‘Life is not always easy and it seldom follows the script we want or think that it should.”
These are the words written and dispensed to a young adult in celebration of a momentous occasion and the coming of age. They are the words and advice that any parent might bestow to their child. In fact, these are the words that I wrote for my daughter, Kelsey, just before she began her senior year in high school as she celebrated her (late) bat mitzvah.
Substitute the word “parenthood” for “life” and the statement becomes apropos today as we celebrate Father’s Day. Parenthood isn’t easy and certainly not for the faint of heart, but in my experience it is one of the greatest joys in life. But in our hectic, stressful, overscheduled and overstimulated lives, it is easy to take it all for granted. We tend to undervalue what we have in the moment only to recognize its full value and importance after we have lost it.
Perhaps prophetic, these words I wrote for Kelsey came three months before she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and eight months before the cancer took her life six days past her 18th birthday in 2015.
Like last year and every future Father’s Day, I am conflicted today. I am full of joy and gratitude for the blessing of my two children and how they have enriched my life. But in equal measure I am also heartbroken. I am living every parent’s worst nightmare and am forever more part of a fraternity of bereaved parents. I mourn all that should have been and the script I wanted. But I also celebrate my memories of Kelsey and am grateful for the lessons she taught me during her battle against AML.
If you could choose only one word to encapsulate what our family witnessed of Kelsey and learned from her, it was courage. Kelsey’s courage and inspiration was her last gift to us. I believe that it is the gift she knew that I, and her family, needed the most. The courage to get out of bed each day, to work through the grief, to accept what I cannot change, to be present for my son and to find some measure of peace and happiness. During the Torah service, it is said “may God give us strength and courage.” To honor Kelsey, I continue to try and live my life with more of both.
I’d like to believe that within Kelsey’s battle and experience lies a broader message for all of us. Imagine if each day each of us found the courage to fight through our fears, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to take risks, to be true to ourselves and one another. The courage to both love and be loved. The courage to be kind, engaged and present in the lives of those we love the most, our children.
While today’s holiday is focused on dads, perhaps it is also an opportunity to reflect on the lessons that our children can teach us. Beyond courage, we could learn a lot about joy, happiness, wonderment and unabashed love from our kids. To my fellow fathers, may your day be blessed by the presence and memories of your children.