Chef Otto

Chef Otto

Chef, Author, Speaker, Humanitarian.
Taste the Freedom!

There Goes My Hero

It’s just shy of 17 hours from DFW to the Holy City, better known as Charleston, SC. I’ve done the roundtrip drive a half dozen times. This time was different. It was one way. My dad was living in Ladson, 20 miles due west of Charleston. In the spring of 2017, he called at my home in Texas. He simply said, “I need you.” “I need you to come here and take care of me.”  

Out of the five remaining siblings, which I was the furthest away, I got the call. I didn’t ask if he contacted other siblings, or why me? I simply said, “Give me a couple months to get my affairs in order.” Chiefly sell my home, I had no idea how long I would be staying with dad. Given his parents DNA dad was going to live well into his 90s if not 100. He was 89 at the time of that call. Other than normal aches and pains of aging dad was sharp as a scalpel. His body was deteriorating. I received my first clue when I had called him two years earlier. I had asked him to carve and personalize a Christmas ornament for a friend of mine. He said, “I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m sorry my boy.” I didn’t pursue the conversation any further, except in my mind. Why couldn’t he carve anymore? He loved to carve, and he was damn good at it too. He would carve miniature clodhoppers not much bigger than a thumb. The detail was astounding. Hollowing out the boot, he would carve the tongue away from the body, curling downward at the tip into a semi-circle. It truly resembled a well-worn piece of leather. With a micro drill bit, he created eyelets with precision placement aided by a drill press. A waxed linen thread served as the laces woven through the eyelets tied into a bow resting atop of the curled tongue. Another specialty was miniature swans. About the length of a hand these gorgeous works of art were detail rich right down to the knob, nares, and nail of this monarchal bird. 

Whenever dad completed his wooden art, as any artist he would sign the bottom, Otto’s Carving Shop, including completion date. He would give them as gifts for people that circled in my father’s orbit. The teller at the bank, a certain librarian at the local library, his barber, the pharmacist who filled his prescriptions. Sometimes people would say, “I’d love to see your shop.” As if there was some elaborate woodworking studio. Dad would snicker, saying “I don’t have a shop.” Dad had a garage with every tool imaginable. Yet at times he would sit at the kitchen table and carve for the sheer enjoyment of creating something to give away. To spread joy to an unsuspecting person. It emphasized his sense of giving and a living example of something he would say often. Respect, it doesn’t cost a dime and you can buy the world with it.  

This was dad’s retirement gig. He never did it for money. Dad was frugal and savvy. He collected social security, plus his pension from Ford Motor Company where he worked for 30 years. Dad played the market and played it well. He certainly wasn’t Warren Buffett, but as he would say, “I did ok” He did more than ok. He bought a ton of Boeing shares in 1970 for about .50 a share. He reaped a major windfall with that stock alone. His only regret with Boeing, he wishes he would have bought more. Dad taught me three things about investing. His words, you gotta have balls, patience, and you can never have enough good ones. Boeing was one of those good ones. To put it into context today, Buying Boeing in 1970 would be like buying Amazon in May 1997 at $1.73 a share, as I write this it’s now $3,182.41 

I knocked on the door. It creaked open slowly. There he stood, perhaps 5’5, not the 5’8 giant I knew growing up. Skeletal as a supermodel. His hair artic white and polar bear thick. Those eyes remained piercing blue with a twinkle that touched your soul, and that smile. Oh, that smile, its warmth from ear to ear would melt an ice cap. About 18 months had passed since the previous time I saw my father. When he answered the door I just knew, my gut rattled. Dad had reached the apex of his golden years. This truly was a biblical reunion. The prodigal son returned home. 

His left hand clutched a metal rubber tipped cane. He extended his right hand to shake mine. I gently countered his right with a quick left and a wrap around right delivering a knockout hug to my champion, my hero, the man I was named after. “I’m glad to see you my boy.” The happiness was equally exuberant. As a small fry learning to ride a bike my dad was right there with the revolution of every peddle. Father time had now reversed roles. Once a man twice a boy. My hero took care of me for 18 plus years. I left home at 18 to join the Navy, but dad never stopped being my dad.  

