I find it ironic my father is named Christ. Though it was a simple error in my grandmother’s penmanship, it almost seems to fit his character. He is caring, compassionate, and strong—just like Jesus. Inside his big, tough body is the kindest heart that I will ever know. I have been blessed to have such a great father.
Dad prefers to go by the name Chris. He stands at five-foot-seven and is built muscularly; even his deep brown eyes are full of strength. He has been my family’s rock since he took full responsibility for us kids after it became apparent my mother had a gambling problem and disappeared to bingo halls and the casino on a regular basis.
Dad did everything for us. He would work an eleven-hour day, then sit in on one of our sports practices, feed us dinner, help us with the little math he could, and then put us to bed. On more than one occasion, he has sold a race car or motorcycle to pay for a retainer, football cleats, or a clarinet. He even bought some maxi-pads for me on the day I became a woman.
In March of 2008 my Dad suffered a massive heart attack. At the age of forty-nine—the same age his father died from a massive heart attack—life caught up to him. It is an honest miracle that he’s still alive. EMS had to defibrillate him eighteen times.
About a week after his heart attack, when he was still in the hospital, he grabbed my hand, and said softly, “I’m scared.” It was at that point I learned the true strength my father had—and he has instilled that same strength in me.
I believe that being strong is about more than endurance or physical strength. It’s about being there for someone when they need you. Just like my father had always been there for us, now I had to be strong for him. There, in the hospital, when I really just wanted to start sobbing, I held my composure and told my dad, “Don’t be scared. Everything is going to be okay.”
My father had lived his life under the pretense that he had to be strong for everyone else, and then he didn’t have enough strength left for himself. Now, my dad doesn’t work seventy hours a week anymore. He doesn’t race cars or ride motorcycles either. These days you will find him leading the pit crew for my brother and cruising on his ATV. He works his normal forty hours, goes home to spend time with his family, and cherishes every minute with the grandbabies he almost never met.
I give my dad full credit for the way I turned out, and I thank him for teaching me how to be strong.
Whitney Alt lives in Howell, Michigan, where she is currently studying criminal justice at Schoolcraft College. She and her husband, James, love playing indoor soccer and spending time with their very spoiled beagles. Ms. Alt considers family to be the most important thing in her life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.