Monday, December 19, 2011

An Enduring Dad

Today is the two-year anniversary of my father’s death.
 My dad was an incredible and inspiring lesson in endurance. He had been a paraplegic for over 56 years, confined to a wheelchair for almost that long, enduring daily leg pain, without ever once complaining about that life-altering accident when he was 16 years old or the daily trials of being unable to use both legs.
Dad’s beginnings were difficult: his grandmother saved him from being aborted. He grew up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1930s and early 1940s, moving back and forth between his mother in Chicago and his maternal grandparents in Calumet, Michigan.
By the age of 16, he was eager to be independent. He quit school and started a construction job. On his second day of work, he fell off the scaffolding causing lumbar vertebral fractures. His hospitalization lasted 15 months.
My mother was a student nurse at that hospital. Despite a four-year age difference, the rest, as they say, is history.
Dad didn’t let the handicap get him down. He attended the University of Illinois, participating in all wheelchair sports and starring as one of the starting five on the basketball team, “The Gizz Kids.” (Dad is #33.)
He completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting and then a Juris Doctorate degree.
After ten years of marriage, my parents had to face another obstacle: biological children could not be conceived. So, Dad and Mom adopted my brother and then myself. (I only included the picture of me. ;-) Yes, I was bald.)
I just really like this next picture.
But, life goes on. My father practiced law for 24 years. Every morning, he would swing himself from bed into his wheelchair, shower sitting on a special chair, shave and brush his teeth at a sink with the base cabinet removed. He would swing himself into his two-door car, pull his wheelchair into the backseat, scoot over to the driver’s side, and drive with a special hand-control. Before this era of accessibility required by law, I rode in lots of service elevators and walked down back hallways typically reserved for staff whenever we were out. I didn’t think anything of any of this during my childhood; it was normal for our family.
As children do, though, whether we want them to or not, I was learning from my dad. I learned to persevere despite failure. I learned that circumstances shouldn’t shadow joy. I learned to keep my commitments. I learned to leave early enough to be on time (although I admit this one is hard to keep with six children in tow – but the goal remains the same). I learned to be informed of current events and politically aware. I learned compassion and thoughtfulness for those with handicaps. I learned to help those with less fortunate circumstances without making the circumstance seem pitiful. (The handicapped don’t want pity; they want to be treated just like everyone else.) I learned endurance. I learned not to feel sorry for myself.
Thanks, Dad.

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1 comment:

I so much appreciate your time and effort in leaving a comment, and I try to respond to as many as time permits. :-)