As a boy growing up, he was there to cheer me on. To encourage me when I was in traction for an entire year, then while I wore a brace for 3 years. During my days of Little League playing for the Brownhelm Phillies. Always there, win or lose, he always said. “Do your best. Give it 110 percent.” Through junior high and high school football. One time my team, the Firelands Falcons suffered a bitter defeat. Trying to console me after the game he asked. “Did you give it 110 percent?” I answered, “No.”  

“Why not?” He asked.  

I was just an average teenager, figuring every kid had a dad like mine. I replied, “No, I gave it 111 percent because if that kid I was playing against has a dad telling him the same thing  I gotta be one percent better.” 

I wanted my dad to be proud of me, I wanted to exceed his expectations. Although his expectations were simple, do your best, give it 110 percent. I wanted to own the lessons he was teaching me and please him in the process. At age 5 he taught me how to play chess. When I was a youngster, we played weekly 3-5 games an evening. Once I got into my teens, I finally began to say checkmate instead of being checkmated. It was the thrill of victory after the agony of defeat all those years. As they say, chess takes 5 minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. Once I hit my stride we would engage in some ferocious games. One year for a birthday present my mother bought dad a handsome chess table. Hand carved from Italy. It was made from zebra wood, named so as the natural striped pattern is reminiscent of a zebra. The table had elegant flowing legs with a gold pinstripe. The ornate inlaid lacquered lid lifted 90 degrees to access the interior compartments housing the black and white kings and their court. The added feature was a little metal key. When the key was wound it would propel a tiny concealed music box that played Somewhere my Love. It certainly brought an enchanting ambience to the game before the clash of father and son in epic chess battles.   

Looking back on my childhood no one had a dad like my mine. He was a humorous son of a gun and quirky as they come. On August 14, 1945, the day WWII ended he sailed from Mobile Bay, AL as a Merchant Marine on a world cruise onboard the SS Eleazar Lord. By the time he was 20 he saw over 60 countries. Saving his money, he left the Merchant Marines and bought his own tractor trailer. He was a self-employed trucker hauling whatever to wherever whenever. He owned an 18-wheeler and a two-wheeler. Dad was a biker, rode a 47 Harley Flathead, had it dressed up complete with fringed saddle bags. He also worked as a fireman on the railroad all the live long day. That was up until Uncle Sam sent him a letter in the Summer of 1950 requesting his presence to join the Army, whereupon he was sent to the front lines of the Korean War.  He was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge, Distinguished Unit Citation, Korean Service Medal with 2 Bronze Stars, UN Service Medal, and an Overseas Bar. 

Honorably discharged he returned to Ohio and began work at American Ship, aka the shipyard. Once sailing on those enormous ocean-going vessels, he was now employed as a welder constructing the buoyant behemoths. This was in the mid-fifties, that’s when he met my mom, Rose. She was a single parent mom working three jobs, raising three young kids. Recently divorced from an abusive alcoholic husband. She was a waitress at the Hollywood Bar on Elyria Ave in Lorain. It was walking distance from dad’s house and he was there nightly. He had a keen eye on Rose. Asked her out several times and was equally shot down each time. 

Rose was a tough broad, the 12th of 13 children with parents who were off the boat from Italy. She was still recovering from the sting of an abusive husband, a failed marriage, absorbing the rejection of the Roman Catholic church all but banning her because she was divorced. Shunned shamefully like a second-class citizen. 

Then, the persistence broke through. Dad continually asked her out again and again. She said, “Get the frig outta here I got three kids.” My hero chimed in, “I’ll love them too” Well melt my heart. What do you say to that, except I do. That’s exactly what Otto and Rose did. They were married in 1955. What man in the mid-fifties would marry a woman with three kids from a previous marriage? That was unheard of. Just one more admirable trait within my hero’s long list of many. 

In 1958 Ford opened the Lorain Assembly Plant. Dad kissed the shipyard goodbye and got a job as a pipefitter and never looked back. He loved that job, for 30 years he punched the clock 7 days a week. Never complained once. He had a great job. He was one on a team of many that worked plant maintenance. His specific job was to keep that plant operational. As a pipefitter he was responsible for anything that moved through a pipe. Be it air, water, paint, oil, he was on it. A lot of the job was preventive maintenance. We had a running joke. I would ask, “Did you work today?” He would say no. “I just punched in.” Meaning there was nothing to do that day.  

