I remember the first time I met Howard. It was Labor Day weekend 1998. At the time, I had been dating his daughter for about two months. Since I already had a sneaking suspicion that I would one day marry this gal, I figured I ought to meet her parents.
While I was advised that Jennifer’s Mother was a gregarious sort, her Dad couldn’t have been more opposite. He was a very calm, non-expressive person. But on those rare occasions when he showed any kind of emotion, you knew it was serious business. My favorite story has to be when Jennifer was dating some other guy about six months before she and I met. I guess this guy was pretty fond of himself (translation: ARROGANT), which doesn’t mix well with a family of down-to-earth, humble folks. Anyhow, Howard did not like this guy much and certainly didn’t want him marrying his daughter. Of course he always kept the best peace. But one day after playing this guy in a round of darts Howard uncharacteristically gloated about the fact he won that particular match. He then went on to add “I’ll whip his a** in golf, too!” Needless to say, that kind of direct statement from Howard shocked the family. So whenever Jen & I would talk about her Dad I would always say I must OK in his eyes...... as long as he doesn’t want to kick my butt in a golf match.
While I’m sure Howard had a myriad of stories to tell about his military service in the Korean War, he wasn’t interested in reliving that part of his life. Instead, he’d prefer to talk about the street ball games he and his brother played in the New York neighborhood where they’d grown up. An avid golfer, Howard also loved to reminisce about some of the finer tee shots he had made. Yes, despite growing up in an upper class family, Howard enjoyed the simpler things in life.
If there was ever a time Howard would open up, it would be in a one-on-one conversation. For three weeks leading up to our wedding, Jennifer stayed at her parents home. Being a school teacher, she had the Summer off which meant she could get up in the morning and work on various wedding plans. But every morning started with Howard and Jennifer having breakfast together. Jen cherished this time with her Dad because he was willing to have those heartfelt conversations he wouldn’t otherwise engage in amongst a group setting. And for the first time, Howard opened up about the pending marriage by blurting out “I don’t know if I’m ready to let you go yet.” She reassured him it would be OK and that she was more than ready for marriage. He never said much about it again. Then at the wedding reception the videographer went around the room to ask people to convey a message to the bride and groom. In typical Howard fashion, he would only muster “I hope they make it.”
Since that joyful day when Howard gave away his youngest daughter’s hand in marriage, he has had to endure one ailment after another.
In September 2000, he suffered a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia, skin cancer of the nose and prostate cancer.
The leukemia seems to be under control.
The skin cancer was removed and he even got a new nose out the deal, thanks to some cosmetic repair.
And it appeared the prostate cancer was in remission for a time.
Unfortunately, we received the news this week that not only has his prostate cancer been re-aggravated, now his entire bladder is riddled with the disease.
No matter how stoic a person Howard is, he has let his guard down these past few months.
He has told my mother-in law that if it weren’t for her, he might not be living.
He has expressed overwhelming and sincere gratitude to Jen & I for working in their yard these past several Saturdays.
And he has pleaded for both his daughters and their families to come for a weekend visit at least once per month.
So on the morning of Friday, November 2nd my thoughts and prayers will be drifting towards a St Paul hospital. A five-hour surgery awaits Howard. The procedure entails removing the prostate and bladder and essentially making new ones out of a section of his colon. Given the fact he’s 77-years old with a bad heart, blood that has trouble clotting and a poor immune system, we are all hanging on by the proverbial thread.
We just pray that Howard feels no more excruciating pain, regardless of the outcome.