My dad, the tree of optimism

Last week my sister called and told me my dad was being rushed to the hospital.

Uncomfortable and scary for sure, but not shocking - we've been here before.

So when we arrived and the nurse asked about his medical history, my mom, sister and I looked at each other, laughed, and said, “Where should we begin?”

My dad had a minor heart attack when I was in high school, and many years later a major one which resulted in quadruple bypass surgery.  While on the table he had a stroke – this lead to months in the ICU and many more months of rehabilitation.

While most of his body function is back, he still struggles with aphasia, a language disorder that keeps him from recalling words.

Mentally he is all there, but he can no longer effectively communicate what he has to say – very frustrating for a man who spent his life teaching and telling stories.

He also has diabetes and neuropathy in his feet. He had skin cancer, and has had numerous surgeries, from having a fibulator connected to his heart to having his gallbladder removed.

This isn’t the entire list, but it gives you an idea.

But the crazy thing is my dad has never been a sick person.  He has never claimed to be a sick, and he rarely speaks of his medical history.

My sister and I joke and call it denial, but my dad continues to demonstrate how state of mind effects overall wellness.

During his heart surgery we were told he wouldn’t make it (literally told - a nurse came out and asked if we wanted to call a priest), but here he is, 12 years later.

And he looks good.  He has a better wardrobe than I do, and everyday he gets dressed in vibrant colors, showered, groomed and smelling good.

Even with all of his physical “issues”, he looks younger than your average 72 year old.  He didn’t even get a gray hair until ten years ago.

But it’s not just about how he looks, it’s how he thinks - he is the king of heightened optimism.

My dad believes he is lucky.  He calls it Cassani luck, and he “uses” it whenever he needs it.  He gets the best parking places, he finds the best restaurants, and he gets the best deals.

And while visiting him in the hospital last week, he told me he was in the absolute best hospital with the absolute best caretakers.

And regardless of your opinion, he believes this, he knows this.

My dad sees the good everywhere, whatever his experience, it’s the best experience.  The only time I question his thinking is when he orders cinnamon French toast with extra maple syrup instead of a healthier alternative.

But periodic food choices aside, he has built his life on finding what works and knowing that he is lucky.

He smiles at people and he says thank you, he works hard to have conversations with people, even when he can’t find the words, and he always hugs the people he cares about.

His medical chart does not match what you see.

I know he struggles, it can’t be easy to have all those aches, pains, medical issues, and verbal challenges, but it seems he makes a decision everyday to be here in the best way he can, and appreciate every part of it.

My dad was admitted to the hospital last week because his blood sugar dropped and he was no longer coherent.  When I asked him if he remembered the ambulance arriving, he said it was like a dream.

He said he knew people were there, but he thought they were there because of a tree.  He lives in the woods in Galena so he is surrounded by trees, and he specifically said, “I thought they were there to save the big tree.”

But he was right on – they were there to save the big tree of the family, the only guy surrounded by all of us girls, the optimistic center, the pillar of strength and determination to live.

Like today, just one day after being released from his two-day stay in the hospital, he decided he felt well enough to drive out with my mom and meet us for lunch.

He showed up showered, shaved, and dressed in a bright orange shirt.

He has big purple bruises from the multiple blood draws and hospital IV, he’s moving slowly, and he can’t seem to find his much-needed glasses, but when I ask how he is doing, he says, “Really great, hon.”

And I know he believes this.

He just knows it.

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  • I loved this story so much. I am so inspired by your dad's optimism. How does he do it? I want some of what he has. Amazing. Beautifully written. The next time I see him I am going to tell him that I think he's awesome.

  • In reply to shayne:

    thank you Shayne - he will love hearing that, but I bet any amount of money he will immediately turn the conversation back to you..."now tell me about you, how are you doing?" :)

  • fb_avatar

    So sorry to hear of your scare with your Dad! Glad to hear he's doing well now!

  • Thank you Erin - he is tired, but definitely better than last week. If you asked him I know he would say, "I'm in great shape!" :)

  • fb_avatar

    Beautifully written article about an amazing man!

  • In reply to Peg Jividen:

    Thanks Pegs! He is the best, isn't he? :)

  • Wow, Cathy. Clearly his light shines brightly in you! The picture of your dad exudes all the characteristics you brilliantly describe. My father too had that light (even a very similar face to your father's). His kept him living for about 2 years after my mother was told he had at most a few months to live. His epitaph, inscribed back in 1972, that endures through generations as a guiding light, reads "He looked for the best in others and gave the best he had." Cathy, thank you for bringing your father's tree of optimism into the light for others to see, and for so vibrantly bringing to my mind, my dad's.

  • In reply to Sheryl Stoller:

    Thank you Sheryl, and thank you for sharing your story - there are SO many great dads out there!

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