He was just a kid when his father sat him down at the kitchen table. What do you want to be when you grow up son, he asked.
I want to be a doctor just like you dad, he said.
His father was a well-liked family physician in their town.
Grew up playing sports with the neighborhood kids. Spent summers at the local pool. Goofing around and riding their bikes to the local ice cream shop.
He grew up liking the Cowboys because his father was a big fan of Roger Staubach. And he loved his dad so he was a big Cowboys ;
Got a paper route when he turned thirteen. Stocked the shelves at the local grocery and saved up and bought himself a weight set when he turned fifteen. Pumped iron in their musty middle class basement. Devoured his mothers homemade cooking, got big and strong. Until she had to start making more food. Pasta Sundays were his favorite.
He grew up to be big and strong; shoulders like hubcaps, abs like a flattened turtle shell. Dark hair thick and curly like movie stars. In high school, he played linebacker and running back – he was a star of the team. Got drunk for the first time on his old man’s Schlitz. He kissed the cute cheerleader. Took her to the Springsteen concert. Asked her to the prom. Picked her up in his dad’s pickup. Lost his virginity that night in his friends house drunk on 3-2 beer.
Went to college. Decided he wanted to be a doctor like his dad, his idol. Enrolled in the state school, premed classes. Had work ethic like men of a past generation in steel factories. His father taught him these blue collar values. He earned straight As that semester and landed on the Dean’s List. His dad proudly brandished this letter on the refrigerator. Throughout his college years he continued to maintain an exceptional GPA while exploring the social scene. He made friends. They’d tailgate for the university football games. Moved into a campus house. Hosted parties with kegs. On off nights he delivered pizzas for beer money. Picked up a position in a research lab studying cholesterol in mice. Made the type of memories he could share with his kids one day — when they were old enough to hear them.
Took his mcat and scored very highly. Got accepted into 3 medical schools. Chose to attend the school where his father earned his MD many years before.
I’m proud of you son, his father said.
These words were the pinnacle of his life. Beyond making captain of the football team and bedding his crush and all of that – this was everything. He spent long hours in lecture halls and libraries. Reading his textbooks and reviewing his notes until his eyes couldn’t take any more.
Caught the surgery bug. Felt like it was what he was born to do. It will be hard, his father said, the hours will be long and the training will be tough.
I can do it dad, he said. I will do it.
He thought of his fathers hard work. and his immigrant father before him working 15 hours in a steel mill to provide beef and potatoes. He was born with this grit. No challenge was too great.
Began intern year. Lived and breathed surgery. Spent so many nights napping in the twin call room bed. Eating slop cafeteria food. No time to work out. No time to sleep: go go go. But he kept his head down and chin up. Just like his football coaches taught him. Just like his father taught him.
One day he was in the elevator. And like god planned this stuff — this beautiful woman was in the elevator. He asked her out. Flame ignited. She brought him dinners and lunches to the hospital when she could. Dates at the hospital cafeteria. Went hiking and camping and kayaking on his rare golden weekends.
They got married and had two beautiful children. Big house with a swimming pool and all.
You did it man.
He drove home with a bottle of cheap whiskey in his hand, taking pulls at the red lights. He drove the car in the driveway, parked in the garage. Closed the garage door. Kept the car running. Pulled a picture of his kids from his wallet and put it in front of the odometer.
He ran the car and fell asleep. For the last time.
This is a true story.
Rest In Peace, doc — you were a human. Everyone had great things to say about you.
The grass was greener.