When Steve Jobs took his second medical leave early this year, there was much wailing and screaming from people that Jobs needed full disclosure on the issues and ignoring his request for privacy. As a tech writer, it was easy for me to honor his request for privacy. I simply said, “What if this were my dad? Would I want details of his illness treated with all the decency and honor the National Enquirer treats celebrity marriages?”
The question was not rhetorical. Like Jobs, my dad had pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, my dad lost his battle February 26th. I didn’t think I’d be able to hold it together to give a eulogy, so this is what I would have said.
My dad fought cancer with pride, dignity, faith, and a healthy amount of German stubbornness. The statistics for pancreatic cancer are grim: most die in the first six months, only five percent survive past five years. Dad made two, and arguably they were the best years of his life.
Our family was never great at staying in touch. Months would go by without as much as a phone call. Dinners were few and usually around holidays. That changed when he got sick. Almost every Sunday I’d go to their house for dinner. Dad and I took a road trip of the type we’d often talk about and never do. We spent nearly a week on the road, going to Steamtown in PA, a train convention in lower NY state, and then up to see his sister in Syracuse. I think he needed to get away from being a cancer patient for a bit. He and I made a deal: I wouldn’t fuss over him, but he had to be honest on how he was feeling. That was a moot point. He had more energy than I did. Doing all the driving wiped me out and he’d be up, ready to go. We had made plans to go to Altoona to see trains at Horseshoe Curve, but, sadly, the chemo kicked the crap out of him and he just wasn’t up for it.
I’m going to remember a lot of laughs and good times for years. He and I devouring about 15 racks of baby ribs. His love of spicy chili and Mom’s hating it. We had more patience with each other than we normally would. Dad and I had horrid tempers, and not long after his diagnosis we accidentally dropped an air conditioner out the window. Normally, this would cause an eruption; instead he and I laughed our asses off. My dad had a most unusual obsession with the Wegman’s food chain; a store he had only been in twice. He’d bring his Wegman’s bag to his local supermarket just to piss them off.
His love of photography presented a challenge getting photographs together for his wake. As the dedicated photographer, there weren’t a heck of a lot of photos of him. Instead, however, looking through several thousand slides and prints, I was able to view the world through his eyes. I was able to see his love of family (and see my baby pictures for the first time), his love of nature, and his love of auto races.
Dad was the single-most influential person in my life. Every hobby I have, came from him. My love of reading, photography, trains, and technology came from him. He bought me a Commodore 64, and then my first Macintosh. We were both involved in the printing business; even worked at the same company at one time.
Jim fought the disease with everything he had. He fought it with everything I had, and he fought it with everything Mom had. While dad was truly blessed with amazing medial care, it was Mom who enabled him to be as successful as he was. She made sure he got everything he wanted and needed to be win his battle, but more importantly, she made sure he got everything he didn’t want, but needed to win. Thank you, Mom. You made a difference.
I feel his presence every day. Every picture I take with his camera, I feel like he’s looking through the lens with me — and Dad, I hoped you liked the view in that bar in CT. Photography is coming very easy to me this time. Before, I fought with the technical aspects. Now, I feel like he’s whispering in my ear the things I should be doing. It hits me he’s gone when I think, “this photo came out well; I wish I could show Dad.” But, in a way, I know he’s seeing them.
The last dream I had about him, he was in my Mom’s car, pulling away from the house waving good be. I like to think that means he knows we’re going to be ok and he’s moved on to his next stage. I said this on your deathbed, and I’m going to say it again: Thank you, Dad. You were the best friend I had, and the best Dad I could have hoped for. Thank you for everything.