Years later after retirement he called, asked me, “Did you work today?” I said, “No, I just punched in.” He replied, “No you didn’t, you don’t have a job like the old man had.” So true, there are no days in the restaurant business where you just punch in. He retired in 1988 after 30 years. He wanted to work 10 more years, but mom developed diabetes and as she took care of him all those years it became time for him to take care of her.    

To say dad was handy is an understatement. For starters, he built the house I grew up in. It took him three years to complete it while working seven days a week at Ford. But that house, the experience of watching my hero’s dream unfold and become a reality is a special memory forever beating in my heart. 

My dad could fix or make anything. If there was a reality competition DIY show hosted by Bob Villa, my dad would pound him like a nail in a two by four without a tool belt. Automotive, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, millwork, tool & die, television and radio repair. He could do it all. About the only thing my dad couldn’t make, was dinner. Sure, he whipped out the Hamilton Beach electric knife on Thanksgiving Day and cut that bird like a master chef. But when it came time to prepare a meal, he was lost, like a bird without wings. He didn’t care for cooking. 

There were several times he would call to ask me for cooking tips. On how to make things taste better. He was always apologetic too. Those conversations would start out with, “Son I’m sorry to bother you.” I gave him basic instructions, using marinades, fresh herbs, acid, to heighten flavors. When I moved in with him I discovered a boatload of cardboard stacked in piles in the spare bedroom. My father, like my mother saved everything. They were depression babies. Shipping boxes, cereal boxes, boxes from the Ensure he drank, pizza boxes. The box from his flat screen TV he purchased two years ago. Every kind of cardboard known to man. It looked like a frigging recycling center.  

I asked, “Dad, what’s up with all the cardboard?”  

“I have it for two reasons.” Great, I’m thinking I can’t wait to hear his reasoning.  

In the kitchen there are three large drawers stacked next to the stove. He instructs me to open the middle draw whereupon I find, guess what, more cardboard. But this cardboard is smaller, rectangle in shape, not like the merely flattened cardboard boxes in the spare bedroom. Perhaps a foot to foot and half long by eight inches wide. I made a joke,  

So what is this, the baby cardboard drawer?”  

“Those are my cutting boards.”  

There was one thing dad hated more than cooking, that was cleaning up. He utilized the cardboard as cutting boards so he could simply discard them after one use.  

“Open the bottom drawer.”  

Shutting the middle drawer, I’m thinking what cardboard craziness is in drawer number three. Inside, there is foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, zip lock bags, sandwich and quart size. All neatly snuggled amongst more cardboard. But this cardboard was different, and puzzling. There was a stack of it all neatly piled. The top piece was printed in big black bold letters, TEMPLATE. These pieces were similar in size to the cardboard in drawer number two but were tapered and had rounded edges. More trapezoid less rectangle, I flipped through them like a deck of cards. They were exactly all the same. From the recycling center, to cardboard cutting boards, to templates.  

“What are these for?’ I asked spreading them out like a fan.  

“I’m glad you asked my boy.” That’s a support base for the garbage bag.”  

I parroted quizzically “A support base for the garbage bag?”    

Dad continued. “When I put a new bag in the trash can the cardboard serves two purposes.” “First, it fully opens the bag and rests in place on the bottom.” “Secondly and more important, it stabilizes the bag and prevents the bag from tearing.” There you have it, Mr. Resourceful. My dad, the original MacGyver. 

I ditched those cutting boards and brought out my solid 18 x 12 Boos Block.

“That’s a helluva cutting board son.”

“Yep, and I’ve prepped some hellacious meals on this board.”

“How long you had it?”

Pausing I had to think, “Over twenty years.”

“It looks good for twenty.”

“Well just like you taught me Dad, take care of your tools and they’ll take care of you.” On the topic of cutting boards. My mother always wanted a butcher block. We had an old upright piano in the garage of our old house growing up. It was always there since I remember as a youngster. None of my siblings played it. I would bang the keys playing a mean chopsticks but discovered eating with them was more favorable to my career. 

Dad saw that piano as something else. Beneath the black veneer was solid white oak. He had the raw materials, the vision, the tools, the know-how. Dad was about to MacGyver that rag time instrument and make it the pride and joy of momma’s kitchen.  With no plans he sketched out his own design. Height, width, length, depth, throwing in all the nuanced touches. Broad 4 x 4 beams that tapered downward supporting the massive two foot by two foot and one-foot deep solid block. Beveled edges along the perimeter and inch below that a decorative beaded trim. To hide the screws he countersunk them and topped them off with dome shape wooden plugs creating the illusion of a wooden bolt. Like everything dad created, it was unique, one of kind, and a functional piece of art. I own that bodacious butcher block. Its sits in the center of my kitchen. Dad repurposed an upright piano. Fashioned it into a handsome utilitarian butcher block from a simple sketch to a finished product in less than a week, nothing short of extraordinary. That was dad, he took the ordinary, gave it his extra, his magic, his savior faire and made it extraordinaire. That was his 110%. 

