He died on January 28, 2000, when he was only 58 years old, after fighting a fierce battle with cancer. Even in those final years of his life, my dad just couldn’t stay away from the fire department and his fellow firefighters.
I remember one day, while he was going through chemotherapy, my dad heard the familiar rumble and siren of a Bakersfield fire truck responding to a call. Most people who are going through chemotherapy are advised to relax and get plenty of rest. They are probably also advised to avoid strolling around the neighborhood carrying their IV.
But when my dad heard that familiar rumble and siren of a Bakersfield fire truck in the distance, there was nothing I could do. The next thing I knew, I saw my father riding along in the truck, IV and all.
No one and nothing, not even cancer, could take the fireman out of him.
My dad’s unwavering spirit and appetite for life is one of the dozens of lessons and values he gave my sister, brother and me over the years. It’s something I try to carry with me as I navigate the halls of Congress and the world of politics and, more importantly, as my wife and I raise our own two children.
Another lesson is the value of a strong work ethic. Like many firemen, my dad had two jobs. When he wasn’t working 24-hour shifts, he moved furniture. When he did work 24-hour shifts, my mom would pile my siblings and me into the car and drive us down to the fire station to visit him. On the way home, if we were lucky, we’d stop at Bob’s Big Boy for hot fudge sundaes.
My dad loved sayings. As I’ve grown up, one of them in particular has stuck with me: “Any job big or small, do it right or not at all.”
It didn’t matter if cancer was trying to slow my dad down – if there was a job to do, he was going to do it. That day he was getting in that firetruck no matter what.
Politics has brought me to the ends of the Earth and it’s introduced me to some incredible and unique people. I’m honored to represent a district with some of the most hardworking and respectable men and women in this country.
But for all the good that Washington and those who work here have provided, it can be easy to get distracted by the noise and the faux outrage.
I sometimes fear we forget that the job we have – as elected representatives of the greatest country in the world – is a privilege. And as my dad did, we should all aim to get in our metaphorical trucks every day, and do our jobs right – big or small.
On Father’s Day, I’m reminded of that. I’m reminded of all the lessons my father instilled in me, whether he meant to or not.
My dad would have turned 77 years old just a couple of days ago. I can see him now: somehow never tired from the long shifts at the firehouse, laughing so hard he could barely finish his story. I’d ask him how he’s doing, and he’d say: “Just a little shy of wonderful.”
Happy Father’s Day Dad, and Happy Father’s Day to all the brave men and women at the Bakersfield Fire Department.