Lessons from my Father


My old man taught me not to   feel sorry for myself. The question, Why me? was off limits under his roof.  I made the mistake of uttering those very words in his presence just once. I was thirty and discovered a hernia in need of repair. I became a victim, and said so. My father quickly labeled me, well, a professional asshole. I did not make that mistake again.
The man had an unspoken mission as a role model. He did not complain. Ever.  After he had to leave his job as Chairman of Anesthesia at one hospital because of his MS, he took new boards and went back to the OR as a pediatric anesthesiologist at another.  I know he was not fabricating the brave face. That was who he was.

The man was resourceful. He just quietly kept moving forward.  That is all you can do with a debilitating disease and an unforgiving public.  Life is about being and doing, though too many believe the chronically ill no longer can do.  So we must prove ourselves again and again, if, in fact, we are given the opportunity.  Too often we doubt ourselves.

I have picked up the pieces and reinvented myself as physical deterioration redefined what I could do. Friends have noted how many times I have been reincarnated.  The television producer became a consultant,  the freelance writer turned into an author, advocate, and web columnist.   My trek has not been linear, though my parachute continues to open.

A person must keep going. On the off chance that this is the one shot at life, opting out and bowing to illness simply are not options. I have a good life. I have been lucky.  I feel sorry for those who choose to be victims when battling a chronic condition.  I like to quote the poet, Emily Dickinson, who wrote, “to live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else.”  The time to live is now.
I always referred to my dad as the old man.  I asked his permission when I wrote Blindsided, my memoir. “I would expect nothing less,” he answered like a straight man.  He slowly deteriorated and died at ninety.  “What do I have to be angry at?” he would ask from his wheelchair.  The calm never cracked.

My old man lived to know his eight grandchildren. Then he left. I was not there for that.  My father knew peace, and he understood I do not and probably never will.  I do have a good life.  That  concession would surprise him.  My old man loved medicine and his family.  The rest was window dressing to him and did not matter.  My dad refined his ability to recognize what was important.

Those who know loss because of crumbling health need to see what matters and judge what is really important.  When I lament that I no  longer can hike or climb or throw or even walk, sometimes I am able to look at my grown children and appreciate what I gave them as they grew into their success.  I was there for them.  My old man would be proud.


13 Responses to Lessons from my Father

  1. Scott S January 5, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Your dad was a great role model for you. My dad, a chronic stutterer for most his life, was, and continues to be a source of inspiration for me. As a PWSPMS, I learned from him the importance of showing up, of persistence, of not giving up regardless of the potential for shame and humiliation. He doesn’t stutter now, but that was the result of hard work. But his road had many twists, turns and potholes. Strong men need to be given the space to grieve, as do all who face life’s challenges. As we climb our mountains, descend stairs to find a bathroom, etc. we need to give ourselves room to cry, laugh, get angry and then keep moving.

    • Richard M. Cohen January 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm #


      Well said. Not too many get it. I believe the battles those of us with chronic illnesses and disabilities must fight are more about how we see ourselves and others treat us than with he problems themselves, We both owe our dads.


  2. Just D January 6, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    Your father seems like he was a strong role model, not just to his family but also to those lives he touched while here.
    I think it’s awesome that you have grabbed the his baton, not dropping it but instead, you are continuing to carry this journey. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately you have been given this opportunity to continue his fight….no our fight.
    You are carring the message of strength around the world through your blog.
    As a person also on this journey, I feel blessed that I’m able to run this MS race. You find a Mighty Strength within yourself, a Mighty Srong love giving to us from those who are our family and friends.
    I have a strong faith in God, and I feel Mighty Special that He chose me to run this race. During my journey I pray I am reflect His love, and strength to others. It’s hard, but I know I never have to face it alone. He proves my strength, and He never grows tired.

    • Richard M. Cohen January 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

      A good journey to you.


  3. David January 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm #


    You said that your father quietly moved forward, you do the same.

    I don’t want my MS to be who I am so I also try to just keep moving forward and never look back, it only disappoints me.

    Like you, I have been there for my children, even if not All there

    I have always loved the lines from the Enchanted Boy
    “The greatest thing you will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”

    For that alone we have both found success, now that is lucky


    • Richard January 6, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

      By far, our most important achievement. May they be spared our joueney.

      Best, R.

  4. Kate Aquilino January 7, 2014 at 9:10 am #


    Give me a break and mention my book and website. I’ve had MS since 1972 and I hardly ever complain :-)) Muddling Through MS – 40 years of doing it my way

    Except when my book is not talked up.


    p.s. I NEVER call it MY ms. ‘The’ seems to be the appropriate modifying word. I didn’t come into the world with it and I’m not taking it with me when I go.

  5. Geof January 7, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    I am convinced the recognition of a good life is one of the keys to happiness. For the past month as my 8 year old daughter and 7 year old son have both gone through med changes resulting in sleepless nights and cranky days, I have been telling them,

    “If you look for a reason to be angry or sad or disappointed, you will find it. However, if you look for some thing about which you can be happy or excited or interesting just as hard, you can usually find it too.”

    I had to smile when I heard my son tell my daughter last night that she needed to focus on all the good parts of the day instead of fussing about how unfair it is.

    As an aside, thank you so much for Blindsided. It was a great help for me when I was diagnosed. Strong at the Broken Places was a great book too. There are a few of us who used to post on the message board mentioned in the book who still exchange email updates. My family is made up of people strong at the broken places, and like the people you wrote about, the strength is most evident when they are giving.

    • Richard January 8, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      Thanks. We are everywhere. We should start a movement.


  6. Nicole January 7, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    Mr. Cohen, you mention finding peace. Of all people I would have thought you have reached it. I read Blindsided many moons ago. In it you seem to come to a resolve.
    A resolve that increasingly alludes me. It sounds like a could benefit from your dad!

    • Richard January 8, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      Peace and resolution are beyond my reach. I am not certain they are friends. Don’t lose your fighting spirit.


  7. Janette January 22, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Thank you Richard for sharing these insights. I have been on this MS journey since 1987. I have been blessed with two amazing children and two delightful grandchildren. One of the things that I have tried to maintain along the way is a positive attitude. I try to keep smiling. If I am grumpy, the people around me are too. It’s not easy, but God never promised that it would be. He did promise that He would never leave or forsake me, and He is who gets me through each moment of each day.

    Keep inspiring us Richard!

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