If your family has been well and missed my absences from the office this winter and spring, I am glad. If you needed to be seen—sick or well—and I wasn’t available or you had to wait, my apologies. My father has been on dialysis for the last two years and he was hospitalized with an infection in March, had surgery, and then had a stroke. My siblings and I have been back and forth to the east coast, and I was with him when he died May 31.
One of my dad’s favorite movies was The Blues Brothers. Jake and his brother Elwood put together their old band to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised.
“We’re on a mission from God,” says Elwood.
My dad was on a mission. As a dentist, he preached the gospel of dental prevention: stay away from sweets. Brush, floss and see your dentist twice yearly for an exam and cleaning. The teeth he saved are as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands on Vero Beach where he retired all too briefly.
And on his dental mission, dad answered the call. These came at all hours for lost fillings, chipped teeth, broken crowns, and abscesses. Dad took care of his patients recommending oil of cloves to ease the pain of a toothache, calling in a prescription for an infected tooth or making the 60 minute round trip into the office. If there was 18 inches of snow on the ground, it didn’t matter. We shoveled because dad had to get to the office. He had people to take care of, and in winter he’d save a Hail Mary for the drive down an ice-slicked Mt. Eyre Road.
Inspired by the family dentist working on his mother’s dentures, dad enrolled at Temple Dental School in Philadelphia where he met my mother, Rita. His other lifetime mission began when I came along. He was a father, and being a father meant trading in your 1957 Thunderbird for a Chevelle. My brother and sister followed. After completing his Army service at Fort Polk, Louisiana in 1969, dad opened his dental office in the Indian Creek section of Levittown, Pennsylvania. He would retire 42 years later in 2011.
As a father, dad showed us the way: I can’t tell you how many glasses of milk we drank because it was good for our teeth and bones—and it was the only way we could have a Cramer’s donut after church on Sunday. He put us through college, calling at regular intervals about the status of our grades and whether we’d checked the oil in the car.
No fancy cosmetic dentist, dad treated people who often weighed saving a tooth versus having it extracted because they lacked insurance or cash. He made things work for others in ways that often precluded taking care of himself. These choices caught up with him bit by bit, and a lot faster when he developed kidney failure as a complication of diabetes.
The last few months dad kept telling us, “What are you doing? I gotta go.” He still had to get to the office. There were teeth to save.
Just like Jake and Elwood Blues fulfilled their mission and saved the orphanage for Sister Mary Stigmata, dad fulfilled his.
After all dad’s hard work, I hope he’s tooling around in a sweet ride like Jake Blues and his brother Elwood tore through the shopping mall in the movie’s epic chase scene exclaiming, “This place has everything!”
I am sorry for your loss. It is apparent that he was a special man, as his daughter shares many of the same traits when caring for her patients. Thank you for sharing.
so sorry for you loss Dr Asta