My dad and mom were not perfect parents or people. They both worked hard and tried their best for me. The one thing I never doubted growing up was the fact that they both loved me more than anything else. That was always very clear to me.
When I entered my teenage years the fact that I knew how much I was loved made a real difference. Like all young men I made some foolish choices and took some chances but my parents love for me was always in the back of my mind. I knew if something ever happened to me the two people who loved me the most would be devastated.
My dad smoked and drank much more than he should have. It was not uncommon for people to smoke 2 or 3 packs of cigarettes a day when I was growing up. By the time he was in his early 60's his health was failing. He never told me anything about how serious his diagnosis was. I think it was because I was newly married and expecting my first child. He didn't want me to worry about him.
My son Matt was born in July of 1991. I drove to North Bergen to bring dad to Hamburg to see his first grandson. He was in awe and said this was the happiest week of his life. Dad stayed for a few days but insisted on returning home. In two weeks I would find out why.
While dad was visiting Matt was not doing well. He was screaming all the time and seemed like he was in constant pain. He had not pooped for days. So we took him to the pediatrician that was highly recommended to us. The doctor said it was perfectly fine for a new born to not poop for several days. So we took Matt home and he continued to scream.
In anguish sitting at my dining room table I told my dad how uncomfortable I was with the pediatrician's conclusion. Everyone said he was a great doctor. This is when my dad gave me the greatest gift he could ever give me. He said: "You are his father! You decide what doctor he goes to. Get another doctor." After dad said that we did get him to a different doctor later that day. As it turns out Matt was in a lot of trouble. Taking him to another doctor probably saved his life.
That day dad taught me that being a parent meant I was responsible for another person's life. The final decision in every situation was mine. Whatever happened was my responsibility. His words and this lesson has come back to me many times over the last 27 years.
My dad passed away 10 days later from congestive heart failure. He knew he only had a few days left but could not tell me.