Early in 1998, my brother called and told me that my dad was dying of cancer and that dad was asking for me.
When I heard this, I was very upset. Not that my father was dying, mind you, but that he’d asked for me. I needed him all my life, and now, he’s asking for me?
“Tell Dad, I’m not coming!” I replied.
I have four brothers and a sister, and they all called me, urging me to visit dad. A week or so went by and I finally caved in to the pressure.
I first visited my dad in the Contra Costa County Hospital, as the VA in Martinez, California was short on beds. There he lay, in a bed surrounded by adjustable rails. My younger brother John was present, as was my mother.
My mom pulled me aside to tell me the seriousness of dad’s esophageal cancer. She said, “It doesn’t look good, I’ve researched the prognosis and he doesn’t have much time left.” By the time I had visited my father, he’d already had been battered by chemotherapy and every other treatment.
Cancer had permanently closed up his esophagus, and he could no longer swallow, but was fed through a feeding tube, which was surgically inserted through the side of his abdomen, and directly into his stomach. My father was so frightened and I had never seen him so fragile and helpless.
Since things did not look good for my dad, I called one of my pastors from our church in Danville, California, called “East Bay Fellowship,” which I was attending with my wife and kids. I asked if Pastor Allan Shrewsbury could come by and pray over my father, in hope that it would give him some comfort. Pastor Allan quickly arrived, praying with my dad, and confirming my father’s faith and trust in Jesus Christ, as his Savior.
It was getting late, and we began to ready ourselves to leave when I noticed tears filling my father’s eyes, along with the room filling with a sense of heaviness. It seemed as though this might be our last goodbye. I think the feeling of; “he may not make it through the night,” hit all of us at the same time.
Compassion began to rise within my heart. I leaned over his bedrail and gently kissed my father’s unshaven face. His prickly whiskers caused my lips to tingle. My brother John also leaned in and kissed our dad, as did my mom, and then we all tried to convince and reassure dad that he was going to be fine, as we slowly left the room.
As John and I walked out together towards the parking lot, my lips still tingling, I said:
“John, there is something strangely familiar about kissing dad.”
“My lips — they’re still tingling!”
“What’s up with you Tom? Don’t you remember when we were little kids, we’d line up in front of dad’s favorite chair and kiss him goodnight on his cheek, and he’d say with a smile,
’…Don’t let the bedbugs bite!’”
All of a sudden, memories, good memories came flooding into my mind. That gentle kiss on my father’s unshaven face was a key to my dungeon of despair and loneliness. All my years of anger, bitterness, and hatred; all my doubts and unforgiveness, all swallowed up from the tingly whiskers of my father’s unshaven face.
After that moment, I couldn’t wait to see my father. And I saw him over the next several months as often as I could.
Several weeks before my dad had passed away, a nurse came into his hospital room,
“Who is the executor and healthcare director?”
My father lifted his feeble arm and pointed over in my direction. I turned to see if there was one of my two older brothers behind me, but there was no one.
Maybe for some, this would have been an unwelcomed appointment, a burden, but for me, it meant I had my father’s complete and utter trust. The significance of my dad’s appointment was a paradigm shift for me, quite possibly one of my most life-affirming events.
Later, I learned that my father had consulted with my mother as to whom he should appoint as Trustee of his estate and healthcare. It was my mother who had agreed with my dad on his final choice. My sister, Laurie, was also named co-trustee. Simply amazing!
A few weeks later, my dad’s condition was worsening. His organs were beginning to show signs of shutting down. At this point, my brothers and sister and I would trade-off, each of us spending the night with dad alone.
Finally, it was my turn. It was October 7, 1998. I arrived shortly after the dinner hour. A nurse brought in a cot with a blanket and a pillow for me to sleep on. My dad and I talked for quite a while, mostly about politics, which was my dad’s favorite topic. Soon, it was lights out, which really never happens in a hospital.
As I lay there, realizing the significance of this moment with my dad, I knew if I didn’t say what was truly on my heart now, that this moment might be lost forever. You see, my father had never told me that he loved me. I was thirty-nine years old and my dad was about to turn sixty-nine the next day. I wanted so much to hear those words from him; no, I needed to hear those words from him — something in me was guiding me and granting me the courage to say what needed to be said:
“Yes, son?” he replied
Dad … I love you!” I said cautiously.
Only mere seconds passed by, but it felt like years.
“…I love you too, son,” Dad replied.
I exchanged “I love you” with my dad, what seemed like all night long! I said those precious and life-giving words, which he echoed back:
“I love you too, son.”
All my hate and anger against my dad has washed away, and now for good! I heard the three most important words every son or daughter needs to hear:
“I love you, son!”
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD
arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4: 5-6
The days of the “curse” were finally over for me. For a greater spirit than Elijah had entered that hospital room that night, the Spirit of the Living God had softened the hearts of father and son, and the mess I had made of my life became beautiful!
“His wrath, you see, is
fleeting, but His grace
lasts a lifetime. The
deepest pains may linger
through the night, but joy
greets the soul with the
smile of morning.”
My dad, while broken with cancer, poured into me so much life and hope, and, in such a
short time! The man whom I had despised all of my life was my dad, with whom I just fell in love, but who is now leaving.
The morning did come, and with it, a smile and a “Happy Birthday, Dad!”
It was October 8, 1998, and my father wanted to get all cleaned up for his Birthday. He said:
“Tom, get my shaving bag, it’s over there, in that cabinet.”
“Here it is dad,” I replied.
“Okay, get my Electric Shave lotion and my razor out,” my dad directed, and then he asked:
“Son, will you shave my face?”
I know this may sound silly, but this was the most intimate moment I’ve ever had with my father. The very whiskers which tingled my lips and which softened the hardness of my heart, the very mouth, which finally spoke: “I love you too, son” was the face I was about to care for and shave.
“The deepest pains may linger through the night, but joy greets the soul with the smile of
…and I shaved my father’s face.
That is why I would not change a single moment of my life. The pain is swallowed up in the sweetness of heartfelt forgiveness, and in the “I love yous.” For what had become broken has now been given, and the mess of my life now became beautiful!
Four days later, on October 12, 1998, my father passed away. There I stood, at his right-hand side, a restored and beloved son, loved and approved. As life was quickly draining from my dad, he looked up towards the ceiling, letting out his final breath; he smiled, his heartbeat stopped, and we wept loudly in the grief of our great loss. I then reached over my dad’s body and closed my father’s eyes.
He died my hero, triumphantly and bravely; he faced death and passed from this life into the heart of God.
“Death swallowed by triumphant
Life! Who got the last word, oh,
Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of
you now?” – I Corinthians 15:55
While this was both a painful and magical time for me, these events with my father were a new beginning and a paradigm shift for my present and future.
I can honestly say that God used the final moments of my father’s life to make me into a better man and a better father.
Letting my anger for my father go allowed love to come bursting in.
Becoming my father’s beloved son made it possible for me to believe that I could be God’s beloved son too.
I miss you, dad…