55: Always a Winner

55: Always a Winner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Always a Winner

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.

~Clarence Budington Kelland

The doctor’s grim diagnosis sent a collective shudder through the family. It looked as if Dad had cancer. The X-ray showed a large mass inside his brain.

Prognosis: Bad, really bad. Treatment needed to begin immediately. According to the doctor, my father was in for the fight of his life.

Literally.

But if anyone expected Dad to launch into histrionics or some display of denial, they were soon proven wrong. After taking a deep breath, my father lifted his head, looked the doctor straight in the eyes and said, “Could be cancer, huh? Well, either way, I’m a winner.”

The physician’s office filled with silence.

No doubt, Dad must have felt a dozen bulging eyes fixed on him as his family sat, incredulous at his reaction to the horrible news.

Either way, I’m a winner?

What kind of response was that? The doctor said this was probably cancer — brain cancer!

Although stunned, we should’ve anticipated Dad’s stoic response. After all, hadn’t he always faced the unknown with this calm, yet fierce resolve? Not once in forty-odd years had I heard him ask “why me” or rail against God, blaming the Almighty for any setbacks or tragedies. Instead, he tackled life’s cruel disappointments in a quiet, dignified manner. The severity of the situation didn’t matter. Whether it was financial problems, conflicts at work, even a health crisis, Dad wrestled the issue calmly, always shielding his children from the awful truth.

Only then, as I looked back, did I realize how strong my father was — and how others leaned on him for support.

No doubt he found his strength at an early age. My father was born to an immigrant family. His dad hailed from Portugal and eventually Brazil while his mother came from Mexico. From his earliest days, he had to help his parents — usually as a translator.

The road wasn’t easy for Dad. Eventually, he started to work after school to contribute to the lean family income. As a result, he didn’t have many playmates or close friends. When his father died, Dad became the sole provider for his family. As a teenager, he attended school while working a stream of thankless jobs in the evenings and on weekends — a balancing act he continued until he graduated.

After a short stint in the army, Dad landed a good position with California’s largest grocery chain where he eventually met my mother. His relentless strength was evident throughout his married life, raising children while still assisting his mother and various family members over the rough spots. During these years, he helped my mother take care of her parents as well.

As usual, there was no complaining, no wallowing in self-pity. Dad simply accepted the many challenges thrown at him and soldiered on. In fact, I never heard Dad complain about his childhood, which he always described as a happy, normal one.

His biggest test of strength came as an adult when my mother battled cancer, eventually succumbing to the disease. After Mom’s death, Dad found himself alone for the first time in thirty-odd years. They had made such a strong team in life that my siblings and I were worried about Dad’s ability to carry on without his spouse. Surely he wouldn’t be able to make it on his own. The grief, we assumed, would take its toll on him.

The first few months proved to be his worst period as he lost weight and seemed a bit withdrawn. During my visits, I noticed the refrigerator and cupboards were not as fully stocked as they once were. Nor was the house as clean as I remembered it. He watched a lot of TV and seldom ventured beyond the living room.

It was obvious: Dad was depressed; life had finally beaten him.

Or so we thought.

Dad’s recovery began a few months later as he returned to work and started to socialize again. He attended all the family functions and even met some new friends who helped him over the sadness of losing a spouse. Before we knew it, he had cleaned the house from top to bottom and even replaced some old furniture and appliances.

The message was clear: Dad had rebounded and was ready to move on. Somehow, he had found that quiet, unshakeable resolve and had risen from his grief stronger than before.

Ironically enough, I hadn’t realized the magnitude of Dad’s fighting spirit — or how much he had inspired me — until that pivotal day in the doctor’s office. Only then did I understand the breadth of his philosophy that nothing in life was a safe bet, that struggles and setbacks will always follow us. In the end, we simply must know how to deal with them — and to fight with all the strength we possess. His life was an example that although there would be agonizing moments of quiet questioning, that we must accept whatever God throws at us and learn how to be thankful.

It was true. Either way, we’re all winners.

My debt of gratitude for all the lessons my father taught me may never be fully realized in my lifetime. However, I have come to understand the priceless gift he has given me — the strength and will to survive, and maybe, just maybe, serve as a rock for others to lean on.

Thanks, Dad, for teaching me how to be a winner.

~Al Serradell

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