Just realized the other day that this year is a silver anniversary. 25 years ago this summer, I got to go to Hawaii and stay with my aunt for about a month. I rode a boogie board almost every day. I ate my very first pizza with pineapple and ham.
I got to do this because my parents needed me and my brother out from underfoot for a few weeks. This was because a doctor looked at some scans of my dad's body and said he'd be dead of renal cancer in two years.
When a doctor tells you that, if you're my mom, you find a very polite way to tell him to either change his attitude or else go fuck himself, and then you start Making Plans, plans that involve sending your kids to your sister's and curb-stomping some cancer. And that is what she, what they did.
Dad had a tumor in one of his kidneys and another one metastasized on his hip. The word "grapefruit" came up, as I'm sure it has in your life. It usually means that it's time to start sourcing caskets and marble.
But my dad, you see.
My dad fights.
This is my dad. Right here, this is my dad.
My dad was drafted. My dad was sent to war. My dad made a good friend over there.
My dad's friend blew up. Trip wire. He made a mistake, came back to camp the same way he left. You're not supposed to do that. Boom, there went my dad's friend. I don't think my dad ever got over it, not really.
This is my dad.
He picked up...I want you to listen to me right now.
He picked up what pieces of his friend he could find.
My dad picked them up.
And he carried them with him. Through the heat of a Vietnamese jungle. He carried them so the family would have something to bury.
I have no idea how he did that. When I think of that story, I literally — literally — pray to God that I never find out.
That is my dad, right there. That is a hyperbolic story that perfectly encapsulates my dad. Except that it doesn't, it's not enough, because I'm a dad and I know that for that one big story, there are a million little sacrifices he made before and after that no one noticed.
My dad was Danger Devil Dracula Delta Lima Five. That was his Army callsign.
Danger Devil Dracula Delta Lima Five. Fight that.
I hate cancer. I know you do too, but I don't know if you hate cancer the way I do. I think of cancer as a person, I really do, and sometimes I wish it had a house so I could drive there and, I don't know, slash its tires? Throw biscuit dough at its house, challenge it to a fight?
It killed my other mom, my wife's mom, on New Year's Eve. It robbed my wife of her mother, my children of a grandmother they will strain to remember.
It murders people. It strips them of their dignity, leaves them bald and hollowed out and impotent and incontinent. It steals their balls and breasts and wombs and we pretty much invented it and there is not enough hate in the world for it.
So 25 years ago this summer, my parents sent me off to one of the best vacations I ever had. And I, selfish 13-year-old little shit that I was, thought more about my own adventures on Oahu than I did about my dad trying not to die. I'm okay with that, really, because I know teenagers are narcissistic and I know my parents sent me away primarily to make me forget, and I still have my dad.
Grenade went off behind my dad. Blew him into a tree. Mortar round went off by him, spat shrapnel into his leg, some of which is still there. Orders for one of his medals included the phrases "complete disregard for his own personal safety" and "selfless concern for others". It included the phrase "devastating barrage".
And then my dad came home. My dad always comes home.
Danger Devil Dracula Delta Lima Five.
My dad can beat up your dad, if your dad is war or cancer. My dad is tougher than war and cancer. Beat that.
This summer is the 25th anniversary of the last time my dad didn't die.