I didn’t inherent the handyman gene. I can change a light bulb, plunge a plunger, and flip a tripped breaker. But build a house, convert a piano into a butcher block, carve clodhoppers, that’s not my wheelhouse. Yet all those creative skills and knowledge my father had were symbiotically passed onto me. My idea of a power tool is a Robot Coupe. While dad was drilling holes, I was larding to bring fat and flavor to lean protein. He wore a tool belt, I wear an apron, he favored ball caps, I have a toque.  He would create an appliqué on a cabinet, I transform vegetables into a mosaic terrine. He would lacquer finish a mahogany end table. I ladle sauce that sheens on Noritake china.  

I was blessed with that inventive chromosome dad received from his mother. She was an old-world artisan straight outta Budapest. Creative, crafty, and clever. Dad knew exactly what he was doing when he made that call in the Spring of 2017. He knew out of the 5 remaining sons I was the chosen one. The one he asked to care for him, the one who would be there no matter what. To tend to his needs. To get him registered at the VA, to shop, cook, clean, entertain and keep him company. To ensure he received the best possible care available. To be his loyal advocate.  To ensure he would never be put in a nursing home. My dad never turned his back on me, nor would I never turn my back on him.  

When I arrived, I went straight to work to get him to get a proper diet, grains, fruits and veggies, protein rich, and yes fat. Dad weighed 112# the first time I accompanied him to his GP. Dad never was a big guy. He didn’t have that middle age spread. Surprising as he loved his suds yet lacked the beer belly that came along with it. He may have weighed 170# tops in his prime, but I’m guessing he hovered around 155#.  I was feeding him ribeye, pork butt, salmon, shrimp, potatoes of every style but mostly mash heavily dosed with cream and butter. Breakfast was usually soft scrambled eggs, a banana, which he insisted on being chilled, a muffin that was warmed for 15 clicks (his words) in the microwave and an ice-cold strawberry Ensure. He loved chicken paprikash, peppers, onions, cabbage, pickled pigs’ feet, stuffed cabbage, goulash, mushrooms of any type, and tomatoes. All these foods signify his childhood. They sent him back home. I tried to transport him home as much as possible while flexing my culinary muscle lifting my weak father to new heights of deliciousness.  

Oh how he loved them tomatoes. He knew a good one from a bad one and hated hot house grown. His eyeballs and taste buds were thrown into sensory overload when I introduced him to heirloom tomatoes. Dad knew one variety, beefsteak. Once I introduced him to Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, Brandywine, and Chocolate Stripes, the once heralded beefsteak had now taken a back seat to those funky and fun tomatoes. Drizzled with balsamic glaze, a few quick turns of the pepper mill, a smattering of gros sel, some high grade EVOO, and chiffonade of basil. Dad was delighted and thankful for the gift of food. Nothing but the best for dad.  

No matter how good it was, he would never use descriptors such as, tasty, delicious, or mouthwatering. He would simply say, “That’s something.”  That something was good enough for me, until one day. I whipped up surf and turf, mushroom risotto with a whisper of truffle oil alongside sugar snap peas with lemon thyme. About three bites into the meal I asked, “How is it dad?”  

He replied, “That’s something.”  

“That’s something?” “You’re eating like a king.”  

No I’m not.” I was shocked, a good five seconds went by, we were locked eye to eye. I just cooked my ass off for the only person who matters. Poured every ounce of blood, sweat and technique into that dish. Then he said 6 words that knocked my apron off. “I’m eating better than a king.” I was proudly silenced by his regal compliment.   

Dad had his own lingo and expressions. Rarely swore, he used the term Mammy Scratcher, I think that may have been a substitute for Motel Foxtrot. I don’t know, never asked. It was rarer to hear him say a bad word about anybody. If he did mutter something derogatory, that person most likely deserved it. If someone was good, or great at what they did, then, they were hell. For example, Michael Jordon, he’s hell. Or Suze Orman, she’s hell. Fareed Zakaria, he’s hell. Successful people in my dad’s eyes were no different than other people. People like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Oprah, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, all had one thing in common. They made their own conditions. Something my father preached frequently, you gotta make your own conditions.  

