Father’s Day

20 06 2010

My dad and I will be forever connected by cycling.

Heck, I’m on this earth, writing this blog, because of the bike; he met my mom while on a cycling tour of his native Germany. He courted her from his bike. And after he immigrated to Canada, he convinced her to join him.

Of course, when I was a kid, he did all the fatherly things; took the training wheels off my first bike, steadied me as I learned to ride a two-wheeler, made sure I didn’t fall asleep after I banged my head while crashing that two-wheeler, bought me various bikes through the years as I outgrew them, and then kept them in good repair with annual overhauls.

My last great memory of him involves cycling.

In October 2003, the World Cycling Championships were held in Hamilton right next to my hometown of Burlington. That summer, I had been to France that July to see the final week of Le Tour, so I was enthralled many of those pros would be riding some of the same streets I knew as a young roadie. I booked a flight home.

It was a great weekend, perfect fall weather, Thanksgiving turkey dinner and pelotons of national cycling teams training all over the place.

On the Sunday I took transit into downtown Hamilton to watch the men’s final. It was a fabulous day, a lively race, lunch on a patio next to the course, hung out with the Devil for a bit. My dad collected me from the train station and indulged me as I told him of my day. He was tanned from a summer of working in the garden, lean and fit as always, and forever smiling.

A couple of weeks later, after I had returned to my life at the other end of the country, he told me during our weekly phone conversation he’d been having some medical issues; he was getting some tests done but he wasn’t overly worried. He suspected it might just be some side effects from the anti-cholesterol drug he’d been prescribed.

It didn’t sound particularly ominous.

In early November he said the doctors had found a tumor on his pancreas, and he’d know more after his next doctor’s appointment, with an oncologist. Again, he sounded confident it would all get sorted.

But a little research on the internet gave me a more realistic picture. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most insidious of all the cancers. It lurks in that small, but important, gland, deep within the belly, shielded from easy detection by a bunch of other organs. By the time symptoms indicate something is amiss, the disease has already taken a solid foothold, and likely spread. The prognosis is never good.

I know my dad knew that too. He would have been spending hours on his computer as well, researching whatever his doctors had told him, getting a grasp on why he was losing weight and looking a little jaundiced.

In December he had major surgery to relieve some of the blockage in his bile duct. I flew home to be with my mom. It was a grueling day, made even tougher by the cold, bitter wind blowing off Lake Ontario. At the end of it, it was difficult to see my dad in the recovery room hooked up to all sorts of hoses and wires to a myriad of machines and monitors.

But his color was back to normal, and within a couple of weeks he was active and in good spirits.

By January, life seemed to be going on as normal. My dad was eating well, getting out and about, enjoying life again.

When we spoke on the phone, we didn’t talk much about the cancer. I think we all wanted to think something miraculous was going on, and to speak of it might burst that bubble.

The reprieve lasted about three months.

By late March his color was yellowing again. HIs appetite was diminishing. He was complaining of back pain. And he was getting very frustrated at this turn in his health. My mom was at a loss at how to comfort him.

I went home for a visit in April. It was a difficult week. My dad was sleeping a lot, eating very little. When he was awake, he was often frustrated and angry. My mom worried about him, and about the future. The stress was palpable.

In June my dad passed.

He spent his last days in a wonderful hospice, surrounded by his family, visited by many friends, cared for by amazing, selfless volunteers, nurses and doctors. It was almost six months to the day since he’d been given his definitive diagnosis. He was 68.

I think of my dad every time I ride. I feel him watching over me. I wear a Livestrong bracelet to remind of his battle. But mostly I think of that day in October when he picked me up from my day at the World’s, so happy, so healthy, so much more to live for.

Happy Father’s Day pops. I miss you.

My pops, Klaus, in healthier and happier times, when he was visiting Germany.