My mother told me years ago to never try to find a man like my father. If I compared anyone to him, that man would fall short.
To this day, she’s right.
I lost my dad 7 years ago, due to pancreatic cancer (the same kind Alex Trebek has). So Father’s Day is a bittersweet time for me.
He was the kind of man everyone adored.
He was measured. He was quiet. He was patient.
He had to be all of those things with three strong and fierce women in his house. People often said that he was the eye of our female hurricane.
He was also practical. He always drove white Subarus. Used ones.
One time he ventured out of his comfort zone and bought a red Subaru. I was so proud of him. He kept it for three days, and then returned it, because it was “too flashy.”
“Cops pull red cars over way more times than other colors,” he said.
At one point in my life, I was deciding between going to medical school and going to the London School of Economics. He didn’t sway me either way. He just bought me an “A to Zed” guide to London, and typed out a typical weekly schedule for the life of a physician. (He was a pediatrician.) I chose London.
He and my mom rarely fought. But on one instance, they stood on opposite sides of a decision, at an impasse. They were buying a minivan. My mom wanted one with captain’s chairs in the back seat. But the slightly cheaper option was the minivan with a bench in the back. My mom threw up her hands and turned the situation over to me.
My dad and I went to the car dealership in Draper. We test-drove both versions. At the end, I looked at him, and said, “Get the one Mom wants.”
He wiped his hand down his face and said, “I know. That always seems to be the right answer.”
My dad would take my sister and me on day trips to go biking in Moab. It was during one of these trips that he taught us some important advice: If you have to pass gas, make sure the car vent is on, and make sure it’s not on recirculation.
One year, a few days before Halloween, my dad’s mom passed away. The next day, my dad turned yellow. Jaundiced. And then on Halloween, we got the grim news: He had pancreatic cancer. Six to 18 months to live.
He had none of the risk factors. He wasn’t overweight. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. Not a day in his life. He was still young.
My family kept our spirits high as we fought his battle. We even renamed common hospital phrases like, “On a scale of one to 10, how much pain are you in?”
My sister and I would instead say, “On a scale of one to seven, which dwarf are you? Icky, Barfy, Pukey, Yucky, Crummy, Crappy or Pissy?” We dreaded the days when he was all the way to Pissy.
While waiting during procedures, we would write what we thought were hilarious cancer-related limericks.
There once was a vial of bile
Whose removal made us all smile
Dr. Wills made a cut
Rather close to the butt
And the bile now flows down de-Nile
Then he would wake up and we would rush to his bedside, read him the limerick, and ask him, “On a scale of one to 10, how funny are we?”
He outlasted the 18-month prognosis. We had him for four more years. He was healthy for almost every day of those four years, until the week before we lost him.
I have to fight the urge to rail against the heavens about how unfair it is to lose someone you love to cancer. The disease is unflinching in its destruction.
But then I think of how many years I got with this man, and when my mom and I reflect on the time, we often quote a line from the show “Downton Abbey.”
“Aren’t we the lucky ones.”
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.