He regularly shortened words too. He never filled a prescription; it was always a script. He loved pistachios but called them stash-yosAt times he would call when I worked at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. He would ask, “How’s things in the Hamas?” Dropping the first syllable as if it’s been the Hamas all along. They built a Walmart Neighborhood Market less than a third of mile away from his house. One day I was discussing the convenience of the store so close to home. He said, “We hit the motherlode when they put that bear there.” Translation, it was a major bonus for the neighborhood. 

Dad was full of surprises too. The sort of left field random words and activity that make you laugh and say hmmm. I recall one day as a teen when we were nailing plywood onto the frame of the new house. He just belted out B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets. It was shock factor and coolness rolled into one. Just like the song, my dad was weird and wonderful. Another shocker came same 20 years later while living in Florida when my parents came to visit. Unaware this was happening; a former girlfriend was telling my folks about when I get out of the shower and sing in front of the mirror. She further went on to tell them about a particular Prince song I was belting out in my birthday suit. Well the next day we met my parents for lunch. 

My parents greeted us on the porch of their vacation rental. Dad springs up and blurts out, “Hey Ott’s you notice anything about me?”  

Firstly, there isn’t a vain bone in my dad’s body. For him to be asking that was beyond his character. I was shocked, he caught me flat footed with his left field question. So now I’m giving him the elevator, up and down, seeking something. 

“New shoes?” I asked pointing to the faux leather light grey sneakers with Velcro straps. 

“Nope.” He replied. 

He was sporting a small enamel pin; it was a white palmetto tree and crescent moon on a blue field that is the flag of South Carolina. Pinned to the most unusual place, on the collar of his cotton pullover.  

“That pin.”  

“No.”  

Doesn’t that pin bother you on the collar?”  

“No but it bothers everybody else.” 

Laughing I continued to examine closer. “Did you get a haircut?” 

“No.” 

I began grabbing at straws. “New shirt, new pants, new glasses?” 

“No, take a good look my boy.” 

With one last crack at it, even though my sniffer didn’t detect any scent, “New cologne?” 

“No.” 

“I don’t know Dad, I give up.” 

He then delivered the verbal right hook that floored me. “Am I a Sexy Mother Fucker, or what?”  

I never heard my father say that. He took the story my girlfriend told him and ran with it. Repeating the lyrics of the Prince song. Aghast, my face beet red from and embarrassment and laughter. My father called me and my ego out and, in the process, drew out tears of hilarity. 

His hearing had been failing him. One day he asked my brother Doug, “How is Maclain doing?” (his daughter).  

Doug replied, “She’s in Spain.”  

Dad said, “She’s insane?!”  

There were a hundred of those moments, and you laugh through it because it’s funny. But what is not funny is having to repeat yourself 3, 4, 5 times. It’s a test of patience, at times I failed that test. I would question him, “Why don’t you get hearing aids?” He would reply, “I can hear just fine, I just don’t understand what you’re saying.” Only furthering the frustration of our dialog.   

I took him to the VA to see a specialist. They gave him top of the line hearing aids and they worked like a champ. If someone were to buy the same hearing aid it would set them back $6000. He refused to wear them. He put them in while we were at the Ralph Johnson Medical Center. We began to have a complete and normal conversation. Dad beamed, his face illuminated, not only hearing but understanding my words. Hallelujah I thought, a victory. But after two or three days, dad just flat out refused to wear them. His stubbornness stonewalled me. I could not make him wear them, nor would I try. I accepted it and continued to offer the best care I could. Admittingly, stymied why he refused to utilize a tool to enhance his deteriorating communication.  

My father has an identical twin, Ernie who lives in Ohio. On September 4th, 2017 they turned 90. My siblings and cousins planned a birthday bash for the Borsich Boys. These two soon to be nonagenarians were about to have their world rocked. I flew dad first class from Charleston to Cleveland. The last time my dad flew was 1992. The world of flying forever changed since 9/11. Dad was not aware of this. Having to take off our shoes and belt, he asked, “Why do we have to do this?”   

