A Man, A Boy, and Paddy Cake

I met the most wonderful guy on the bus the other day. This isn’t a prospective cute guy for myself; after all, he was with his adorable two year old son. This morning it was pretty gloomy. It was raining after a stretch of pure sunshine, and I didn’t have an umbrella. I’m waiting for the bus at about 7:30, frustrated that I had missed an earlier bus and at the fact that I had no umbrella to shield me from the rain. Suddenly this man walked up, wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts, pushing a stroller with a bouncing blonde boy sitting in it. It was impossible, even in my bad mood, to ignore the smiling boy. What drew me in even more was the adoring look on his face, and the infectious smile that the boy had. The dad was playing a video on his iPhone, and the familiar strains of “patty cake” began to play over and over. As the song began to play, the dad began to sing along, with his son attempting to catch up with him. On a gloomy day, this was a shot of sunshine in my life. I began talking to this dad, asking him about where he was taking his son at such an hour. His son had more energy than any person on the bus at that time, and despite the dad’s energetic and happy demeanor, there was a look of tiredness in his eyes. Giving his phone to his son, the dad turned to me and said that he was dropping his son off at daycare before he went to Surrey Memorial Hospital. After asking if he was a doctor, he laughed and shook his head no. He began to tell me about how he was a single father, taking care of this boy. In an ultrasound before the birth of his son, the doctors warned them that the boy may be born with serious birth defects, and were given the opportunity to abort. That was the make or break of our relationship, he told me. I wanted to keep him, but my fiancee wanted to abort.  Shortly after the baby was born,  healthy and normal, she still broke up with him, leaving him to raise this baby boy on his own. 6 months later, he said, he was diagnosed with cancer. He had his ups and down with the treatment, and despite his remission after his son’s first birthday, his cancer returned and spread violently. At the moment, he was going to Surrey Memorial for a chemotherapy treatment. I didn’t want to pry and ask what his current situation was, but noting the look in my eyes, he quietly told me that he had Stage 4 terminal cancer. He had been given one and a half to two years to live. Despite all this, he would take his son every day to day care before he went for treatment or running household errands. He would get up every morning at 5, warm his son’s bottle and food, pack his son’s bag (with his son’s favorite yellow sweater inside), wake his son up at 6 and got him ready to catch the bus at 7:16 AM. And on the bus every day, they would watch the same video and play paddy cake. He did that every single day. In my silence, I reflected on my shock. All I could think of was his son – barely two year old – and what could happen to him. I thought about the dad himself, how difficult this must be for him to raise his son and potentially not be there for his son anymore. In those moments, words don’t even begin to cover the feelings or sentiments that can convey your sympathy. His quiet words, after a beat, said it all: “Am I angry? Yeah. I won’t be able to coach my son on the sidelines, teach him the alphabet, help him drive and get him a girlfriend. But that doesn’t mean that my whole life stops because I’m angry… he needs me. And all I can do for him is give him all of me before I don’t exist.” After he said this, his stop had arrived. Slowly getting up, he pushed his son’s stroller towards the door, telling him to say goodbye to me. As they got off the bus, an overwhelming feeling of sadness came over me. Life, as I have seen, is so unpredictable. Even the most mundane tasks and routine can be taken for granted. I began to realize how discontent I have become with my 6 AM radio wake up calls, 10 minutes spent in front of an open closet and the same breakfast foods. I have become resentful of the same dinners, the same pathways to the bus and the usual ways I waste my time. This man taught me that even something so repetitive can be an experience. I could tell that he was afraid of what was to come, but at the same time, he showed no weakness. He cherished every day and every action with his son, every last one of them, no matter how small or annoying.  If this man could be so joyful and cheerful in the face of disease and turmoil, then I, a person in good health and good life, should be even more joyful. Yet, this man has shown me that life is short and unpredictable. There is no time to be resentful, upset or angry at small things. After all, the more time we spend being angry or holding grudges, the less time we have to enjoy the beauty and company of people and things around us. Enjoy your life, every last bit of it. I thank this gentleman for reminding me of an obvious and yet profound truth – thank you, thank you, thank you.

x R