This month my Dad will turn 94. Up until 3 years ago, he was walking a mile and doing 200 sit-ups every day. Not at the same time, of course.

I, on the other hand, 30 years younger than Dad, do 1 sit-up a day and that’s when I sit up in bed in the morning. Dad was an iron man; strong, capable, a farm boy from way back. Nowadays, his strength shows in a different way.

In November 2016, Dad suffered a stroke, which affected his right side. After weeks of hospitalization and rehab, we moved him to Greenwood House in Ewing. There was no way he could live independently after the stroke. The stroke affected his strength on the right side and his speech a bit.

But even in rehab, Dad was an iron man. He insisted on walking with a walker longer than the therapist wanted him to walk. He insisted on feeding himself, with his right hand, even though he really didn’t have the control or strength in that arm. Oh, did I forget to mention that he is stubborn?

To us growing up, my Dad knew how to do anything. He taught us how to fish. He taught us how to ride our bikes, drive our cars, swim, name all the birds in our backyard, body-surf in the ocean, change a car tire, and love music. If we needed a part for our bikes, he had it in his shed. If the lawnmower stopped working, he fixed it. Wall paneling, painting, carpentry, flooring, Dad did it all. 

My dad was always a quiet man. I’m still not sure if he was naturally quiet or he just let my fireball mother do all the moving around and talking and yelling. He has a wicked sense of humor and a gentle way about him, and his grandchildren adore him.

Dad’s past reads like a novel. Born in New Brunswick, he and his mother, father and brother moved out to the Dutch Neck area when he was young. That’s before it was all built up, of course. He learned how to hunt, fish, trap and take care of animals. He got his first rifle when he was 12. From the time he was 14, he worked on neighboring farms for a few bucks. 

In 1943, when World War II was raging on fronts in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, Dad enlisted in the Marines. He was 17—my grandmother had to sign his papers because he was underage. He was trained on Parris Island in South Carolina and shipped out to the Pacific.

My dad was at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, Zamboanga, Mindanao, and the Leyte Gulf, to name a few. He rarely spoke about his time there, only to tell us stories about the monkey named Mabel that he had on one of the islands (she sat on his shoulder all the time and frequently urinated down his neck). As I got older, he spoke more and more freely about his experiences, and my admiration and hero worship of him only multiplied. 

The strength that he has exhibited throughout his life still exists inside of him. A lesser man would have given up by now or succumbed to the many illnesses that have befallen him since his stroke. To see what Dad has been through over the past 3 years and to see him still playing bingo, joking with his friend Jeff, and giving his CNA Sandra a hard time astonishes me.

How he could go through what he’s been through and still manage to get through his day with grace and humor is truly inspiring and amazing. To say I’m proud to call him Dad is like saying that chocolate is an okay treat.

Some days, it’s hard to see Dad. Confined to a wheelchair, thin, frail, he is the exact opposite of what he once was. But the farm boy inside him still exists. And the Daddy I am lucky enough to have is there, heart of gold still beating and a smile when he sees me. I may miss who my dad was before the stroke, but I love who he is today.