My Dad’s birthday + ALS Awareness Month

Today is my dad’s 71st birthday.

with my dad 1975ish

When I was growing up, my dad worked long hours as an auto mechanic, and even longer hours once he opened his own shop in 1978. I was in bed most nights before he was home, and he left before I got up in the mornings. Somehow, though, he still managed to make memories with me, most of which involve the outdoors: fishing; gardening; hiking; sledding in one of our rare big Georgia snows; helping him build a fence (though I doubt I was actually much help); him teaching me to drive a tractor; riding motorcycles; watching him lay brick (because he’s a talented brick mason, too).

Hiking with Dad when I was about ten years old.
hiking with dad

With huge sunflowers in the garden (and still in his mechanic uniform).
Dad's sunflowers

Dad building a fireplace on his house (about 1992), and on my old house (2000).
dad building fireplaces

Dad on a motorcycle trip out west with his friend in 1990-something.
dad on a bike trip

Last fall, my dad was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). This month, the month of my dad’s birthday, is ALS Awareness Month. If there isn’t enough awareness, there will never be a cure.

  • ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year; it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  • The life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, but this range varies hugely, and about 20% of people with ALS live five years or more. In some rare cases, ALS even stops progressing.
  • Treatment of ALS consists primarily of relieving symptoms, when possible. Only one medication is available; it is very expensive, and although it has been shown to slow symptoms, it is not a cure.

Dad is going to keep doing what he’s always done for as long as he can.
He can’t talk, he can’t swallow, and he has a bit of weakness in his hands. But this past winter, he chopped all the wood he needed to heat his house. He skinned a bear. He built a fireplace in his basement. This spring, he has a small garden, and is giving the food to friends and family since he can’t eat it. He can’t work on his own cars anymore, but he went on a short ride on his Harley today. He doesn’t go hiking as often as he used to, but he still goes when he’s feeling up to it. I know a number of perfectly healthy men half his age who can’t do what he still manages to do — but things are getting hard.

So, prayers for him, please? For peace, for the ability to find joy whenever and wherever he can. And for an eventual cure for this cruel disease.