Lessons from my Father
- For Parents and Family
December 9, 2013
Royce’s exquisitely powerful letter is the 2014 Andre Sobel Award First Place winner.
Rayce shares what he wishes his father had said to him before he died.
To My Best Bud,
I wish that it didn’t have to happen the way it did. I planned on taking you to the doctor on Tuesday, on helping you walk again after the surgery, on teaching you how to ride that motorcycle we were working on together. It really was an accident. You have been so strong over the last week, but I know you are struggling. That is why I want to explain something that you do not seem to understand. You were always in such a hurry to grow up and thought that becoming a man meant being like me.
Growing up is not about working on cars or having lots of muscle. It is about realizing your own strength and not being afraid to open every door in life. Unbeknownst to you, you’ve already grown up and I am proud as a father that I got to see it.
When the doctors first told us about your cancer, I was devastated. I know it was not easy for you to hear the diagnosis either since you were just starting college. I remember how scared you were about that first surgery, and how you came to me wanting to know what to do. Testicular Cancer carries a weird stigma that makes it hard to discuss, so your awkwardness was understandable when you told me they had to remove the affected area. We are expected to personify strength as men, and carrying that scar as a constant reminder of your own mortality and fear had to be a challenge. As weak as you felt at the time, I saw the strength you showed hitting the textbooks in the hospital and finishing the semester in school.
I was so proud because seeing you recover was like seeing you progress from Tiger Cub to Eagle in Boy Scouts again.
Not letting that disease tell you what you could and could not do was when you started to grow up, even if you did not realize it at the time.
When we learned that the surgery was not effective, your mom and I cried all night. You had just started your sophomore year and thought that all of that was behind you. The day before you started chemotherapy, you came to me again and asked what you should do. One of our primary jobs as men according to society is to father children and raise a family. The sterility induced by those drugs meant never being able to do that in the traditional sense, never being able to experience the years of joy that I did as a father. This, along with the painful spectacle of watching your body wither away as treatment progressed, took its toll on your normally positive outlook .When you started to cry, I took you by the shoulders and told you that the closing of one door is not the closing of every door. When you won round two and the cancer went into remission, I was overjoyed and speechless. You hit the weights extra to rebuild your body and you finished the semester with those same good grades that got you into college in the first place. I never tried to define what it means to become a man, but standing up straight again after everything you endured feels like a good definition to me.
The third battle, the one we started in October of this year, was the hardest for all of us. None of us cried this time; we just accepted the news with a resigned sigh. I watched as you told everyone else what was happening with a level of ease that comes with too much practice. The innocent awkwardness you held when you first talked to me about it was gone and replaced by a drained acceptance that broke my heart. Even more devastating to me was the gruesome surgery they had to do to you. Your life depended on a stranger disemboweling you and removing all of the cancerous tissue with any mistake resulting in either your death or more treatment. This time, it was just too much for me. I should have talked with you the way you did with me over the years, but unlike you, I was too scared to admit I needed help. Before I went to bed that night, I peeked in your bedroom door as you were reading.
Instead of seeing a child struggling to cope with issues that were beyond his understanding, I saw a man who did not yet know he was a man doing what he does best, persevering.
The pills I had been taking to keep my sanity killed me that night, leaving my body for my wife of 35 years to find. You watched only half-awake from your old bedroom, immobilized by the fresh incision that slithered down your torso, as the emergency technicians pushed your mom aside and forced their way into our bedroom. You watched screaming through a half-open door as the world fell into chaos around you, unable to do anything.
Since then, I see your mom broken and confused every day and know that I am responsible. However, I also see you taking control of things and planning my funeral from the same bed that held you back like a cage that night and flatter myself by taking some of the credit for raising you. I could not help but be amused when I saw you asking the ceiling one night for strength and cursing yourself for not being a man like me. Maybe you do not see it because you had to grow up so fast. Maybe you do not see it because we never see our own positive attributes clearly. Either way, I hope that one day you do see that you have already grown into a man. You did not walk my path or anyone else’s to reach this point, but made your own path like all of us do.
As of this letter, I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma majoring in Economics and Spanish. I hold a deep passion for understanding the world around us and believe that knowledge should be shared so that we may all benefit and grow together. I hope to one day be able to use this passion in a career where I can help others through economic research. At present, obtaining my degree and experience is the major focus, but I make sure to enjoy myself along the way. When I’m not busy, I like to lay back with a good book and catch up with my Boy Scout troop every time I get the chance.
I am so grateful to everyone who has helped to make this scholarship possible because it has provided my mother and me some much needed peace of mind as we recover from tough times and prepare for what lies ahead.