Following a diagnosis of mesothelioma or any form of cancer, many people begin a life-altering battle with the disease.
Some people may find themselves so embattled they may lack the time and energy to do the things they once enjoyed. My father, Richard Barker, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the fall of 1992. A few months into his chemotherapy treatments, he couldn’t accomplish his usual home maintenance work or tend the yard.
I was 14 at the time, and the only one available to take over some of his duties. That’s when he trained me to be my own person.
Doctors diagnosed my father with mesothelioma at age 44. After his diagnosis, he knew he didn’t have long to live.
He had so much living left to do, but he learned he could accomplish the things he had left unfinished by living through me. He wanted to teach me everything fathers teach their children — and I was ready to learn.
But I was still a teenager and consumed with myself. I didn’t know that he was preparing me for life without him.
This man was teaching me how to live.
Our first lesson began early one Saturday morning in 1993.
He woke me up at the crack of dawn and instructed me to put on some old clothes because I would be doing yard work. Naturally, I dressed in my cutest shorts and my whiter-than-white Keds tennis shoes. I wouldn’t have wanted any of my friends seeing me sweaty in the yard and poorly dressed.
I even took the time to neatly braid my hair. I had an image to maintain.
By the time I graced the yard with my presence, my primping and tardiness had clearly irritated my father.
As I stepped outside, Dad said, “You know you are going to ruin those clothes, right?”
I huffed back, “No, I won’t, Dad.”
We walked over to the shed, and I rolled out the mower. He taught me how to start the mower, and yelling over the engine, told me to go ahead and start in the front yard. Not two rows into mowing did my father motion from the front porch. Annoyed, I killed the engine and marched over to see what he wanted.
He lectured me about my style of mowing. It was not up to par. He proceeded to detail exactly how he wanted his yard mowed, with that familiar checkered pattern he took so much pride in displaying.
At the end of the day, I was dirty, sweaty and hungry. He was right about my clothes, too. My cute outfit and white Keds were ruined, but Rick Barker had a good looking yard he was proud of, and so was I. For the first time, I had worked hard on the yard, and I was proud of the way it looked.
My father taught me so much more than how to tend to the yard. He taught me “If your yard doesn’t look good, you don’t look good.”
That was one of the many proverbs he taught me to live by during the course of the next few months. My father thought of the yard as an outward expression of a man’s home. He thought if his yard looked good, people would see it and know that someone took pride in mowing it.
He wanted the world to know that he took pride in everything he did. He wanted his daughter to learn to take pride in everything she did, too. His lesson wasn’t as well received in the beginning as I am sure he would have preferred, but the lesson stayed with me for the rest of my life.
At the time, I thought he just wanted the grass mowed. I just wanted to get it over with because I had teenage business that needed attention. I didn’t realize at the time that I would one day treasure the memory of a hard-learned lesson from the Yard Master himself.
In retrospect, I know he was teaching me so much more.
He was teaching me how to take care of my mother in his absence, and he was teaching me how to live my life. My father wanted to prepare me for life without him. It is inevitable that one day we will all face death.
As parents, it is our job to prepare our children to survive without us.
My father was aware of his mortality while he instructed me in landscaping. He was also aware of the crash course on life he gave me that day.
What he may not have been aware of is the profound impact he would have on me some 22 years later. I am my father’s daughter, and you can tell that before you ever make it up my front stairs.
Melanie Ball lives in Kentucky. Her father, Richard Lloyd Barker, died of mesothelioma in 1993. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix.