This is my dad way back in the day. I don't know what year this was taken but it had to be the late 40's or the early 50's. My sister Liz thinks he rocks because he is riding a Triumph. As bad ass as he may be looking on this ride, neither one of us ever saw it in real life. This is the set of wheels we are familiar with.
Polio... I can't imagine what it must have been like for him... to lose so much... to have his life change overnight, without warning... How bad was the struggle to submit mentally and emotionally to a new life that was forced upon him physically? I will never know that answer, he was gone from this earth before I was old enough to even give thought to the question.
The man I knew never appeared frustrated or impatient. He never yelled, he was a great story teller, always funny and always the center of attention at any gathering. He seemed totally comfortable in his skin and in his chair. I remember being out in public with him and people, especially kids, would stare at him, he always smiled at them. I always scowled at them. It made me mad that they would stare at my dad. My dad was an electronics engineer and he created the automatic parking device, the little electronic box that makes the parking arm go up and down in parking garages. To this day, every time I go through one I say "Hi dad". He worked from home and repaired those devices when they needed it and he taught me how to help him. He taught me how to swim and ride a bike all while bound to a chair, immobile. He was a ham radio operator and talked with other operators around the world and with his quad buddies who were also operators. He made training videos for other quadriplegics on how to go on with life after paralysis. The man I knew never gave up, even when he had every reason to. I like to think I get that quality from him. Life gave him lemons and he simply became the quintessential lemonade maker. At least that is the way it looked to my 12 year old eyes.
He knew before Liz and I were born how long he would live, the doctors had given him a lifespan and they were spot on. I'm sure he thought they were wrong because my dad always thought he was invincible. Funny thing to think for a guy who had become paralyzed but what a great perspective. Or maybe he fully understood the value of each moment and chose to live every one of them to the fullest and that included having children. My adult self wishes my 12 year old self had known when the end would be. I think of all the things I would have done differently but then I remember the night my 12 year old self figured out the end was upon us. I could not have lived with that knowledge. I'm sure my sisters remember that night as well. My sister Jackie had taken us to Sea World, I guess as a distraction from 3 weeks of hospital life and as a break for my mom. The day at Sea World went great but that evening at the camp ground we were supposed to stay at I was struck so hard with the revelation that my dad was going to die. I sobbed and cried and begged to go home. Jackie and Liz kept asking me what was wrong but I couldn't bring myself to tell them we had to get home because dad was about to die. All I could say was, "I just have to go home." Jackie must have realized there would be no comforting me and we finally left. I'm sorry sister.
Every day I went to the hospital with my mom, it was at the end of the street we lived on. I was never allowed to go into the ICU to see my dad because I was too young, but I would sit on the floor in the hallway while my mom went in. Every day I leaned against the cold cement block wall with my head pressed against it and I imagined my dad lying with the head of his bed just on the other side of that same wall... could he feel me out there? Did mom remember to tell him I was there and that I loved him?
After we got back from Sea World Liz and I were allowed to go in and see our dad... they were letting us in to say goodbye.
That was nearly 40 years ago and tonight I do not have the strength to write that goodbye story. I have only had that strength once in my life and it took me almost a week to complete it. There are too many tears that go with it and I have shed all I care to shed tonight just writing this. What I can share with you is that I am my daddy's girl. Even though my life changed overnight, without warning, and parts of me are still paralyzed, I press on, just like he did.