“So how’d it go?”
“Good, he gave me $50 because he won some money at the casino.”
“It’s his birthday … and he gave you $50?”
As I explained to my girlfriend in that conversation, that’s just dad. I didn’t ask for the money, don’t need it, but he’s always been like that, especially with his sons and grandchildren.
As dad gets older, I think his birthdays carry more meaning. He’d probably never admit that. What I have heard him say at his last several birthday dinners is that he’s surprised he’s still alive. I’m not going into details of his youth (saving that for a book someday), but he’s definitely beaten the odds.
I could fill hundreds of pages writing about my old man, but on his 67th birthday, I’ll try to keep it somewhat short and talk about one thing that sums up what he means to his family, in particular me.
I’ve written about 2010 a little. It was not a good year on many levels. I left a good job, ended up with one that more or less sucked and had a gut-wrenching breakup (aren’t they all?).
It started at the beginning of the year when I began to long for home. I never got to see my family, including my parents, brother, niece, nephews and sister-in-law. I was worried if I waited too long, I might miss out on my parents’ “golden” years.
The girl factored in, too. How the hell do I get back home? My old newspaper isn’t hiring, the job market sucks, where the hell do I stay? My father’s advice: “I think you should come home. If that’s what will make you happy, you should do it today.”
That was enough for me. I moved in with him in May 2010, rent- and bill-free. That’s dad.
But I still wasn’t happy. I weighed about 300 pounds. The relationship was dysfunctional, to put it mildly. I was scared to death about my career because, well, I didn’t have one.
Fortunately, I got a part-time job at a good company in Topeka, as a temp. Hey, it was money. It got me through nearly a year.
But the biggest change is something my dad helped with the most. He only had two stipulations when I moved back: 1. Find a job or go back to school. 2. Take care of your health.
The latter meant working out and eating better. At 300 pounds (He thinks it was over 300, but it’s like the big fish, the tale gets bigger and bigger. By this time next year, I’ll have weighed 417 pounds), I had a long way to go.
But, we got started. For me, it was getting back in shape, or at least getting healthier. As it turned out for my dad, it was extending his life.
As expected, the first few weeks were just brutal. I could not run from his house to the pond and back. It’s not a big pond. Pretty pitiful. The longest I made it on the country road was less than one-fifth of a mile running. We still ran and walked (mostly walked) a little more than 2 miles a day.
We also lifted weights. Then we started playing basketball again, which we’ve done off and on for years. Those of you who know the Webb men know how seriously we take competition. Those of you who don’t … it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not uncommon for one of us to be laying on the concrete with blood flowing. Yes, even if you’re in your mid-60s, all be damned if you’re getting a wide-open layup on my watch.
I know what you’re thinking: You intentionally hacked a 65-year-old man? Where do you think I learned that behavior? You know, the behavior that led me to intentionally bean hitters in Little League if they got a hit on me in their first at-bat.
Basketball was a big part of the summer. So was eating better. Dad has a huge garden full of vegetables and fruits. For the first time in years, I ate a ton of each. My body started to change. That 300 became 260, then 250.
Fast-forward a year later and I weigh 215 pounds, that’s about 20 pounds shy of my recommended “optimum” weight. More importantly, I’ve never been happier. I’m with the love of my life, have a good job and am as healthy as I’ve been since college.
My dad has been a huge part of that process. Who knows where I’d be if he didn’t take me in last year and push me to improve my life. As he’s said, “I’m happy for you, son. You didn’t have much of a life before. Now you’ve got a full life.”