From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

My Favorite Professor

One father is more than one hundred schoolmasters.

George Herbert

My father was not a quiet man, and when it was his turn to drive the carpools of my childhood, we weren’t going to get much time to wake up slowly.

“Top o’ the morning,” he bellowed, a Jewish baby boomer from New York, pretending to be Irish as he opened the doors for me and two of my friends.

“And the rest of the day to you, ”we groaned the response we had been instructed to on so many occasions.

He taught constitutional law at the university, and his energy instantly made him a popular professor. They loved how he once instructed a class on the first day of the baseball season dressed in a New York Mets uniform, a wad of chewing gum bulging from his right cheek. They loved how, after class, he would engage in conversations about their lives, their food preferences and their favorite sports. They loved how he cared. Three graduating classes named him Professor of the Year.

Friends and family look at me and smile.

I am the spitting image of him, they say. I have Julian Eule’s mannerisms, his face, his sense of humor, his initiative, his enthusiasm, and on and on and on, to which I can only reply, “I hope so.”

There was a time when I didn’t quite know how special my father was, but then a time came when I realized it. I had gone to bed angry after some argument with him. I was young, probably in elementary school, and don’t remember what it was about. But I do remember his response.

After the argument, I could not fall asleep. Minutes, then hours, went by. Music, then call-in talk shows, then news blared from the boxy clock radio on the night table near the head of my bed. And still I couldn’t sleep.

Around midnight, my father finally came in.

I didn’t say anything. He motioned for me to slide over, sat at the side of my bed and turned off my radio. And then, he began to tell a story he had read once in the newspaper.

There was an actor who always spoke of how close he had been with his own father. The two had always had a remarkable relationship. One night, though, after a slight disagreement, they left each other’s company angry, refusing to even say a simple “good night” to each other. Later that night, the father died.

The son had no doubt that the love he had for his father was both known and equally returned, and yet he had to live with the memory that he and his father spent their final moments together upset, arguing over something presumably meaningless. They had not said “good night” to each other on their final evening together, and this stuck with that son for the rest of his life.

As it has with me.

I hugged my father tightly and told him I loved him. He told me the same and from then on, no matter how late I came home, no matter how frustrated I was, I never again went to bed without telling him, “Good night, I love you.”

Indeed, my father was a brilliant storyteller. Yet of all the stories, cancer was the biggest. Cancer had been like war stories for my father, something he had survived when I was too young to recall, something he was proud to have defeated. Suddenly, in the summer before my senior year in high school, I learned that my father was going back to war.

It didn’t seem fair, but that was not the way he chose to look at it. That was never the way he chose to look at things. When I was just a toddler, he was given an 11 percent chance of surviving a battle with cancer. With these statistics in mind, the important things in life were separated from the trivial ones. He wanted nothing more than to see his two young children grow up, a privilege denied his own father, who died of heart complications three years after my father’s birth.

Eleven percent. A death sentence waiting in the wings. It amazes me that he could live with that. But he made a vow to appreciate life for all of its joy. When he beat the odds, my father kept his promise. In watching him, I learned how to appreciate life. He taught me not to get mad at the little things, saying, “Is this worth losing a day of your life to stress?”

It was a life where every day was valued, every moment treasured, every person appreciated. A life where he made sure he was where he wanted to be, with the people he wanted to be with. But after almost fourteen years of remission, my father spent a beautiful California summer evening in an ugly hospital bed, my mother by his side.

“How can I be upset when I was given the past fourteen years as a gift?” he asked. Those years, he told me, had been the happiest of his life, and if he had to die, he was more content this time.

I wasn’t content. I found I needed him to remind me not to lose sight of things. He was the hand on my shoulder, calming me down without any words.

One night, during that summer, my mother called from the hospital. She was tired and wanted to go home to get some sleep. My father needed to stay. He had lost some blood, needed a transfusion and wanted someone to keep him company for the rest of the night.

I took a radio, a sleeping bag and a pillow and set off for the hospital at 10 P.M. My father smiled, glad to see me as I entered the room. I motioned for him to slide over, sat on the side of his bed, and we talked.

During the past fourteen years, there had been nothing left unsaid, so nothing specifically had to be spoken during those moments. We just sat there and enjoyed each other’s company.

As the new blood entered his body, the life returned to his face. By midnight, the radio was blasting. We sang along to every song we knew and faked those we didn’t. Down the hall, a door closed. At six in the morning, the transfusion was complete, as was our pajama party.

I set off for home content, knowing that in an hour my mother would settle herself in the same spot I had occupied all night.

Exhausted, I was halfway out the door before I remembered. I turned back toward his bed, bent down and kissed him on his cheek.

“Good night, I love you,” I whispered.

Brian Eule

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