Arizona Republic
June 16, 2007

(Phoenix, AZ) Author: Robert Leger, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3

My father fell off a truck last year, banging his head against asphalt and landing in intensive care.

My mother was furious at him. Why couldn't he act his age, instead of doing things more appropriate to someone 20 years younger?

And then she -- with all of the family -- worried. An MRI showed bruising in his brain. Doctors warned the bruise could grow. Dad was in a haze. He didn't know the year. He knew my mother was his wife, but couldn't come up with her name. He slipped into speaking Spanish, the language of his childhood.

On his second day at the Mayo Clinic Hospital, the doctor pulled my mother and me aside. The bruise had stabilized, which was a good thing, he said. As for the future? The brain is a mysterious organ. Some people recover completely from such an injury, the doctor said. The tone in his voice emphasized the unspoken "but."

The next day Dad went home. Physical side effects made him miserable the first few days. But far worse was his difficulty with speech. He could visualize an object but couldn't find the word. Every conversation became a game of charades. He became frustrated when we couldn't understand what he was trying to say. His temper grew shorter and shorter.

The future looked anything but bright. On top of this, my parents' 50th anniversary was two months away. We had a big party planned. Would he be well enough for it, or would everyone have a horrible time? Should we cancel?

But my father, he's tough. He started physical, vocational and speech rehab at Scottsdale Healthcare, expecting a long-term process. But one by one, the therapists dismissed him. Speech took the longest -- five or six weeks -- and the therapist sighed when she said there was no reason to continue. No one should have recovered from such a head injury in so short a time.

That's my father. The youngest of 14, he's never shrunk from a challenge.
This was bigger than becoming an Air Force pilot or buying out his employer's business or teaching my sister to parallel park, but he faced it with the same attitude that nothing but success was possible.

The anniversary party was joyous. My father, wearing a tuxedo, danced with young women, shared stories with his brothers and sisters, enjoyed every toast. It was a celebration of more than an anniversary.

It's a celebration I cherish every day. I nearly lost my father through a stupid accident. He's back. He still stumbles over a word now and then, but he hides it well. He continues to work as a salesman, using words and his personality to close a deal. We golf. He comes to my sons' football and basketball games. Far more mechanical than I, he helps me solve mysteries like the irrigation system.

And sometimes, we just sit on the patio, enjoying the evening air, talking about nothing much over a beer. These are the best times, because after last year, every day is Father's Day.

Contact Robert Leger at Robert.leger@scottsdalerepublic.com or (602) 444-6805.

CAPTION: Scottsdale Republic Opinions Editor Robert Leger toasts his father, Dick, and his mother, Mary Lu, at the couple's 50th wedding anniversary party this year.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Scottsdale Republic North
Page: 29