It’s Father’s Day–the first one without my (Shay) dad. I felt it more keenly this week because it was also my birthday a few days ago and I didn’t get his annual phone call. It’s always strange how the smallest things can hurt. But while playing with my kids this weekend I realized I had a few things on my mind about Father’s Day.
Back in January I wrote about missing my dad who died in December. At the time I didn’t have the emotional space to speak of my father-in-law, but there was a whole lot more going on with our family than just the loss of my dad.
It was a Wednesday, December 21 when my dad passed away in Kentucky. In the middle of trying to figure out funeral arrangements and flights back to Kentucky to bury my dad, two days later on the 23rd we got a phone call from Bethany’s parents…her dad, Daryl, was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He had fainted multiple times during the night and they weren’t sure what was going on or even what was wrong. Multiple tests were done and it looked like his kidneys weren’t functioning right. But one of the tests showed something else: cancer. When we heard we actually tried to jump in our car and make the normally easy two-hour drive to their town, but the mountain passes were closed due to snow. My kids still still remember us sitting in The Habit Burger waiting to see if the roads would open. They didn’t. We couldn’t get there before having to fly back to Kentucky for the funeral the day after Christmas, all the while waiting for text message or phone calls on Daryl’s health.
It wasn’t super clear back in December what kind of cancer or just how bad it was, but six months later we now know he has multiple myeloma. Without going into too much detail here, this kind of cancer attacks the plasma cells in the bones. It produces a high level of M proteins which is really rough on the kidneys, weakens your immune system, and makes it easy to break a bone. Daryl has been receiving treatments in multiple cities in Washington, some of which have taken place in Seattle just fifteen minutes from where we live. While the circumstances aren’t our favorite, it’s been incredible to live close and be able to help when and where we can.
Tomorrow is a big day for Daryl (we would covet your prayers). After all the cancer treatments he’s technically in remission, but they are going to begin a stem cell transplant at 8:00 am on Father’s Day (of all days). We went tonight to visit him one last time as this next phase will force him into a quarantine since his immune system will be wiped out completely. Until that returns, our contact will be limited as infection risks are really high during this time. Looks like it’s going to be at least 5 weeks, maybe longer, we just don’t know. We had fun bringing Father’s Day cards from the kids and a little dessert that we enjoyed out on the street since we can’t go inside the medical facility. We also walked over to a local Starbucks and grabbed tea and coffee. I got the photo below of Daryl (aka: “Papa”) with my boys.
I asked Daryl tonight about the state of his soul. I’ve asked this a number of tons over the past few months and we’ve wept, prayed, and wept some more as we’ve talked about how’s he’s processing this trial. Tonight he said, “It is well with my soul… but there are ups and downs.” He went on to say that this has truly caused him to understand the brevity of life. While he once thought about his own genes and the length of the lives of his family, this has changed that for him. Facing cancer has forced him to see that life is momentary, but worth living.
I’m sure this hasn’t been an easy realization, but I am grateful for those words tonight because that’s what father’s do. Fathers don’t shy away from hard truths and hard realities. In fact, good fathers, like good leaders, help define reality for us. They teach us what the world is like and how we are to respond to it. They teach us about the God who made it and the God who rules it. They understand that hard things happen, totally under the control of God, but still hard.
Papa continues to help my kids understand the world. Every time he and Nana are here he’s helping build a Lego set, or studying Math, or reading, or working in the yard. There’s always something to learn from Papa. I too continue to be blessed by his skill and wisdom. But tonight I realized that he’s also teaching me how to live while we die. I don’t mean to say that I think he’s going to die soon, only the Lord knows that, but rather to say that I know we are all going to. The wise will number their days and live them out with joy (see Psalm 90). Papa is doing that. His ups and down are just part of life, but he’s still living. And I don’t just mean breathing, I mean continuing to show us what it means to enjoy life even when it’s hard. He’s still kissing my daughters and hugging them. He’s still talking with Titus about Indiana Jones, and listening to Micah share how he got a scar on his chest when he fell down today. He’s still giving them Starbursts every single time we see him. He’s still living… truly living. Or in the words of John Piper, he hasn’t wasted his cancer by retreating into himself. He continues to have a deeply affectionate heart, caring for people.
So thanks, Papa. While we both don’t know what the future holds, I know that you have shown us what it means to enjoy life while you hurt. You continue to show us what it means to live by faith and not by sight. You have shown us the character of our God, our loving Father, by being a loving father. Thank you for that. Happy Father’s Day.