My brother-in-law Angelo died of cancer at the age of 43, when his daughter was less than two years old. I thought of him often as I read The Council of Dads, by Bruce Feiler. Feiler was also in his 40s, active and seemingly healthy when his bone cancer was discovered. His twin daughters were barely three years old. As Feiler learned about his chances for beating the cancer (not high) and the regimen that would be required for the battle (daunting - a full year of radiation and chemo, followed by surgery to remove much of his thigh bone and muscles, followed by more chemo), his worries mounted. He worried not only about his own health and prognosis, but also about how his wife could manage her growing business, parent two young children without much help from him, and the stresses that the year would place on her. Most of all, he worried about his daughters, and how they would survive the family strain of what he soon called "The Lost Year." Beyond that, he pondered what they would miss if he didn't survive. He said:
...I kept coming back to Eden and Tybee and how difficult life might be for them. Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they yearn for my approval, my discipline, my love?
A few days later, I woke up suddenly before dawn and though of a way I might help re-create my voice for them. I started making a list of six men - from all parts of my life, beginning with when I was a child and stretching through today. These are the men who know me best. The men who share my values. The men who helped shape and guide me. The men who traveled with me, studied with me, have been through pain and happiness with me.
Men who know my voice.
Feiler gave some thought to the project, and contacted the men. All agreed to become part of his Council of Dads. In his book, published just this month, Feiler shares with us the story of that year, and also the stories of his life with the men who became his Council of Dads, and the lessons he learned from them. The book ends last summer, not too long after his year of treatment ended. He survived the treatment, and has a decent chance of becoming a long-term survivor. Should he not survive, the gift he left his daughters (and all of us) in this book is tremendous. Spend a little time with Bruce Feiler's story, then take some time to think about all those who have acted as father to you along the way. It might be time to give them a call, or drop them a line, or share their story with someone else. Angelo, my brother-in-law, was the only person who managed to teach me to drive a stick shift, though many tried. His patience, his confidence in me, his sensitivity to my fear of humiliation (the previous tries were disasters), and his caring all worked when nothing else had. I still miss him.
Happy Father's Day.