This column first appeared in The Richmond Register on May, 28, 2020.
I wrote it as a special message to my father, Jim, who had been battling cancer for more than a decade.
He passed away on Oct. 20, 2021.
I’m so glad that he was able to read these words before he left this world.
Father’s Day is Sunday.
So, I thought it was an appropriate moment to share these words again — not just as a tribute to my dad, but as a reminder to everyone to tell those you love just how you feel about them before they are gone ...
I’ve always considered it one of the most powerfully important lines from one of the greatest pieces of American literature.
It’s been many years since I first read it.
I’ve been turning it over in my head ever since.
Shortly after Nick Carraway was befriended by the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, they travel from West Egg into the city where they met another mysterious character -- Meyer Wolfsheim.
“He’s a gambler,” Gatsby tells Carraway of Wolfshiem. “He’s the man who fixed the World Series.”
Wolfshein, whose cufflinks are made of human molars, speaks of a former associate, now deceased. When Carraway expresses his sympathies, the gambler quickly rebuts him with a remarkably cold, callous remark.
“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive, not after he is dead,” Wolfsheim says. “After that, my own rule is to leave everything alone.”
In a book filled with meaningful metaphors, that line from “The Great Gatsby” speaks volumes about America in the Roaring 20s.
After Gatsby’s death, Wolfsheim says the same thing, much to the stunned shock of Carraway.
It’s an incredible indictment of a decadent time.
To me, there’s another, even more profound meaning, in those words, though.
Even if it’s not exactly the sentiment that Wolfsheim was trying to convey.
To me, it’s always meant that we must learn to show our appreciation and love for those who mean the most to us before they are gone.
After that, it’s too late.
Wolfsheim didn’t mourn Gatsby’s death. He didn’t care enough about the tragic figure who sought out the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock to even attend his funeral.
That line has been with me for years.
And it has recently taken on a new resonance.
My father, Jim, has been battling cancer for more than a decade.
It’s stripped him of his physical strength. It’s led to a long list of surgeries, procedures, medication, treatments and hospitalizations.
Other physical issues have made a huge impact on his life as well.
It’s been horrible.
Remarkably, he’s never lost hope -- not even for a minute. His spirit is amazingly unflappable.
He is determined to continue to live his life the best he can through all that has been thrown at him.
One of my high school friends, who has worked in health care, had the perfect description of my father I’ve ever heard.
“He has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever met,” he said.
My dad’s courage and determination is inspiring. I can’t even begin to put into words just how much I admire him.
He lives in Virginia with my mom and sister. They have been there to take care of him through all this with the patience of angels.
I can’t be there as much as I should.
And every time my phone rings and I see my mother’s number, I worry if something bad has happened.
I’ve gotten a few of those calls and texts in recent weeks.
The news isn’t usual good.
More issues. More time spent in hospitals. More problems. More new concerns.
It’s just not good.
I don’t know what will happen.
I do know that my father is one of the best people I’ve ever known. He is kind, brave, loving and has all the other best qualities you could ever hope for in a person.
He’s a fighter.
And I just want to make sure that he knows that’s how I feel about him, before it’s too late.
Wolfsheim’s harsh words hold a hidden truth.
Don’t wait too long.
You might not get the chance.
Dad, I love you.