Fathers Day and Lee --The Dad I Hardly Knew

leeFathers Day is near.  Time for our annual homemade Margarita inspired blowout. Loads of fun, but a bittersweet day in a few ways. It is always a joy  to be celebrating with Barb and our kids, with our extended families, and with our friends. But this will be the last time in our home of 26 years that I juice all those lemons and limes, make my simple syrup, let the tequila and triple sec flow. Yes, we will still be living here for the 4th of July, but that is not “our” holiday to host. This is truly a Fathers Day Farewell.

As happy as I am to be the father of two wonderful children, and a grandpa to two more, Fathers Day is also a time of sadness as I remember my dad. We share so many traits; our looks, our early morning energy, our preference for listening over talking. I miss his presence, but at least I know I had the chance  to learn from him over many years.

I wish I could say I had the same opportunity with my father-in-law Lee. He was very different from my dad in so many ways. Dark complected, a salesman’s ability to put everyone at ease with his friendly patter, a sportsman who loved his new toys. His home would have the first microwave in the neighborhood, the first Pong game hooked up to a TV console,  and the first (and only) remote controlled golf cart. With his best buddy Oscar he would roam the golf courses of the northern suburbs on weekend jaunts. I never heard a complaint, though I think he regretted turning down the opportunity to own a McDonald’s franchise in the early 60’s. It’s a pity he didn’t accept. I am sure he would invented the world’s first automated burger flipper.

I was absorbed with medical school and not much of a golfer, so I never got out on to a course with Lee. I figured the day would come. But after I had been dating Barb for a few months, Lee handed me a slip of paper with the words “Leukemic Reticuloendotheliosis” on it. He asked if I knew what it meant. It rang a bell in some recess of my anterior lobe. Through a little research (no Internet in 1978) I uncovered that it was an old name for a disease that had been renamed “Hairy Cell Leukemia.” Lee had been diagnosed a few years earlier, and after a visit to a specialist, was advised there was nothing to do for a disease that could be indolent or life threatening. And Lee felt and looked great.

Lee was in his glory at our wedding, “giving away” his princess to me, a young man that he was confident would be a lifelong partner for her. It was just a few months later that the diseased blood cells, now with a deadly aggressiveness, reappeared in his blood stream. He lapsed into coma quickly, ironically in the very hospital I was doing a student rotation and where the two grandchildren he would never know would be born. He woke into consciousness just once, giving me the details about his accountant and reminding me to have the family  income tax filed on time. Were these the anxieties that filled his locked down brain?

Lee’s end came barely 6 months after our married life began, from a disease that soon became eminently treatable. If only one of his beloved toys had been a time machine that would have moved him ahead just a few years, to a time when effective therapy was available. That would make  this Fathers Day would be so much sweeter. It couldn’t happen, didn’t happen, but I will be sure to drink an extra Margarita on Sunday  — in honor of my dad, and in honor of Lee, the dad I barely got to know.

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