Today is the last day of Movember, and I’m overjoyed to tell you that, right now, I have no idea how much our team of dad bloggers has raised. Last I checked, we had just reached $17,000, but every time I refresh the page someone new has opened up a wallet to give as little as $1 to help promote men’s health and cure men’s cancers.
You may also have heard that our team is lucky enough to partner with Philips Norelco, which is piling another $15,000 onto the heap. Tomorrow we’ll be using their grooming supplies to shave off the most philanthropically lucrative facial hair I’ve ever been associated with, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Over the course of negotiating our Norelco arrangement, I got to talk with Michael Stern, who is a Senior Vice President at Zocalo Group in Chicago. In the course of our discussions, he happened to mention that he became a father just one month after his stepfather died of prostate cancer. I asked him if wanted to take a stab at writing about it, and the result is below. I think we can make a dad blogger of him yet.
Winning and Losing in the Cancer Casino
There’s a movie quote I just can’t get out of my mind right now, probably because the film is on heavy cable repeat, and it’s the remake of a classic:
‘Cause the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, and then you take the house.
If this quote from the 2007 Ocean’s Eleven remake sounds familiar, then you know what happens next: Danny and the guys pull off one of the greatest capers in bank theft history.
They bet big, and they take the house.
Now, imagine what would have happened at the end of the movie if Danny and his team failed. All that planning, all that witty banter, all that hope spoiled in an instant due to one little misstep. Just like that, the house wins. The movie ends. And the viewer is left saying, “I don’t get it? What just happened?”
That is what it felt like on March 5, 2011, when my stepfather Jerry lost his battle with prostate cancer.
He had just bet big after my wife and I changed the stakes with exciting news that we were about to have our first child. This was the perfect hand–the chance to take the house. Seven months earlier, Jerry and my mom were seriously considering ending his treatment and calling it quits. It would have been a good run. Then they found out that they were going to become grandparents. Joy was quickly followed by an elephant in the room saying something to the effect of, “Great! Too bad you may not live to see it.” It was time to bet big: Survive long enough to meet his grandchild.
He almost made it.
Instead, the house took him. One month before our daughter Jillian arrived, Jerry died surrounded by family. His children held his hands. His younger brother stood watch at the foot of the hospital bed. His wife, my mom, telling him it was OK to go. We saw him shed a tear, take a final breath and leave us. It was the first time I had ever seen someone die.
Fast forward to April 5: I’m in a delivery room at the hospital. A nurse asks me if I want to see my baby as she enters the world. It was the first time I had ever seen someone being born. I was now a Dad.
Amid mourning and celebrating, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “What just happened?” In other words, I wanted to know “Why?” That question was quickly followed by fear. Would I be around for Jilly? Would my family be OK? Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening? Or, does the house always win no matter what hand you play?
I began to challenge that theory. I hedged my bets by increasing my life insurance policy and organizing my affairs. I seized every moment with Jilly, and treated it like it was my last. I stopped caring about anything that wasn’t about providing, parenting, and preparing for the inevitable. At one point, I even called my company’s benefits provider before stepping on a plane to make sure that, if the plane went down, there was a game plan in place. And when this didn’t make me feel better, I drank. A lot.
Needless to say, I wasn’t enjoying one of the happiest times of my life. And, after a few months, I realized that I was going about this all wrong. They say, “we plan, God laughs.” I don’t know if God was laughing, but I do know I was missing out on the life right in front of me. The house may have taken Jerry. But, while he was losing, I was actually building a huge run at the tables. A new thought entered my mind:
Maybe Danny Ocean was wrong.
Partly wrong anyway. The house does always win. He got that part right. Where Danny went wrong was counting on perfect hands and betting big. If prostate cancer has taught me anything, it’s to play every hand without fear, even the little ones that aren’t perfect. There is absolutely no way to predict what’s coming out of the shoe, but–like basic blackjack strategy–there are ways to help increase the odds slightly in your favor by living healthy, making good choices, and taking care of those who are still too young to set foot in a casino.
Eventually the house does take you, but that doesn’t mean the game can’t be fun.