25: A Father’s Persistence

25: A Father’s Persistence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

A Father’s Persistence

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.

~Henry Ward Beecher

Whenever I was distraught as a teenager, my father, like most parents, shared in my pain. Nothing, however, could compare to his agony when my life was dramatically changed forever.

I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, an innocent bystander at an armed robbery. I was shot in the head execution style by one of the thieves. Very few people thought I would survive, much less be a productive member of society. In the hospital waiting room, my father believed that I might die and his thoughts were of the past. What could he have done differently? Could he have spent more time with his son?

My parents met with the neurosurgeon in the morning, who told them that he was surprised I had made it through the night. Now that I had, he needed to operate. He then proceeded to say that there was only a 40% chance of my surviving the surgery, and if I did survive, almost a 100% chance of my living in a nursing home, not being able to walk or communicate.

My father was devastated. The surgeon was talking about his second son, a young man. An honor student at the University of Texas. He wondered when this nightmare would end. My mother refused to listen to the pessimism. She told my father, “We need to rent a storage space to keep Mike’s furniture until he returns to U.T.”

But my father, still stunned, replied, and reminded her of the grim prognosis. “Toby, did you hear the neurosurgeon? Mike will be lucky if he spends the rest of his days in a nursing home.”

My mother quickly and angrily barked back, “That doctor does not know my son, my Michael.”

My father did not want to argue, especially not at such a delicate time. They rented a storage space in Austin. My father never believed the space would be opened again. But I beat the neurosurgeon’s odds and survived the surgery. I was in a coma and with each day that I showed no progress, my father agonized even more.

Then, miraculously, I woke up. I was completely paralyzed on my right side, could not speak, and was hallucinating. When the doctor informed my parents that I was stable enough to fly home to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, my father finally had reason to hope. My rehabilitation in Houston was steady, but also (especially for my father) very, very slow. He was not a very patient man. He became extremely frustrated when he could not understand what I wanted. When my mother had no problems understanding me, my father’s frustration grew even more.

Then, seven weeks after being hurt, I began to utter some words. My father thought this was the perfect time for him to work with me. At first he would drill me on simple things, such as pointing to a 1, then a 2, then a 3. He was so happy when I accomplished each goal, only to be devastated the next time when I was unable to repeat the task.

As time progressed, I continued to improve. My verbal skills grew steadily each day, and after my father’s busy day at work, he would come to the hospital, ready to work with me. I still remember his bag filled with flash cards. He drilled me on math and spelling. He stretched my limp leg. Anything and everything that might help.

The hospital staff worried that he was working me too hard, that I would grow frustrated working with them all day, and with my father all evening. None of that mattered to my father. He knew what was best for his son and no one would be able to persuade him otherwise. Very few of the medical staff at either hospital believed that I would ever be able to return to college. But that is exactly what I did almost a year and a half after the shooting. I could not have made this recovery without my father. He always encouraged me to look for the positive, even when there was very little to feel positive about. He held me up mentally and physically, pushing me as hard as he could and believing that I would have my life back.

Four years after returning to school, I graduated at the top of my class with many honors, including Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. I was one of twelve students named as a Dean’s Distinguished Graduate.

As I limped up to the stage to get my diploma from the Dean, I received a standing ovation. One of the many thoughts racing through my head was of my father — the man who helped me throughout my ordeal. The man who has always been there for me, no matter what, and who believed I would one day reclaim my life. Even though I could not see his face in the huge auditorium, I knew he was smiling at me. I will always love him.

~Michael Jordan Segal, MSW

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