Many associate strength with fighting — the bravery to engage in physical conflict with another individual — and win the fight. My dad was the opposite. Rather than engage in physical conflicts or verbal arguments, he fought his battles with a Christ-like response. Anyone who knew my father knew he was the person you could go to if you needed emotional support or just needed to vent. He told me many times that his role is to pacify situations, and encouraged me to be the peacemaker when battles arise. To this day, I don’t know of one enemy he had.
But strength took on a different meaning over the past 15 years when my dad often joked that Edward Hospital was his vacation home — “Hotel Edward” he named it. Bad heart valve, loss of hearing, pacemaker, hernia, four intestinal surgeries and cancer — it has to be a record how many health battles he’s overcome. Since 2000, doctors have been warning of his pending death. Well, he outlived some of those doctors, as well as many other friends, family and caretakers. He said he was like a cat — he had “9 lives.”
See, what the doctors didn’t know was my dad was such a stubborn man. Whether it was planting a garden, cooking spaghetti or building a deck, there was a wrong way to do things, and then there was his way. And the doctor’s way of getting better — taking it easy, using a wheelchair, and resting — was clearly the wrong way. Instead, my dad continued to exercise, walked on his own and of course, maintained his garden. And the times he did need help, you had to help on his terms. His stubbornness fueled his strength and kept him alive through multiple operations and dozens of hospital visits over the years. Through his persistence, my dad taught me to never give up.
My dad was a great father. I know when I was a baby he worked multiple jobs to support his family. As I grew older, he never hesitated to play a game with me … teaching me the intricacies of Monopoly, Marbles and of course his favorite, Chinese Checkers, a tradition he taught my sons. Every Saturday we’d venture to the East Side Chicago Public Library and I’d pick out some books that he’d help me read back home — our mutual favorite being Curious George. He launched and lead a local Tiger Cub Scout chapter so I could participate. Even when he would leave home for a business trip, my sadness of him leaving was balanced with anticipation of what surprise he would bring back — usually a storybook record. When I got into sports, he always took time to help me learn to hit a baseball, swim or shoot a basketball. I knew that every game I played, he would be there, usually still in his suit coat and tie as he raced home from work to catch my first at bat. In my teenage years he gave me flexibility, supported my newfound love of heavy metal music. While other parents might have been skeptical of the influence of such music on an impressionable teen, my dad had faith the values he and my mom instilled in me through not only their words and actions, but the words and actions of a strong family would be a solid foundation. And they were right.
He showed great love for his surviving siblings and me, my sister, his grandchildren and of course my mom, who he would often call “his angel.” But that love extended to nieces, nephews, cousins, and a large circle of friends who were considered family. I know he treasured every family gathering — and being married to a Filipino there were many — and reminded me how important it is for me to be a part of them. The last words he told me was to “Be there for my family.”
He always told me that God and family need to be at the heart of everything. And again, he lead by example. It all starts with God, and my dad was the most faithful man I’ve ever encountered. Of course every Sunday church was a requirement, but it was much more than that. My dad taught me the importance of praying every night. He would sit beside my bed and we would recite the Guardian Angel prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary. Then we would pray to the Holy family, and he would encourage me to think about things I’m thankful for, and people I want to pray for. He often reminded me when I questioned God that we needed to accept God’s will.
Keeping God at the center was evidenced by the importance of service in his life. His record of service could rival most anyone. Even as his physical abilities diminished, he continued to serve others. He taught me that we all have responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our families, but to the entire community. I remember as a child one night praying with him, and I said, “God bless everyone except the bad guys.” After the prayer my dad told me it was very important to pray for “the bad guys,” because every person is a child of God. And it is our responsibility to treat every person with love.
Walter G. Dennis was truly a great man. A great husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. A great member of his church and community. And a great soldier of God.
I love you dad. I will remember you everyday and continue your unselfish legacy of love of God, family and community. Thank you Dad, for teaching me how to love everyone, unconditionally.