Recently a childhood friend told me that his father used to see my dad out running and say, “That John, he’s like Superman.” And if you ask any of our family, we continued to think so long after his (shirtless) jogging days were over. Because instead of racking up miles or tennis sets (and a mean tan), he was fighting the battle for his life. Even doctors trying to match his optimism said he’d be extremely lucky to survive 18 months after surgery. But we knew the odds and the reality of the type of brain tumor he had. That amount of time wasn’t likely. Unless you were Superman. And then you might just make it 77-1/2 months—baffling doctors and touching lives all along the way.
And while most superheroes are quiet types who work alone, that certainly wasn’t my dad. Sure, he fought a remarkable battle, but even he knew he couldn’t do it without help. Though I’m certainly not worthy of speaking for him, I do know there are people he’d thank if he could. But he can’t, so I will.
This Superman definitely landed a Wonder Woman. My dad adored his California girl with blue eyes and a gorgeous smile from the moment he met her in college. When I was growing up, he’d come home from work every day with a kiss and a sweet hello using his nickname for her. And in the end, they’d sit on the couch together, holding hands and singing. But, in all honesty, this battle wasn’t easy for her either. The sacrifices my mom made to take care of my dad these past 6-1/2 years were truly immeasurable. And he was forever grateful to her for it. Perhaps because she did it all with more grace, love and patience than you could ever imagine. She was true to him and to herself—giving him everything she had in her (which was a lot!)—and now she’s living with gratitude for her time with him, no regrets.
Superman Jr., well thinking about his strength—strength of mind, body and character—brings me to tears. I honestly don’t know if my admiration for my brother and his dedication to my parents can be expressed in words. But I’ll try. From moving back to California, to changing careers, to bringing breakfast and mowing the lawn every Saturday, to making playlists, to getting our dad safely from point A to point B, to fixing just about everything in the house/garage/yard, to making videos of his life in the outside world to show our dad whose world got so very small, to buying all the flowers/cards/gifts our dad couldn’t remember to…he did it all. With a quiet grace, never expecting to be repaid or thanked. Just because that’s the truly remarkable person he is. As you can imagine, my dad couldn’t have been more proud of him (and the fact that he works for an award-winning brewery, well, that’s just about as good as it gets).
This man’s best friend, Smokey, was the definition of loyal and loving. A superdog, if you will.
When times get hard, true friends stand out from the crowd. From the friends turned family who have been there literally every single day, to the friends who took my dad out or visited regularly, to the friends who dropped by with cookies and smiles every few months, to the friends and family who came from far and wide to talk about the good ol’ days, my Dad was showered with love. And all of you (you know who you are!) were—and are—loved in return.
As I said earlier this week, if laughter is the best medicine, kids are the extra strength version. Big, Little and Pink gave my dad three huge reasons to live, and millions of little reasons to laugh.
On a stressful day in advertising, it’s not uncommon to hear things like, “It’s not brain surgery.” “We’re not saving lives.” “We’re not curing cancer.” Well, through this experience, my family has gotten to know some pretty talented folks who can’t use any of those excuses to blow off a bad day at work. Because each and every day they perform miraculous brain surgeries, save seemingly unsaveable lives and cure the most aggressive cancers known to man. How lucky my dad was to have some of the world’s best doctors (who quickly became friends as well) in this field at UCSF.
The Johns (Lennon and Denver), Paul, Ringo, George, the Kennys (Chesney and Rogers)—these guys were always there to keep my dad company. And in listening to them now, they keep me company too, and make me feel like my dad isn’t so far away.
In the end, my dad’s blessings were many, and he knew it. My hope is that those of you who were among them know it too.