This is a tough time of year for me. An introvert gets tired of the constant parties and gatherings that take place at the holidays, the lack of sunlight makes getting outside challenging and can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder. But more than anything else it’s when the emotional wound of losing my father to cancer (malignant melanoma specifically) is the most raw.
It was today 13 years ago that he passed, and in the time immediately following that day, I went through the obvious shock and grief and pain you might expect. What I didn't expect was that years later, I would have to fight back tears for no good reason in the weeks leading up to this date, even if I wasn't consciously thinking about him. The symptoms of depression would sneak up on me in late November/early December, and one of the best ways to cope was to acknowledge that I still felt pain, loss and grief - it’s easier to fight an enemy you can see coming.
Sometimes I wish I could know what he’d make of how my life turned out. Scratch that, I always wish that. When he passed I had just finished grad school and had taken my career in an exciting new direction. In the next few years I’d fall in love then get dumped on the same day as being laid off from that job, and I got my own malignant melanoma for dessert a scant month later. That last part I guess I’m glad he didn't have to live through, nobody wants their kid to have cancer even if they’re 30 years old and hardly a kid.
Thanks to early detection and an aggressive excision, I’d beat cancer, and ultimately fall in love again (while being gainfully employed), get married and have two rambunctious boys who love to get outside and be active like their grandfather. He’d have loved Shark Boy and the Lightning Kid for sure, and of course the other part of my life he didn't get to see was my foray into endurance sport and triathlon.
When I did the Scotiabank Marathon in 2006, I thought of him throughout the course, but especially during the last quarter, as everything in my lower body started to hurt, and I found myself slowing to a walk more and more often. He often preached for the ‘Endspurt’ - a German expression for the burst of speed and enthusiasm you get when you know you’re almost done. I try to carry on the tradition by maintaining negative splits on runs, and finishing every race with a fast pace, even if the overall pace hasn't been that fast.
I think he would have made a good triathlete, as he was strong in all three disciplines and would have had fun switching from sport to sport. I have my doubts that he would be interested in following a highly structured, periodized training plan and would have done a lot of improvising - I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Every December 12th, my mother, my brother and I try to observe some of our values. We spend time with family; sometimes each other, sometimes apart with our own new respective families. We try to get outside and move our bodies. Today's weather (and my work schedule) made that a little daunting, but this was important. I hit the Etobicoke Creek Trail for 5km worth of memorial running.
In trying to find some comfort with friends on Facebook who's fathers had passed (on the same date in different years) I wrote: Fatherhood might be the greatest gift a man can give and the greatest prize a man can claim.
Please make a little more time to cherish your families during this season, and as a favour to me, your Fathers especially.