Remembering my dad fondly on this Father’s Day

Remembering my dad fondly on this Father’s Day

My dad was born in 1932. According to my grandma, he was delivered on the Sunday newspaper by a doctor who did home deliveries. He and his family lived through the Great Depression and WWII. They experienced all the hardships people endured during the tough times of those years. I think this had a profound influence on my dad later on in his life.

He married his next-door neighbor, my mom, on Nov. 25, 1950. This was during the record-breaking snowstorm that buried the Ohio Valley under 36-plus inches of snow. He then served in the army during the Korean Conflict from 1950-52. A few years later in 1955, my sister and I were born. Then a few years after that, my brother came along.

As far back as I can remember, my dad was always aware of financial issues. Even though he made good money working as a mill right at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, he still worried about us making ends meet.

Life changed after my dad was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, MG, at the age of 39. This autoimmune disease necessitated he retire as he could no longer climb or use his arms in any substantial way. At one point the disease became so profound he was confined to a wheelchair and placed on a ventilator. He managed to cope with this disease, but his life was never the same.

Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, my dad never wasted a thing. Our family was on a fixed income after his retirement, and money was tight. Some of the “eco” habits I remember about my dad were saving the string from doughnut boxes, saving the cords from worn-out appliances, saving paper from envelopes or junk mail for store lists, and saving any type of jar.

The biggest use of the jars was for his world-renown screw, nuts and bolt collection. This collection was later passed on to my hubby. Dad also used baby food jars to save little bits of left-over paint. You never knew when you might have to patch a wall surface.

If possible, my dad found ways to repair items rather than throw them away. He had a radio that was more masking tape than plastic and a TV antenna, repaired with wire hangers, that resembled a contemporary art piece. When the drain for our tub broke, he fashioned a contraption from a plastic lid to stop water from leaking out.

My dad also came up with some of his own inventions to help him deal with his weak arms from the myasthenia gravis. He rigged a belt above the door that would allow him to raise his arms up so he was able to put deodorant on. He nailed a board to the top of a small ladder that he could place his arms on when working on a project above his head.

Although he never attended college, my dad was exceptionally smart. At one point he was asked if he wanted to skip fifth grade and move ahead into the next class, but he declined, saying he’d miss his friends.

Dad loved science. Our house always had Popular Science or National Geographic magazines laying on the coffee table. We also had several science-fiction books by Isaac Asimov, my dad’s favorite author. Dad also was interested in Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force investigation of unidentified flying objects or UFOs. The family had many lively discussions about whether or not UFOs were real and if alien species were trying to contact Earth.

My dad pondered what might happen in the world when the year 2000 came around. He died in February 1998, so he missed that event. He also missed the final episode of “Seinfeld,” one of his favorite TV shows. He did get to see the Hale-Bopp comet as it passed by Earth in fall 1997. He always phoned me on nights when the comet was in a good spot for viewing. I guess my love of science was due in part to my dad’s influence.

Our son Adam was lucky in that he did have his grandpa around till he was almost 22 years old. My parents were my babysitters when I worked, and Adam spent lots of time with them. He learned about coupon-cutting and bargain hunting from many trips to the grocery store with my dad. He also learned a few colorful words from dad while driving around in the car.

Unfortunately, the MG that caused my dad to become so debilitated also led to his contracting melanoma. As the doctors explained to us, years of taking drugs to suppress the immune system had resulted in a mole on his back becoming cancerous. By the time surgery was performed to remove the cancer, it had already passed into his bloodstream. In less than two years, he had full-blown cancer throughout his body.

As with many things, my dad faced his final stage of life with a stoic acceptance. He confessed to our son he never expected to live as long as he had with his MG. On the morning of the day he passed away, I was getting ready to drive my mom into Pittsburgh for her chemotherapy treatment. We had called the local EMTs to take Dad to the Ohio Valley Hospital in Steubenville as he was in pain and his color was quite orange.

I kissed him goodbye and told him I would come to the hospital later that night. That was the last time I saw him as he passed away at 4 p.m. before we left Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian Hospital. I had to tell my mom the news while she finished her chemotherapy treatment.

We buried Dad in his Cleveland Browns jacket and placed his “masking tape” radio in the coffin. It was tuned to the station he used to listen to Cleveland games. I didn’t attend his funeral. For me it was just too hard. I did write his eulogy, which spoke of many of the things I have written about in this column.

While we didn’t always see eye to eye on many things, especially when I was young, at the end of Dad’s life, our relationship was good. I had the chance to write Dad a final letter before his illness took him. He phoned after receiving that letter and shared his often-sheltered emotions with me. I am forever glad we had that moment to express our love.

No matter what the status of your relationship with your dad or your father figure, take time this Father’s Day to be with him or phone him. I wish I had one more memory with my dad, Leonard Elliott Minor.

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