My dad told me he had colon cancer the same day I told him I was getting married. Weeks later when I proposed, I called him but his spirits had taken a hit earlier that day after he learned there was more cancer than once thought.
My parents divorced roughly 10 years ago and my dad has lived eight hours away in Minnesota for much of that time. We didn't always get along, though it feels silly typing that (Who always gets along with their parents?). Still, no matter the mood or tone of our phone discussions or holiday visits, no night ended without him telling me he loved me.
He never taught me how to change a tire. A longtime hunter and fisherman, he took my brother hunting each year but I was always tied up with work or school. A few years ago, he would help me remember how to tie a fishing hook while on the phone.
Only seeing him a few times a year created a deficit that regular phone conversations had to attempt to fill. The logistics of the relationship between my dad, my younger brother and I was unlike what we grew up expecting. I withhold complaint, however, because we have never had to live without a father, as millions do each day.
I am compelled to write about the challenge my father and our family has met this holiday season because, on the eve of the first Christmas we won't be able to go see him, he has given us our greatest gift.
When we first knew of his cancer, my dad understandably sounded a bit shaken by the news. When I talked to him after doctor visits that produced further difficult developments, his tone was heavy with the physical and emotional burden placed on him.
But gradually after each visit, X-ray and CAT Scan, discussion about chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, my dad spoke to me in a way I have never heard him speak. I have never heard such confidence coupled with a positive outlook. I have never witnessed such quick and measured acceptance of the challenges that lie ahead.
I couldn't have until this point. My dad's cancer upset the routine in which he lived his life. It introduced new fears to our family. It also illuminated, in a way few events ever could, the character of Frank Montemayor, III.
Our family cannot live in fear because he won't allow it. Nor will he permit negativity to enter our homes over the holidays. My dad has sent us a message that he is alright and that we are all together wherever we are.
His level head, mighty heart and unquestioned resolve have made an impression on his two sons -- myself, 22, and my brother, almost 20 -- that cannot yet be fully appreciated.
Still we will hold this gift tightly each day as we gain experience and perspective. It will be with us through each milestone we achieve and challenge we face. It will later become a family heirloom.
Thank you, Pop.