A year or so ago I lost my eldest son to colon cancer. He was 52. He and I had been estranged for 20 years, but news of the onset of what might be (at the time, we thought) a fatal disease made me rush to his side at his Chicago apartment. Sadly, three months, later, our worst fears became a crushing reality.

I am so happy that I was able to spend the last three months of his life with him. (My wife was a constant source of strength in that difficult time.) What a wonderful, talented young man! He was the author of a book titled “Forever Again” and a popular artist. Most of all, he had a tightly knit group of friends who truly loved and admired him and came to see him every single day I was there.

In those sad months, I spent the greater part of every day and night with him. Although early on there were hopeful signs that he might beat the terrible disease, in what I felt was way too short a time, I watched him waste away from being an energetic, 180-pound man to 90 pounds of skin and bone. Yet, he kept his good humor and his sharp mind. He showed great courage, optimism, and strength throughout the ordeal.

His friends who came to visit him would gather near his home hospice bedside. He would thank them for their kindnesses, show interest in their individual goals and pursuits, and give them encouragement to continue to pursue their goals. He would not tolerate any show of sadness or crying. When they returned from his deathbed, they spoke: ‘he cared more about us than he did himself!”

Even though he and I had been estranged, he and my youngest son quickly re-bonded. He looked like me. He and I enjoyed the same stupid little jokes. We laughed the same and talked the same. Never once did we disagree on anything I can think of and, often, when he was too weak to speak, he would ask me to speak for him on a wide range of subjects – music, movies, (especially comedies and Westerns), art, politics, why and how to help the community, and the importance of having goals in life.

Two important events happened in his last days. First, he ‘married’ the young woman who had lived with him and stuck by his side throughout his duel with death. At the time, he was so weak I had to stand behind his bed and speak his vows for him.

Second, his son (my grandson), who is in the armed services stationed in South Dakota, and his wife, had a beautiful baby boy (my great-grandson!) they named after him. He would Skype with that infant every day, talking to him as though he understood every word he was saying, teasing him for crying or having a BM, and always letting him know how much he loved him.

I’m not quite sure why I’m telling you all this. I’ve never been able to, or even wanted to before. Why now? Perhaps it is because I know the struggles many families are going through right now, and how those struggles (mostly financial) can strain relationships and pressure fathers, mothers, and rip families apart. Or, perhaps it is out of my own grief and sadness.

I miss my son. I suspect what he would want me to say to you is that, if you have a child or children, keep sons and daughters close. Talk to them. Tell them your truth. Whatever may have happened between you and your child (or children) in the past, no matter what’s going on between you and their mother, no matter what, cherish them. They are your miracles.

It’s easy to become a father, but it’s a lot harder to be a real dad. You must not wait until something bad happens given all the uncertainties of this life. If you messed up a relationship, forget it. You can’t live in the past. Go forward. Let nothing stand in your way, whatever that “nothing” may be. You have no time to waste.

With that, I say happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. You have a great responsibility to your family. Most of you do everything you can to meet it. Keep on. Every day is Father’s Day.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.

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