“This is standard procedure since 9/11, you can thank Bin Laden for this.”  

“I’m glad that bastard got his.” He sneered.  

At the gate the usual call for elderly and those needing assistance were first to board. “That’s us Dad.” We began to head to the ticket agent to show our boarding pass. I pulled out all the stops for this party, and it began as we were 35,000-foot-high in the friendly skies. Upon boarding I gave one of the flight attendants a short bio of my hero and asked her if the Captain would read it honoring my 90-year-old father. She simply said, “I can’t promise you, but I’ll ask the Captain.”  Once at cruising altitude the striking blonde attendant motioned me to come forward.  

She spoke, “The Captain has declined your request handing the paper back to me.”  

Instantly bummed, I simply said “Thank you”  

“But.” As a smile as wide as a 747 radiated from her pearly whites. “The Captain has given you permission to say it.”  

I went from slighted to stoked in a second. She handed me the telephone shaped microphone. “Just press here to speak.” Pointing to a green button. Taking a deep breath, I collected myself for the moment. In my best radio voice, I began to transmit to the 150 plus passengers.  

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this a passenger speaking. My name is Otto Borsich, and my father Otto Borsich Sr is on this flight. He is turning 90 tomorrow and we are flying to Ohio to join his twin brother for a surprise birthday party. Otto is the son of Hungarian immigrants. He sailed the world as a Merchant Marine, was on the front lines of the Korean War and kept America rolling while working at Ford Motor for 30 years. He raised 6 children and built his own house. My father is one of the millions of reasons that make America great. Would you please join me in singing happy birthday to my father, my hero, Otto.”   

As I led the song the happy birthday song I was eyeing all those 150 plus passengers, no longer air travelers, but newfound friends of my dad. This small, kind gesture touched the beating hearts of father and son. I returned to the seat. Dad was lit up like a Christmas tree on the 4th of July. He asked, “Do you know what I say?”  

“No.” 

“Thank you kind sir.”  

“You’re welcome dad.”  

“One more thing.”  

“What’s that?”  

“You’re hell kid.”  

“I have a great coach.”  

We truly were a mile high. Shortly after the birthday announcement was made all the flight attendants were fawning over him. One gal sat on his lap, another pinned the plastic wings on his sweatshirt as the other two huddled over him from behind. Dad was lapping it up like a kid on an ice cream cone with a smile that ran from wing to wing. My hero was turning 90 and remained a babe slayer. Dad was naturally charming. He didn’t work at it, nor do I believe he was fully aware of it. Never contrived or superfluously sweet. His good nature flowed organically. Like the nectar of a Georgia peach dribbling off your chin on a sweltering afternoon. His humor was gentle, tickling, like the fuzz of that peach. But he could bite back with the sharpness of a Granny Smith. 

I recall a woman once saying, “Mr Borsich, you always look so grumpy, why don’t you smile?”  

Dad coolly replied, “I was born this way, what’s your excuse?”  

Silence erupted as she picked up her jaw off the floor turning into an immediate about face. 

It was wheels down as the jet landed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. The next day we went to Martino’s International Café Vermilion for the party. There was about 50 family and friends gathered to honor Otto & Ernie on their birthday. The Lorain High School Marching Band performed, the same high school my dad and his brother attended 77 years earlier. Letters to the Browns, Indians, Cavaliers and Buckeyes were sent explaining the surprise birthday party and requesting a gift for the special celebration. They all obliged, be it apparel with team logo, autographed photos, or merchandise, the teams from The Land and Buckeye Nation delivered. A representative from the 9th congressional district was there to reissue all military awards to the Veteran Brothers. It was a helluva bash. It even made front page news on the Chronicle Telegram, the local newspaper.  

Seems like when dad blew out those 90 candles his mental acuity began to decrease. I remember that following summer he began seeing things. The first encounter was ants. We were eating breakfast and he started seeing ants, all over the table, there was not a one to be found. That became a point of concern. Along with increased back pain. He had a laminectomy done in 2012 to relieve pain from his sciatica. The way the surgeon described it, and given he had done over a 1000 laminectomies, this was a simple procedure and would get my father out of pain.  

