By Buck Roggeman, President of TCCC
We never realize how good our parents are until we become parents ourselves.
Growing up, I always knew that I had an incredible Dad who lived an amazing life.
At various times in my childhood, I learned that Dad played college football for Purdue University, played pro football for the Chicago Bears and even fought in the Korean War as a proud member of the United States Marine Corps.
Dad had a bald head, biceps that looked like cannon balls, and a voice that sounded like thunder from Mount Olympus.
If I chose one adjective to describe Dad, it would have to be strong. His feats of strength at times seemed almost super human while I was growing up.
When contractors unearthed a couple of boulders in back of our house in Indiana, Dad decided they would look good in our back yard. He talked it over with the builders, and they said we could have the boulders if Dad could get them to our yard.
Dad went “World Strongest Man” style on it and rolled the boulders into our backyard all by himself.
When we wanted a basketball hoop in our driveway at the same house, Dad mixed the concrete, set the pole, then attempted to hang the backboard using our family’s wobbly wooden later.
Dad would never admit this himself, but he was pretty handy around the house. Unfortunately, the ladder collapsed and the backboard slammed on to the top of Dad’s head. As he stemmed the bleeding with a handkerchief, the five kids went running for the house absolutely sure that we weren’t going to have a basket.
But Dad was never wired to quit. He walked around to the back yard and single-handedly lifted our full-sized picnic table up by wedging one edge against his waist and waddling around to the driveway. He stood on the table and finished the job. He threw open the door to the house and yelled in that huge voice, “Who wants to shoot some baskets?”
The strongest I have ever seen my Dad, however, has been displayed over the past six years.
In August 2007, Dad had three rods and eight screws inserted into his back, fusing his bottom five vertebrae. He spent weeks at a rehab center, being nursed back to health by the love of his life and wife of 49 years, Florence.
Eventually, Dad was healthy enough to return home from the rehab center.
What he was not prepared for was the next day when Mom had to enter the hospital with a mysterious swelling in her throat around her thyroid. Dad, who still could not walk after his surgery, watched as the only woman he had ever loved, died 10 days later in the hospital.
At the funeral service, Dad was in a wheel chair while the kids tended to his needs, and I remember him gathering us in the vestibule of the church where he and Mom had been attending Mass for the previous 11 years.
“I know all of you are sad, but we’re all going to hold it together for your mother,” He said.
In the months that followed, Dad learned to walk again and worked to rehabilitate his body.
It was the strongest I had ever seen Dad.
That is until he proved to be even stronger two years later.
That’s when my brother, Rock, was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.
Dad abandoned his life in Indiana and moved in with my brother in Greenville, North Carolina. He was there for every chemotherapy session and every radiation treatment. He celebrated good white blood cell counts and supported my brother through the long, dark journey that eventually ended in his death three years ago.
Now, as Dad settles in to this next phase of his life, still the only adjective that comes to mind is his indomitable strength.
He uses a walker to get around the house, he’s in a wheel chair when he goes to a movie or out to eat, but he remains the epitome of strength.
When I want to complain about the inconveniences of life or complications at work, I think of all that Dad has endured in these past six years.
He has a will that refused to break when fate took away two of the most precious people in his life.
As I hold my daughter close on this Father’s Day and enjoy a delicious meal cooked by my wife, I’ll be thinking of my Dad, who proves to me every day that we can get stronger as we get older.
Time to go make a phone call…