My Arms, My Legs, My Hero
The Story of a father’s sacrificial love for his disabled son
Shortly before my Father’s death in March of 2001, I found a T-shirt at the bottom of his dresser drawer the shirt that my family told me aptly described the type of relationship I had with my father. The discovery took me back to a summer by the sea many years ago and opened the floodgates to a host of memories. Those memories were shared on my last visits with him as a Eucharistic Minister days before dad’s death on March 17 of that year.
I am the third oldest of nine children and was born with spastic cerebral palsy. Throughout my life, I was always physically dependent on my father. Dad was thirty years my senior. Throughout much of my life dad was my arms and legs. I have always needed others to bathe, shave, and dress me. For most of my life, dad took the responsibility for that care.
One year while our family vacationed at the New Jersey shore, my brothers and sisters bought me a shirt that said it well: “When I’m in trouble, I call Dad!” The gag gift really hit me hard. Reflecting on my total dependency on my father, I seldom used the shirt. As I often put it “Who needs a constant reminder of one’s dependency on anyone all day long?”
However, I eventually came to realize, and I have reminded myself after some thought, “In many ways we all need these reminders.” My disability has allowed me to recognize our heavenly Father in my dad’s actions each day. I state with conviction, “The reality is that none of us could so much as lift a finger if God didn’t give us the ability to do so.”
My Invincible Dad
Like many kids, I grew up believing that my father was invincible. In my eyes, Dad was a hero. Although I couldn’t play baseball myself, dad made sure that I felt a part of my brothers’ Little League teams. I laugh as I recall this thought, “I often brought a building block to the baseball game and pretended to broadcast the game. The block was my microphone, and my brothers and most of their teammates humored my role-playing as I ‘interviewed’ key players after each game.” Continuing my recollection, “Dad knew that this role-playing was a great way to develop my language skills and speech.”
As a child, I hoped to become the next Vince Scully, the sports announcer who anchored major league baseball’s “Game of the Week” on the NBC television network for many years. Dad coached my brothers’ teams when he could, and for many of those games, he dragged me, his disabled son, along. Eventually, my grandmother brought me a tape recorder, which I took to these games and continued to “broadcast.”
My father enjoyed watching baseball on TV, but he wasn’t too enthusiastic about driving to Philadelphia to watch the major league games in the ballpark. I remember, “Both the limited parking and the crowds bothered dad.”
This is why I will never forgot one occasion when I was ten-years-old; it was the summer of 1964. Philadelphia Phillies that fall would break the hearts of every Philly fan young and old alike as they lost the National League Pennant by one game to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards won 93 games and lost 69, while the Phillies finished the season with 92 wins and 70 losses.
Nonetheless, this is the story of one game that summer which illustrated a Dad’s unconditional love and sacrifice for his family. It is not about the fact that the team lost a 6 and 1/2 game lead with 12 games remaining in the season.
Dad had purchased tickets for the family to attend a Phillies game that summer. Late that season the day arrived to use the purchased tickets. Our seats were high above in the top row of the stadium, and I recall with love and amazement 44 years later, “Dad, physically carried me to my designated seat. I wore braces on my legs then, and it couldn’t have been easy for him to carry me that high.”
In telling this story I must conclude by saying,” this was just another example of the sacrifices he routinely made for me and the rest of the family.” My eyes sparkle as I recall this memory. I hope the enthusiasm I have in sharing this story matches the warmth in my heart in telling it.
Lastly, the day of Dad’s funeral, March 22, 2001 our Blessed Lord gave me a rare privilege. I, the disabled son whom he covered nightly, pulled the blanket to my father’s shoulders before his coffin was closed and we celebrated a Mass of Christian burial for this loving husband, father of nine, and now grandfather of 16, great-grandfather of one, uncle, brother and friend to so many. At least on that day, I finally saw our roles reverse.
June 15th is Father’s day. It has given me pleasure to share this story with you, my readers, and wish all the men who take on the role of Father a “Happy Father’s Day!”