Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lessons from Coach Dad

Yesterday, I was asked to help a group of personal trainers at the West Side Y in New York City to  prepare themselves for leadership in the LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program. I doubt that anyone who has ever been a teacher will be surprised to hear that I learned a lot.

I told them my cancer story via a speaker phone . I've told it so many times that it has grown a little stale to me: the discovery; the preparation for treatment; the faithful, tireless support from my wife and my mom and my friends. How I didn't die. Started walking, running, fighting for my life. How finding the Y and the program gave me a source of focus and encouragement to achieve things I never thought possible.

Blah, blah, blah.

But I am not only a survivor, I am also a coach. I had something else to tell them. I told them that they were not ready.

They were not prepared for the tears they would shed as a room full of men and women told their stories of suffering and courage. How no PowerPoint presentation could get them ready for the miracles they would witness as victims became survivors and warriors and victors. And nothing on earth could prepare them for the funerals; for saying good bye to a heroic warrior whose battle had come to an end.

What advice could I offer them, these deeply compassionate, well-trained caregivers who were about to have their hearts broken with joy and sorrow on a daily basis? I told them to take care of themselves. To maintain professional boundaries. To never forget that their job, no matter how consuming or holy it might be, must never become their whole life. I told them to get their own workouts in. To stay in contact with friends. Read. Go to the movies. Go on dates. To have a life that mattered OUTSIDE the Y and the program.

It was good advice from a veteran of the cancer wars who had learned it the hard way. It is advice I need to take more seriously myself.

This Fathers Day one of the things I remember about the great man who was my Dad is that he did not take that advice either. He worked. He volunteered. He sacrificed. And he never did a damn thing to refresh himself or his own life's energy. He would have considered it selfish. He was 58 when he died. He maintained his automobiles with his own skilled, powerful hands, but drove his own tired body until the wheels fell off.

I guess my Dad taught me as much about being a Coach as my YMCA mentors did. Be a good steward of the God's gifts to you: your body, your mind, and your soul. Courage is a great virtue, but it only if you have the Strength to carry it out. Don't just do your best; BE your best.

So thank you Coach Melissa, for inviting me to help welcome the next generation of trainers into the program. Thank you to the five new trainers whose faces I never saw, but whose hearts and minds I did my best to reach through the wires. And thank you, Dad. In life, you taught me how important it is to serve. And in your death, you taught me the price of losing yourself, no matter how holy the work you are doing.

I'm going to imitate the best parts of you, and learn from the rest. It's the only way I can make sense of the way you lived, and the way you died. I think you'd be proud to know that you are helping cancer survivors learn to fight for life on the streets of Manhattan.

Because I sure am proud to have had you for my teacher. Thanks, Dad. Live Strong.

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