I saved my father’s life once and Fathers’ Day is a good day to tell you about it. To be accurate, I extended his life by about ten years, but I had no way of knowing how long when I acted to save his life.
Have you ever done anything to damage your lungs? Sometimes I think my dad never did anything that wasn’t damaging to his lungs until he was 52 years old. He was a kid before there were such things as antibiotics and he had TB as a child. I’m not sure if anyone even knew he had it at the time, but his father died of tuberculosis when he was ten years old. Back then, if your dad died and someone said to the ten-year-old kid, ”Now youre the man of the family,” they meant it. So my dad quit school at the end of eighth grade and went to work to support his mother, brothers and sisters. If I recall correctly, he had six siblings. His family wasn’t close when I was a kid and I had aunts and uncles I never met.
Before my dad became a cop at the age of 25, he did many things to earn money. One job he held was steamfitter. That’s essentially a plumber who works on steam lines rather than water lines. There was asbestos all over the place, but nobody knew it was bad for you. As a cop, he directed traffic at the Holland Tunnel before anyone thought of putting pollution controls on cars and trucks. I don’t know how long he smoked at least two packs of Camel cigarettes a day, but he did that for as long as I knew him to that point in his life. Nobody knew inhaling car fumes was bad for you either and if there were people who knew that cigarettes caused lung diseases and cancer, they hadn’t bothered to tell the general public yet.
So, my dad had emphysema and he had it so bad that he was on his back in bed, unable to work and attached to an oxygen tank. He had it so bad that they called the priest to administer last rites. My sister was eight, I was twelve and neither of us was allowed in while the priest administered the sacrament, but afterwards, he took my sister and me to the front steps of our house and told us that our father was going to die, but it was alright because he had last rites.
Beating someone to a bloody pulp is an experience I’ve managed to avoid, but I never wanted to more than I did at that moment. At twelve, I was already bigger than the average adult male, bigger than that priest too and I really can’t remember why I didn’t punch him with all my might. I wanted to, but I didn’t. Maybe its because, although I knew I would feel much better if I did that, I thought everyone else would feel a lot worse.
Afterwards, I sat in our living room, alone, with the blinds drawn, in semi darkness. I guess I was waiting for what the priest said was about to happen. My father came out of the bedroom (it must have been a tremendous effort for him) and picked up a pack of Camel cigarettes from the dining room table.
I can only remember screaming at my father twice. I’m about to describe the first time. As best I can recall, here’s what I screamed at him: “If you’re going to do that, take them inside with the oxygen, blow yourself up, and stop making us watch you kill yourself slowly.”
He stood motionless for a few seconds, put the cigarettes down on the dining room table and went back into the room, with the oxygen tank, but without a cigarette, and without a word. He never had another cigarette; he said he never lost the desire for them, but he never had another. You wouldn’t believe how fast his health improved, and he lived for another ten years. Before the oxygen tank, he couldn’t walk from the house to the car without stopping to catch his breath. Within a week or so after cigarettes he could go for a walk around the neighborhood for the pleasure of doing so.
I performed two miracles that day. I didn’t beat the priest within an inch, plus or minus, of his life and I screamed my father in to giving up cigarettes. If I recall the requirements correctly, I only need one more miracle to qualify for sainthood.
Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes, but I believe the best you can ask of any father is that he never does anything he knows will be bad for his child in the long run. My dad didn’t have a father like that, but I did and I hope my children do too.