I was just waking up when I got the phone call. You need to get to the hospital, your father has had a stroke.
Bewildered, I wondered how that could be. He was only 53 years old and in good physical health. He took care of himself and ate healthy, how could he have had a stroke? And it was a bad stroke, he would be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. At that moment in time, life changed dramatically for all of us. But my father never stopped being a good father to his children.
What is a good father? Is he your best friend? Or someone who uses discipline with you? My father was both at times and neither at other times. I was fortunate to be raised by a great father. My dad was a hardworking man that had morals and values. My strongest memories of him are how hard he worked for his family and how he never complained about anything. He taught his children that there wasn’t anything that they couldn’t achieve through hard work and dedication.
For me, learning that work ethic started during the summers while in elementary school. Summers were spent digging post holes, irrigating fields, putting up fence, and taking care of the livestock. My first car was a Ford tractor that I learned to drive at age 9.
When I wasn’t working at the small family ranch I went with my father to his work. He was a plumber during the day and a rancher nights and weekends. I learned construction and helped him as best as I could as a young boy.
When I turned 13 he put me to work in the plumbing shop making minimum wage. I cleaned the store, stocked shelves, waited on customers, and got the materials ready for the plumbers. I amassed a fortune that summer, earning just over $400! I had big plans for that money. Maybe I would buy a motorcycle, or save money for a car. At the end of that summer my dad handed me the Sears catalog and told me to pick out my clothes for the school year. And by the way, I was going to pay for the clothes with my summer earnings. It was my first life lesson in economics.
My father did not get to play sports in high school, his family didn’t have a lot of money and he had to work to help out. So we had an agreement, if I played sports I didn’t have to work after school but if I didn’t, I was expected to work. My dad was happy that I elected to play a lot of sports in high school because he never had that chance. In his 30s he decided to play men’s slow-pitch softball. My dad never attempted anything without trying his best so we spent many evenings practicing after he got home from work. I was his catcher, his infielder and his outfielder. His team eventually went on to win the city championship and play in the state tournament.
Dad also gave to his community by volunteering. He was president of the PTA and a 4-H leader. He spent countless hours building equipment for the local livestock club. At the celebration of his life event many of the young people that had grown up in our area stood up and spoke about how his selfless dedication to helping others affected their lives.
My dad never got to do many of the things he wanted to do in his life. He loved to travel. If we didn’t have to work at the ranch on the weekend he was loading the truck and travel trailer and taking the family out to the Sierras camping. Family road trips were annual events. Sometimes to Disneyland, other times to San Francisco or even Vancouver, BC to see relatives. I vividly remember mom, dad, me, and three of my sisters stuffed into a VW bug driving up the coast of California on Highway 1. Dad dreamed of going to Australia one day. He even talked of moving there. He had a thirst for adventure but set that aside to raise his family.
Tragically, my father got Parkinson’s disease shortly after his stroke. He lived another 18 years after his stroke, the last three basically in the fetal position. We bathed him, fed him, clothed him, and always loved him. It seemed so unfair for this wonderful man to endure years of suffering but he never complained. His body had betrayed him but he still had his mental capabilities and loved to be around his family.
Many will not get to celebrate Father’s Day with their dad this year. Today’s world has taken a toll on traditional families. Divorce, death, drug use, alcoholism, depression, and a host of other reasons have taken many of our fathers away from their families. One of my greatest regrets is not spending more time with my dad when I had the opportunity. We get so busy with our lives and take tomorrow for granted. If you are fortunate enough to still have your dad alive, visit with him, talk to him. That is all he wants for Father’s Day. Tomorrow may not arrive.
I miss you, dad.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org