[personal] Fatherhood in the time of cancer

Driving home last night from dinner, I was listening to NPR. Terri Gross was interviewing Scott Simon about his book on adoption, Baby We Were Meant For Each Other. Simon was talking about the mechanics of the adoption process in China, which are very familiar to me as that is how the_child joined our family. Then he started talking about child abandonment and orphanage life in China, which saddened me. Those are realities with which I am reasonably conversant, in the context of being a complete outsider, and they are certainly the realities of my daughter’s early life.

What really broke me was when he then started talking about being an older parent (Simon was 50 when he and his wife adopted their first daughter), and what it would mean when he passed away and left his children behind.

When you peel back all the prognoses and tests and procedures and psychotherapy and family support and love, underneath it all, I truly no longer expect to live to be old. This conviction didn’t emerge until the first metastasis in my lung. The second metastasis which I’m currently dealing with in my liver has only deepened my sense of fatalism. These days, I define a successful life as one in which I survive in reasonable health long enough to see the_child graduate from high school. She’s about to start seventh grade, which means I need to hang in for six more years. Or, given the current metrics, through six more recurrences of my cancer.

None of this is logical. It’s probably not even all that mentally healthy. On a day to day basis, I work at being positive, and I believe I largely succeed at it. (Though calendula_witch might beg to disagree.) But when I’m being honest down to the bone, I don’t see a long future for myself.

That just is. And in some ways, I think I’ve accepted my sense of mortality. I will fight for every inch, all the way to full cure or to the end, whichever comes first. If it does come as I fear, I will have many regrets — books unwritten, places unvisited, people not yet loved, the grief and loss of my parents. But what I want the most is to see the_child into adulthood in good order. What I fear the most is never being able to do that.

Sometimes love is a bitter cup.

7 thoughts on “[personal] Fatherhood in the time of cancer

  1. Ironically, your thoughts here have gone circular – for me. I am 49 and I have a 5 year old. My only child, a daughter. I have often thought about what would happen if I died young – how would she fare. She also has Asperger’s, so there is a need to help her along for as long as possible. But you know what, I’m OK with this. Your fighting spirit puts my situation completely into perspective.

    Live long, mate. Live long.

  2. Ellen Eades says:

    For what it’s worth, Jay, none of us know how long we will live. Many of us expect to live to be old. Not all of us will realize those expectations. You are one of a group who doesn’t expect that. Many people who expect to live to be old put things off, figuring they’ll have time to get to them later (I am a case in point: there are many things I plan to do “after the kids are gone and I have some free time,” or whatever. And I fully admit it’s not guaranteed that I’ll have the free time afterward; I’ve been struggling with this for several years now with mixed success). You’re choosing to live more in the moment, and do more with each moment, because you know your odds are not great. You will probably accomplish more than many of us whose odds are better. For this, I admire and honor you. Frankly, we ALL are going to die. Many of us should probably feel it a little more keenly than we do.

  3. Lydia says:

    All of us need to love everything and everyone we love knowing we’re going to lose it. There’s power in that appreciation – but this has to be one of the worst of all possible ways to acquire it.

  4. Children are hostages to fortune.

    (Not original with me of course!)

  5. When I was younger, a gypsy fortune teller pegged my life to 60 years. That’s been a recurring joke in my life. However, having passed the 2/3rds mark, it isn’t all that funny anymore.

    With kids and family, it’s natural at this time in life to begin thinking about the future and realizing you might not be there for it all.

  6. Mallory says:


    My son lost his father suddenly at 12 years old. What was critically important to my son was to surround him with as much extra support as humanly possible. Even so, he had serious developmental troubles into his mid-twenties when he finally found his feet again. The foundations you have already built are enduring no matter how long or short you have to continue that process. My son lost most of his father memories for about a decade when they simply became too painful for him to call up easily. After more than 5 years of intensive psychological work he emerged with his father’s memories vivid and alive once more. These reconnections helped him ‘recover’ from the chaos of his grief and re-discover his own manhood.

    Trust in the strength, laughter and love you have already created inside ‘the child’ and ground her and surround her it the absolute best support system you can imagine. She will flourish. She will be the triumph she already is. Trust that you can find the strength to be her number one support person long after you fear your own loss. Endure.


  7. pelican says:

    My best childhood friend lost her mother when she was 12. But, she was surrounded by a loving and strong network, including her dad, who despite his own health problems and death ten years later, was truly present for her and her sisters.

    She grieved and was sad, sure, but she thrived. Honestly, her early adulthood was much healthier and saner than mine. She’s got kids of her own now, a good career, a well-above-average nice life. We’re in our 40’s, her oldest is almost 12. I’m sure her kids hitting that milestone will bring stuff up for her, but she’ll deal.

    It was a terrible thing to lose her mom, and then her dad fairly soon after. But, her parents had done their work well and they raised a healthy and happy person. I was there for her dad, and I know he knew that his kids were okay and he took a lot of satisfaction from that knowledge.

    My current work involves a lot of elderly people, some of whom have “kids” in their fifties and sixties who never “made it to adulthood in good order,” due to family dysfunction. That’s pretty terrible, too.

    As Ellen said, no guarantees for any of us, about anything.

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