“Life is really short. We need to make the most of it. Enjoy every moment, treasure our family, and show them we love them as much as we can.”
These were the thoughts running through my mind as I sat in the hospital waiting room in Istanbul. My dad was in surgery, and I found myself reflecting on his love and strength – and on family – as I waited to hear whether he had made it through.
It occurred to me that this idea of family and love being everything was at the core of how my dad lived his life. He had taught me many lessons over the years, and here he was teaching me one more, even as he was stretched out on an operating table while surgeons removed a tumor from his brain. In the short time we have in life, love and family are all that matter.
I silently urged him to come through the operation. “I have so much more to learn, so many more mistakes to make,” I told him. “I’m ready for it; I’m waiting for you to come out of your surgery so we can grow more together.”
Even at 72, Edip Ilgaz – my dad – is a handsome man. I always thought he could have been a movie star with his tall, dark looks and radiant smile. His face may have more lines now, but he is still good-looking, still a charismatic presence in our lives.
Fortunately for our family and for many others, my dad did not become a movie star. He became a doctor and saved countless lives during his years of practice.
He was a good doctor and a better man. He never put profit ahead of his patients’ well-being. If they couldn’t pay for treatment, he treated them anyway and told them to pay when they could with whatever they had. Most of them were poor farmers and offered vegetables and fruit instead of cash. He accepted graciously, and our home was often filled with such gifts. He was caring and loving toward his patients, and they loved him in return.
I’ll never forget the day my dad showed me the stacks of letters patients had sent him over the years. They were postmarked from all over Turkey – but also other parts of the world, including Russia, England, and Germany. One German man wrote my dad, thanking him for saving his child’s life. I was impressed and amazed by seeing how many lives he’d touched, and I loved him even more because of it. His devotion to our family and patients, along with his unconditional love and support, taught me one of the most important lessons he ever imparted: This is the meaning of real, genuine love.
My dad began teaching me life lessons when I was a child, instructing me on how to wrap wounds and treat fevers. He has continued to be my greatest teacher well into my adult life, always leading by example and showing me how to be a good person. His entrepreneurial spirit, starting everything from chicken farms to restaurants, instilled in me the drive to pursue my own dreams and to enable others to do the same.
My dad’s influence is the thread that runs through all my work, all my ambitions. It’s because of him that I have been able to build the beautiful life I have.
Conquering Pain With Love
The world fell out from under me the Wednesday my sister called to tell me our dad had been diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor. I was in San Diego, a world away from Turkey, where my parents lived. Tears ran down my face as my sister explained the situation. I made plans to leave for Istanbul that Saturday; my dad would undergo surgery that Monday. Questions ate away at me as I prepared for the journey: Could the doctors remove parts of the tumor? Would my dad survive the surgery? If he did, would he even recognize me when he woke up?
The surgery lasted seven hours, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe until it was over.
Sitting in that waiting room, I thought only of my dad and the lessons he’d taught me, the lessons he still had left to teach. The values my dad lived shaped me into who I am and into the kind of parent I want to be. I have two beautiful sons with the man of my dreams, and I want to raise our boys with the same strong ethics my dad gave me. As a business owner, I strive to do the same for my team. I help them grow through support, not judgment, and encourage them to reach great heights in their personal and professional lives.
In those seven hours my dad was in surgery, it became clearer to me that life is short; we must cherish those we love and appreciate every moment we have.
When I first learned of my dad’s diagnosis, I decided I would confront this cancer that occupied my dad’s beautiful brain with love and gratitude. Whatever happened, I would celebrate the 41 years I had with him and focus my energy on the good, on recovery, on love. I held onto that promise throughout the surgery and vowed to keep it, no matter the outcome.
After a grueling wait, the surgeon finally emerged, thankfully with good news. He had removed the entire tumor, and my dad had come through the surgery successfully. The next day, an MRI showed that the cancer was gone, and my dad was even able to get up and walk.
I believed in miracles, medicine, and love all over again. We knew there might be a long road ahead and that the cancer might come back. But we also knew that we would fight it as a family. My dad’s will to live is strong. Seeing him come through the surgery taught me to never give up and always keep fighting.
That’s my dad. Always teaching me a lesson about something.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your parents? How do those lessons still impact your life today?