Dad opted for surgery. Like other medical procedures, there are no guarantees. It certainly wasn’t the silver bullet I hoped for. It wasn’t even remotely successful. According to dad, he was in worse pain after the surgery. I spent the following years seeking proper help. Chiropractors, pain specialists, sports medicine, spinal specialists, homeopathic remedies. At home physical therapy and visiting nurses. Every damn thing but acupuncture, and I wish I would have tried that. I detested seeing my dad in pain. Seems like everything I tried was an exercise in futility. Another dead end trying to find relief for him. 

It wasn’t much longer the wicked D word made its entrance, dementia. Seeing things became an everyday occurrence. Not remembering my name. Forgetting how to do basic functions. It was sorrowful to watch. I was sick at heart watching his condition deteriorate.  He went from cane, to walker, to rollator. He took a tumble a time or two then it became more frequent. But the tough old bird would bounce right back and shake it off. His resiliency was remarkable, if not extraordinary. 

We switched from pain doctors to a neurologist and a psychologist. Father Time was closing in on dad as I was doing my damndest to keep him comfortable as possible. One thing for certain. He would never be put in a home. I would never permit that, even though some recommended it. I seethed at the suggestion. I contacted a nearby adult day care that specialized in Alzheimer’s. They would pick clients up five days a week. Five hours a day they would engage them, provide social interaction with others, feed them a hot lunch, all paid for by the VA. Unfortunately, COVID 19 reared its ugly head and services were suspended. 

The good news, I was newly married. After a momentous 2-week honeymoon, a road trip from Las Vegas to Charleston. My bride Doti (Dorothy) and I were back to take care of dad as a tag team. Doti is Filipina. They are natural born caregivers and extraordinary spouses. 

When dad met Doti for the first time I said “Dad this is your daughter in law Doti” 

Doti then asked Dad, “Can I hug you?”

“Sure” Dad replied.

Doti took to my dad like he was her own father and I am so grateful for that. Doti was honored to love on him, the father of her husband. I am grateful for the short time they had together.

On March 26 in the early morning hours I was awakened to faint screams of “Help me help me!” I darted out of bed and found dad in the corner of the kitchen entangled in the rollator like a human pretzel. I began to untie his limbs and rescue him. He was dazed, looking at me, but right through me. The doctor ran some tests and concluded he had a mini stroke. They suggested palliative care.  

What’s that?” I asked 

“It’s one step before hospice.” The nurse said. 

They sent medical evaluators over the next morning on the 27th. Lots of questions and tons of paperwork later I was relieved that dad was finally getting the proper care he needed and deserved. I was so happy with the team that would take care of my dad that I was blissfully ignorant he was on his last days. Its palliative care, not hospice, dad still has some time. At least I thought. 

Monday morning of March 30th a medical SWAT Team arrived. A doctor, nurse, caretaker, social worker, Pastor and a hospitable bed arrived. So thrilled my dad was receiving this professional care. A pharmacist delivered a morphine time released pain patch and liquid morphine. They knew, yet I didn’t. Palliative care is just another word for hospice.   

That gaze, from when I found him on the kitchen floor, it remained. He speech was slurred. But I knew he would bounce back. He’s my dad, my hero. Our heroes always bounce back. On Wednesday night April 1st. Doti and I were tending to him. He told Doti, “Why don’t you bend over here and give me a kiss” We were shocked into laughter as Doti planted one on his cheek. That smile still beamed, along with his playfulness and wit.  

Dad then said, “I’m sorry about all this.” 

“About what Dad?” 

“You having to take care of me.” 

“It’s nothing Dad, it’s my pleasure.” 

“I know but I just feel bad about it.” 

He then dozed off. Into a deep slumber. On Palm Sunday, April 5th at 7:30 PM EST dad took his last breath. He died surrounded by love and being well taken care of. He was happy I found love and great wife to take care of me and grateful for the care we gave him. Those last words he spoke on Wednesday night were indictive of my hero. He kept his sense of humor and humility intact until the very end. My dad was a saint, that’s why he was called home on Palm Sunday. He was the finest human being. I wish all 7.5 billion plus inhabitants of Earth could have met him. While absurdly impossible, perhaps this story will leave readers with the sense they did meet him. My hero will be honored with inurnment services on the sacred ground of heroes, Arlington National Cemetery. 

RIP Dad, September 4, 1927-April 5, 2020. You had a great run. The son of Hungarian immigrants. Served America twice, raised us right, did your best and smiled your way through 92 years, 7 months and a day. Well done good and faithful servant.

Taste the Freedom.     

 

               

 

  

            

   

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