The concept of father and son is a big one for me. My dad always took it very seriously. When I became very interested in tennis, probably around 8 years old, he fostered my interest and encouraged it. He was always very active, and he and I would play basketball, go running, and play tennis fairly often. I got my athleticism from him. We would play "H-O-R-S-E" in our driveway, and the games were always competitive.
In 2002, he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). I remember when he had a cramp in his calf muscle and initially thought nothing of it. It was fairly common, as he was a frequent runner along the Fairmount Park Trails in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Doctors diagnose ALS as an absence of any other explanation. If after tests for multiple sclerosis are inconclusive, along with various other neurological tests, then a person is given a diagnosis of ALS. There is no cure for the disease. I have never known a level of pain that compares to simply seeing my dad suffer the way he did. ALS traveled up his body—initially the leg and, ultimately, his lungs. He died of pneumonia. ALS comes with a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years after diagnosis. My dad made it 6 years. He battled.
On June 28th, 2008, my father died of ALS . He was 58.
My memories of my dad are of his love for running, and later in his life, scuba diving. He always loved the water and the ocean in particular. He could almost always be found outside. Growing up, we had a beautiful garden, Neighbors would frequently stop by to compliment my dad and ask for tips on how to keep their properties from looking disheveled. He would always lend a hand. He was happiest in the sunshine and in nature.
We spent many summers in Avalon, New Jersey. We would go for 2 weeks at a time. I would spend hours in the ocean and also playing paddle ball—I didn't like to sit down for too long. This worked out well because...neither did my dad. We always bonded via sports—mostly playing, some watching.
I happened to get into tennis through a sports camp I was enrolled in. My dad anticipated that I would gravitate toward basketball and track and field; I did. But—I really latched onto tennis. He and I would play at local courts near the house, and he would often win. Eventually things shifted to where I would win consistently. I joined the middle school tennis team, played in the top-tier singles rankings, and went on to play #1 singles at LaSalle High School, as well as with the University of Scranton. He supported me throughout these years, always asking, “Do you need new sneakers? Do you need new racquets?”
Fast forward to life after college: 2001. My dad helped me land a job in college admissions, which ultimately steered my career into recruiting. We began to have a different kind of relationship as well. Less time spent playing sports and more talking, more getting together for lunch and dinner; good conversations. We would typically meet somewhere equidistant, often in Chestnut Hill, close to where I grew up in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania. It got harder to get together as eventually my dad couldn’t drive himself anywhere. Ultimately, he passed away at the Parkhouse Nursing Home, just 1.1 miles away from where I now live, in Phoenixville. I never would have anticipated either of these things happening: my dad’s diagnosis or living where I do.
There is quite a bit more to this story. For now I will say this: God has a plan. God is there with you in your suffering. He is drawing you nearer to Him in these difficult life events, even in tragedies. This took me some significant time to wrap my brain and my heart around. But through God’s grace and persistent love and pursuit, I got there. God TOOK me there. I could look to many verses to illustrate this, but I choose, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). I do often wish that my dad could have met my son, Roman, whose full name, is Roman Michael Rucinski. (My dad’s name was Michael.) I do certainly think about my dad during fun moments outside with my son, kicking a ball, shooting baskets, running around…and I know that it would have been pure joy for my dad to have been able to see Roman in these instances. That wasn’t in God’s plan. I see myself in Roman—sometimes in a smile or a mannerism—which means that I can also see my dad in Roman as well.
My father was a De La Salle Christian Brother. He was an English teacher to start, and then got a master’s degree in counseling, which was the career path he finished within. He was a very good listener and advisor. He was able to talk to anyone, no exceptions.
He was a believer and grew closer to God in his suffering. Even as his ability to walk or do basic tasks ceased, he would share with me that he felt his relationship to and with God was growing. God was there in the suffering, front and center. My dad’s ability to see this as well was and is inexpressibly admirable. Here was a man who was always mobile, athletic, and in good shape unable to do anything, finishing out his life in a wheelchair. And yet he saw that there was a path being carved for him. “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11 ESV)
It is now my job to impart the wisdom I have gleaned, through God’s grace, to my son. This God-derived wisdom includes the reality that life is not simple. It is not guaranteed, and while it is filled with great joy, it is also filled with heartache. As my son embarks on the journey that will take him from playing outside to, Lord willing, choosing what university to attend, he will experience the myriad of life’s journeys. I will be there for him through it all.
There are many things my dad was proud of me for. Had he met Roman here in this life, he would have been very proud to have called Roman his grandson.
He would have told me that he was proud of me becoming a father.
But, most importantly, my dad would be proud that I am teaching my son to love “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)