My dad is a living paradox.
He is both alarmingly predictable, yet disturbingly surprising. And, in many ways, my dad and I are exactly alike. Though there simply is not enough room in a blog post to share all of the lessons from my dad, there are key ones who have shaped who I am today.
Here are some of my dad’s best known lessons:
- Save everything. Though people may call you a pack rat or hoarder, you never know when you’ll need that phone charger from 1994 or that DustBuster vacuum from 1986. Or that Sony Discman, or a dozen screwdrivers, or even rusty nails. Waste not.
- Don’t carry a parrot on your shoulder. It might peck out your eyes when you least expect it. And, as an eye doctor, I’ve seen too many people with damaged eyes. Don’t carry a pencil in your shirt pocket. Don’t walk around with a lollipop. Never look directly at the sun. Never run with anything sharp.
- Don’t pretend to be something you are not. If you have more in common with the custodians than the doctors, sit with the custodians. Even if the other doctors look at you funny. Remember where you came from.
- Share everything. Why buy a soda for each person when you can buy 1 soda for 7 people? Share the soda but not the straws.
- Be concise. If you can say it in 3 words, then don’t use 5 words. Get to the point.
Growing up, my dad was always at my athletic games (even though I was horrible at sports), spent evenings practicing with me, attended my orchestra concerts, visited me in college to see my acapella shows, and trained me in his office (when he thought I was aspiring to be a medical student). He treated me to the hospital cafeteria (where I learned my “sit with the custodians” lesson), taught me how to fix everything from my car to a broken toilet, and never yelled at me when I was learning how to drive a stick-shift car.
Through his absence during my daughter’s cancer treatments, he also taught me how hard it is to experience pain. For the first time in my own life, I saw my dad in emotional pain. I saw how hard it was to be near my family during Joli’s treatment. Through this, I understood the difficult choices my dad has had to make in his own life as a young doctor, immigrant, parent, husband, son, brother and grandfather.
These life lessons, though unspoken, are his greatest gifts to me.
But, my dad also gave me another gift.
I also got my BRCA gene from my dad.
I’ve never asked him if he’s felt guilty about it (though, really, what could he have done?). I’ve never asked how he’s felt about having the gene, himself. And, likely, we won’t ever talk about it.
As I meet more and more young women who have the BRCA gene, I hear their recurring declarations of “I’m glad I found out before I had kids. I’m definitely not going to have kids now that I’m BRCA positive.” Even when I saw my OB/GYN after I gave birth to Evan, his first statement to me was “He’s your last one, right? You’re not going to pass along the BRCA gene anymore, right?”
As if the gene, itself, has defined my life.
No. It has not. It has given shape to my life. Definition to my boundaries. Color to my world.
Today, on my dad’s 65th birthday, we are giving him gifts. But, 36 years ago, he gave me mine. He passed along the BRCA gene that has given me strength and wisdom beyond any of life’s taught lessons.
Peace, love, and to many more healthy and happy years for my Dad,