The deaths of Beau Biden and Dave Goldberg have hit close to home for me, especially coming so close to Fathers Day. Nearly twenty years ago, as I was entering college, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only months to live. At the time, my brothers were in elementary school. I spent lots of time thinking about how to comfort my brothers and how I would help my mother, what life would look like as a family of four instead of five, something Sheryl Sandberg referred to as “Option B” a month after her husband passed so unexpectedly. So, as I look at the Bidens and the Goldbergs, I can’t help but think about the awful decisions they face and how lucky I am that we never had to live with “Option B.”
Thanks to modern medicine, cutting edge science, and my father’s overwhelming will to live and willingness to laugh in the face of adversity, he became part of a very small club – an over ten-year survivor of brain cancer.
While for good and bad, nearly every day since has been shaped by those dark months and years, and it has given me a deep appreciation for every milestone along the way, because I had steeled myself for those moments without him, long ago. And, instead of sadness, they were filled with deep appreciation for the man who taught me to celebrate every moment.
And there have been lots of them: when he saw me graduate college (the first in his family); when he saw both his sons graduate high school; when one son went to war in Iraq and returned home safely, to later be sworn in as a police officer; when his youngest son graduated college; when that same son embraced my father’s love of the ocean, getting his diving certification and focusing his studies and his career on marine biology; when he walked me down the aisle; when he met his granddaughters; and when he saw me sworn in as Mayor.
All of those things are a testament to what he has instilled in all of us: that the act of living is a victory not to be squandered. While at times it was tempting, as a family we never hit pause on our lives. His battle was part of our daily existence but it didn’t define us and that is a gift he gave all of us. It gave us normalcy during his illness and resilience that shapes our choices today.
But my father is more than his fight. He is still my measuring stick and, to me, he is still the coolest dad around. He’s the dad who played with the band at my wedding.
He is the reason for my love of music and respect for the lyric. I know every word to Billy Joel’s 52nd Street album because I wasn’t allowed to sing it in the car if I didn’t know all the words. He is my first choice for tailgating when I score Jimmy Buffet tickets. And he’s passing that on to my children now. Abigail wants to learn the guitar because she sees Grandpa’s guitars when we visit. He is the surfer and skateboarder who reminds me to keep fun in my life no matter how crazy it gets. He is the man who pushed me when I was frustrated, who taught me in spite of myself and who cheers me in my victories.
My heart hurts for the Biden’s and Goldberg’s young children this Father’s Day and I know I will say an extra prayer to offer comfort to all those who are missing their fathers on today. And then I will say my own prayer of thanks that I’m not among them and that I get to thank my father for the extraordinary things he has taught me over the years. Happy Father’s Day Dad, I love you.