June is always an interesting month. The first taste of summer arrives and for me, that usually brings a mix of relaxation and chaos. Relaxation comes in the form of knowing that for the next few weeks, focus can be placed on upcoming fun events, special occasions, backyard parties, and a good number of Houston Astros games. Chaos usually shows up with reminders of my summer teaching load, constant goals to catch up with my to-do lists, a never ending email inbox, and trying to find time to do research writing. Summers can be an interesting exercise in balancing these two feelings.
The month of June also reminds me of a missing part in my current life. Each year, individuals and families around the nation celebrate fatherhood. Dads everywhere are given this special day to receive thanks, to receive love, to get hugs, and to have time with loved ones. For the past several years here in Houston, I have made it a tradition to celebrate Father’s Day in my own special way. As you may know, I’m a runner and each year, Houston has an annual “Dad’s Day 5K” that promotes men’s health and prostate cancer awareness. For me, the 5K usually starts my summer running season. The race also is my special individual way to remember my dad, Thomas Montelongo, Sr.
When I was in the last part of my doctoral studies at Indiana University, I received a call from my older brother that I will never forget. On one hot August evening in Indiana, my brother called me to give me the news that my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer. I remember throughout that day I was preparing myself for that news since I knew my dad was visiting his doctor to get his diagnosis. However, I still had some optimism that whatever was ailing my dad, that it would be easily treatable. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the news we received and quite bluntly, my dad had months to live. Talk about this and that with treatment occurred, but reading up on the stages of cancer, I knew that the percentage of survival with this form of cancer was slim. We all in my family decided that we would make the best of our time with him.
My dad was a great man. Long story short, after his diagnosis, he still stayed the loving, stubborn, funny, wise, and peaceful man he always was before his diagnosis. I remember in one family meeting after the results of one of his treatments, he jokingly talked about coming back from the afterlife to come visit my mom and to possibly spook her. His storytelling with things like this made us laugh more than cry and worry about his quality of life. To this day, I would like to think that I inherited my dad’s sly, dry sense of humor.
Coming back to the Dad’s Day 5K, I like running this race because when I run it, I enjoy watching all the dad’s and families who are together doing this physical activity. I admire the prostate cancer survivors who run the race and are recognized. I observe the dad’s, young and old, who interact with their kids and loved ones. I see families much like my own who use the event as a way to bring different generations together to support men who might be dealing with this form of cancer. The race is my way to show solidarity with other families who have to deal with cancer at home. It’s my gift to them.
After running the 5K, I have this special tradition that I hope to continue as long as I live in Houston. I have a nice breakfast with just me and my dad. Of course, he’s with me in spirit but as soon as the food comes to me, I say a little prayer of thanks and ask my dad to always watch over me and that I always think of him. Then I usually say out loud, “let’s eat!” Dad loved his breakfasts and this is my way to celebrate his life: running and lots of food after!
The week following this year’s Dad’s Day 5K, I had to report for jury duty. Lucky me, I was selected to serve on a 12-person jury for a divorce and custody case in the family court (more on this on another blog). The case was a long one with a good amount of drama each long day. On the third day of the trial, I was at my wit’s end trying to get through all the details of the case. During the lunch break on that day, I was playing on my social media and noticed that the Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney was trending. Knowing I had a good amount of time on my hands, I decided to watch the video. If you haven’t seen this wonderful piece of social media, I advise you take a few minutes and watch ALL of it!
When I first viewed this video, I had to hold back wailing like a baby on the part where they sing “Let It Be” around the 5:30 min mark. James Corden, like all of us, got emotional just being in the presence of Sir Paul. However, what got me was the moment where James tells Paul McCartney how he wished his grandfather was with him at that moment and that he would get a kick out of it. At that moment, Sir Paul simply says, “He is.”
That moment reminded me that despite the awful week I was having, my dad was with me. It also reminded me that the 5K I ran the weekend prior to my jury duty, my dad was with me even as I felt a little jealous seeing all the other families together while I was alone. “He is.” That is all it took for Paul McCartney to remind Mr. Corden and all of us that when things are sad, when things are rough, when things are a bit helpless, our loved ones who have passed are there to get us through. They will guide us through the rough patches and most importantly, they will encourage us to put on a little smile and maybe even laugh a bit. As I continued to watch the Carpool Karaoke, the ending just brought sheer joy inside me.
The power of music, as Sir Paul says, is quite lovely. After watching the episode, I felt good and felt that my dad’s sense of optimism returned to get me through what was probably the roughest day of my jury service and to be quite honest, the current climate we all are living in at the moment. The rest of the day wasn’t quite great, but I had the video to play again and again. I think I played that part where Paul says “He is” about 10 more times. It is such a sweet moment. I reminded me that dad is here, always has been, always will be.
It was a good Father’s Day. It ended up being a good month.
ONWARD into July!