time of year. Feelings that haven’t changed in the 52 years. But conversations In the past several weeks had me coming to realizations that gave new insights that found me giving meaning to the trauma and to the lessons my father instilled in me.
My father brought me up to be always questioning, to be aware of current events, what was going on in the world, and in our community. He said it was our responsibility as good citizens.
Beyond those lessons I also remember the arguments he had with his friends; friends he had since his teenage years. The arguments always centered around the same subject. Many of his friends were racist, they had definite ideas about people who were different from them, particularly people from other countries or ethnicities.
I could still hear him now and remember one of the most important lessons he taught me: not to judge a book by its cover, people should be treated with equal respect, and to stand up for what you think and know to be right.
The other side of what I thought about in recent weeks is that my father, who was a diabetic, didn’t always follow his doctor’s direction. He’d argue with my mother who did her best to cook everything according to the needs of a diabetic; always using sugar substitutes and arranging meals accordingly. My father thought all he had to do was eliminate starch, specifically potatoes and rice. He’d avoid those like the plague.
But he would argue with my mother when she’d advise him about avoiding or limiting intake of bread, bagels, fatty foods, etc, He consumed them without limit.
This noncompliance led him from taking oral medication to injecting himself with insulin. That happened in the last 6 months of his life after suffering a very minor heart attack; that was during my first year of college.
So, on that warm spring evening, his lack of self-care, lack of following doctor’s directions or my mother’s advice, his stubbornness about believing that he was invincible and belief that knew better than everyone else finally culminated in his last breath.
It may sound strange that after 52 years I’m finally reflecting on some of the most important lessons I learned from my father, Lessons that seemed to have led me on my current path.
I’ve never stopped standing up for what is right. I remember at times standing up to him in the year or two before his death. I never really understood until recently that that was something that he instilled in me. I don’t know he realized or appreciated that fact. We never had the opportunity to have that discussion.
It’s likely he never expected me to speak out in ways that would challenge his authority.
I realized that my work with IMpathy ®, self-care, emphasizing taking personal responsibility for one’s health and well-being was probably born from him not taking responsibility for his. He depended on medications and doctors to ensure his health and well-being but didn’t always take responsibility for his own health by minding his health as his business.
On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of the importance of all of us to mind the business of our own health and well-being to the highest degree possible. In doing so we will be fulfilling a personal responsibility that will be in the best interest of our family and loved ones.
Phyllis conceived and is host of the Podcast SeniorsSTRAIGHTTalk on the Voice America Empowerment Channel and can be found on all popular podcast platforms.
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