Mr. Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests, Good afternoon.This past Sunday was Father’s Day. For those of you who are fathers,you may have received gifts of lazy lunches, tacky ties or corny coffeecups.My niece backed chocolate chip cookies for her dad, and a friend tookhis out for a round of golf. Some of you may have only received a phonecall from forgetful daughters and sons like me.I want to tell you a story today about a father I once knew and the gift hereceived.It was about this time some seven years ago when they left the Tri-Citieson a Tuesday, headed to California like prospectors seeking somethingmore important and more elusive than gold.Their burgundy Honda Accord was loaded with whatever was leftbehind in their apartment after movers had come by the day before.Also in the car was a father, his wife and their young son.They had been my neighbors for a year and a half, living in the upstairsapartment next to mine in Richland, one of three small communities thatmake up the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington.I didnt know them that well, but we always made sure to say hello whenwe saw each other. And we would alternate weeks on who would sweepthe porch clean of spider webs and the ever present Mid-Columbia dust.The father, upon hearing I was recovering from surgery earlier that yearhad come to my apartment one morning loaded with a selection of juicesand bottled water to aid in my recovery. He also was generous withprayers of healing.
I still regret never being able to return that generosity.He and I had talked briefly the day before they left. He told me his sonhad developed some sort of tumor on the lower left side of his face.Several doctors had seen the boy, but they hadnt returned with adiagnosis – at least one Dad could understand.No, he said to me, they didnt even know whether it was cancerous.What made it difficult, he said, was that their son was autistic. Hecouldnt describe the pain to his parents. He didnt talk.Desperate, the father and mother had decided to go to California wherethey could be near family and friends as they sought medical care fortheir son.I think my unplanned arrival home for lunch that afternoon was a much-needed opportunity for Dad to have a person with whom he could sharewhat was going on. He had been standing on the porch, staring intospace, and apparently waiting for me.Perhaps I was just at the right place at the right time, or maybe there wassomething else, call it karma or God’s will.Whatever it was, he seized the opportunity. He talked and I listened. Hetalked about children. And he tried to explain to me a parents love.He said he was in awe of how much love his parents must had for him ifit was only a fraction of the love he felt for his son.He talked about the anguish and frustration he felt in not being able tohelp heal his son. And he talked about the pure joy he felt those fewwonderful times when his son appeared to be pain free, laughing andsmiling.
I dont have children. But his reflections prompted me to call familymembers, including my dad, letting them all know that I loved them andhow I appreciated their love for me.My neighbor told me he was taking three months of leave from hisHanford-area job as a research scientist, a dream he’d had since being aboy back in his native Tunisia. It was a dream nurtured by his father.He told me he hoped to return, but I never saw him or his family again.We cant see the future. Not now and not that Monday afternoon,standing on a porch under the hot Richland sun so many years ago.But we can bet there may be a neighbor out there who needs someone totalk with, just as there may be a neighbor out there willing to listen; andthat may be just what defines a community.And we can remember this small family of a mother, a father and a son,who once upon a time were my neighbors.We can see how one man was given the gift of a parent’s love the day hebecame a father, and how that was a pretty great gift, indeed.